Alumna directs camp for children with social disorders

Elizabeth Robbin in front of a fence with children painted on it

Speech-Language Pathologist Elizabeth Robbin (‘06 MS Communication Sciences and Disorders) spends her summers working as the Director of Camp Firefly. Camp Firefly is a unique overnight camp for children, ages 9-18, who have social disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Social Anxiety, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Non-Verbal Learning Disorder.

What is Camp Firefly?

Camp Firefly campers need more support in social situations in order to foster friendships and positive social interactions. The campers develop social skills, learn independent living skills and build their overall sense of confidence through engaging camp activities and small groups led by specially trained counselors.

There is a low staff-to-camper ratio that helps create a positive, structured camp experience by positioning the campers for success within a broader typical camp environment. Each day, campers participate in a social skills group to work on increasing those skills. The group curricula and camp programming is based on the Social Thinking model.

Camp Firefly is a partnership program within a larger camp, Camp Chi. Robbin spent many years as a camper, counselor and adventure trip leader at Camp Chi while she was growing up.

Robbin explains, “My experiences at camp shaped the person I am today. When I saw a social media post about the partnership between Camp Chi and Camp Firefly, I learned that my dream job existed – working at camp with kids with Autism.”

From Intern to Camp Director

Robbin’s first job at Camp Firefly came about because of her love of camp and her interest in autism. During her externship as a CHS graduate student, she became involved in working with individuals with autism when she started participating in trainings provided by the Mequon Autism Support Team.

As a result, Robbin’s first job was working in the autism classroom with fourth and fifth grade students. This experience led to being placed in the autism classroom in the early childhood special education program.

The classes she took at UWM, along with her externship and classroom experiences, gave her the experience she needed when she applied to work at Camp Firefly. The first summer Robbin worked as a counselor, then she became part of the leadership team and worked her way up to become the camp director.

The Role of the Camp Director

When in the role of camp director, Robbin explains, “There really is no ‘typical day’ at camp.” The campers have a very structured schedule, but her day is always very different. The one constant in Robbin’s days at camp is collaboration. She collaborates with the leadership team, counselors and the supervisory staff at Camp Chi.

Robbin explains, “I am always working with others to make sure that my campers’ day is going smoothly.” This starts with the schedule. She begins working on the schedule in the winter, and it is completed before she arrives at camp. However, as much as she tries to prepare ahead of time, there are constantly changes that need to be made to the schedule, especially if there is a rainy or extremely hot day.

Other tasks include working with the Food Service Director and Special Diet Chef to make sure that campers who have allergies and special diets are accommodated and there is also time dedicated to parent communication each day via emails and phone calls. Many days she goes to the Health Center to check on a camper or pick up more Band-Aids and ice packs.

Many of the daily tasks are unexpected, but the highlights of Robbin’s day are always interacting with the campers and staff. After she spends time getting all the behind the scenes stuff done, she goes from activity to activity and checks in on her campers.

Robbin explains, “I love watching them experience new activities and develop new skills, build confidence, and become independent all while making new friends. Watching them discover a whole new world is awe-inspiring.”

Living the Life She Loves

When not working at Camp Firefly, Robbin works full time for a school district and loves to travel. She explains, “Working full time for a school district has allowed me the ability to travel throughout the world during breaks.”

She has even been able to combine her passions for traveling and autism. For the last three years, she has staffed a trip where young adults with autism travel to Israel.

Robbin is also a big sports fan who loves attending Bears and Cubs games. When she is not traveling or working, on Sunday afternoons you can often find her cheering on the Bears at Soldier Field.