Camp Starfish and Children with Intellectual Disability

Camp Starfish is a unique summer camp that fosters acceptance and belonging through nurturing and structured camp activities that are fun and promote personal and community growth.

Teens at Camp Starfish having fun in front of a soccer goal, smiling at the camera and making goofy faces
Two summer camp boys smiling at Camp Starfish

The Camp Starfish Difference: Our 1:1 Ratio

One of our most noteworthy perks is our ratio. We offer a ratio of 1:1, which is having access to 1:1 adult support whenever it’s needed. This level of oversight and supervision promotes safety in all areas, including physical, emotional, and interpersonal safety.

As a result, your child can set their own unique goals based on their passions and interests while we provide the structure and encouragement to help them meet those goals. In addition, we emphasize community building and friendships.

Our campers learn resilience, coping skills, and new ways to build and maintain friendships and push themselves toward positive outcomes that may have been unheard of previously.

We often find that first-time participants become repeat campers and maintain these friendships outside camp sessions. Further, many parents report that their kids come home positively transformed, often maintaining these skills at home and back at school.

Is Camp Starfish a summer camp for kids with an intellectual disability?

Our individualized programming and structure are an excellent fit for a wide variety of kids and teens with learning, social, emotional, or other challenges, including intellectual disability!

The 1:1 ratio makes meeting the unique needs of campers with intellectual disability possible. Our campers are not, however, defined by their diagnosis. Furthermore, we are a summer camp that emphasizes enjoyment and recreation. It’s the heart of our programming.

As a result, we don’t offer any clinical programming as part of our schedule, such as speech and language pathology or cognitive behavior therapy. However, we offer structure and teach resilience and social skills to help children, teens, and young adults with intellectual disability feel at home.

Two summer camp girls in boats at Camp Starfish
6 summer camp kids laying on the floor in a star configuration

Here are just some of the ways our camp supports youth with intellectual disability:

Applying for Your Child with an Intellectual Disability

We serve a highly diverse group of youth, including children, teens, and young adults with intellectual disabilities, but we also have guidelines for our campers. It’s important for everyone attending camp to be safe and secure, so we created a comprehensive process to help us ensure Camp Starfish is a match for your child.

Are you wondering if we’re a good fit? We encourage all those seeking to apply to read through our Camp Starfish Program Guide to learn about the day-in and day-out of our programming and our camper requirements in the sections titled “Is it a match?”

Group of young summer camp kids at Camp Starfish
Two happy summer camp teens at Camp Starfish

How do I apply?

Before attending, legal guardians are asked to complete an in-depth application. We ask questions about the camper’s daily routine, unique needs, and interests. Though the application process is lengthy, it’s a crucial first step. Away camp can be a big leap for many of our participants, and we want to be sure we’re ready when it’s time to say “goodbye.”

After applying, we follow up with a 15-60 minute phone call to learn about your child with an intellectual disability’s needs and to answer any questions you may have. Then, we introduce them to one of our staff members, allowing them to ease into the experience before leaving home.

Though we can achieve a lot during that initial 15-minute chat, we ask guardians to take time to talk with their child or teen with an intellectual disability about summer camp. Mirroring positivity and excitement about the experience helps to prime newcomers before taking the big step.

If you think we’re a fit, apply below!

Think we're a fit?

Begin your application below! We look forward to meeting with you and learning about your child!

Photo of Danielle Lubbers

Danielle Lubbers

Danielle joined Camp Starfish in the spring of 2023 as Camp Director. Originally working with the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay, Danielle has ten years of experience providing programming to children, outdoor skills training for adults, and directing overnight summer camp experiences.

In her spare time, Danielle enjoys spending time with her two-year old Dalmatian, Mia. Danielle’s favorite activity at camp is raft building, as she enjoys seeing campers and staff work together to complete a team goal. Her favorite Camp Starfish Tool is “We are here to learn, grow, and have fun!”

Staff photo of David

David Mahnken

David Mahnken is Camp Starfish’s Mental Health Consultant. He provides staff training each summer on topics such as self-care, trauma-informed care practices, and health & wellness. David also provides support and consultation to the organization throughout the year. David holds a BA from St. Olaf College and an MSW from Simmons University. David is a LICSW who works in emergency services in addition to his own private practice in Massachusetts.

Prior to becoming a social worker, David’s first experience at camp was as a counselor in the early 2000s before becoming an administrator and member of the year-round team. His favorite camp activity is swim-I (swim instruction), and his favorite Camp Starfish Tool is: “We make camp a safe place.”

Staff photo of Joe

Joe Clark

As the Assistant Director at Camp Starfish, Joe is a seasoned professional who is well-versed in all aspects of camp life. With five years of summer work at Starfish, he brings extensive experience and expertise to the camp year-round. Joe is from the UK, and holds a degree from Keele University. Joe works as a support worker in the UK, providing care to individuals with disabilities, since 2019. Joe also engages in volunteer work, including spending three months in Abrobiano, Ghana.

Joe is known at camp for his charming English accent, which campers often try to replicate! His favorite camp activity is playing soccer (football) on the field, and his favorite Camp Starfish Tool is: “I take responsibility for my actions.”

Staff photo of Rachel

Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts is the Director of Staff Experience at Camp Starfish, responsible for all things staffing and groups. With a degree in Anthropology, and a Certificate in Global Citizenship from Franklin Pierce University, Rachel brings a unique perspective to her role. She oversees hiring, onboarding, retention, and staff appreciation for the 100+ seasonal staff at Camp Starfish each summer. Rachel has been a part of the Starfish team since 2016, working in various seasonal roles. She joined the Year-Round Team full-time in 2022.

As a lifelong New Hampshire resident, Rachel enjoys hiking in the woods with her dog, Clover. Her favorite camp activity is Free Play, and her favorite Camp Starfish Tool is: “We respect each other’s differences.”

Staff photo of Kristie

Kristie Martin

Kristie Martin is Camp Starfish’s Program Director, responsible for ensuring that each camper receives a structured, supportive, and fun program during both summer and year-round weekends. With her degree in Applied Psychology & Human Development from the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, Kristie has a deep understanding of child development and uses this knowledge to create a nurturing environment for all campers.

Kristie grew up in the Monadnock region and takes pride in being a local. Kristie’s favorite camp activity is the Camper Talent Show, which she believes is the perfect opportunity for campers to showcase their skills and feel comfortable sharing with the community. Her favorite Camp Starfish Tool is, “I try my best, I do not have to be the best.”

Staff photo of Sarah

Sarah York

Sarah York is the Director of Operations at Camp Starfish, joining the team in the Spring of 2022. She brings with her a wealth of professional experience working in both mental health and human resources. Sarah’s role at Camp Starfish is crucial in ensuring that camp runs smoothly, and she is available to assist families every step of the way through the registration process. If you call the Starfish office, Sarah will likely be who you speak with first!

With her dedication to helping others and her commitment to creating a positive camp experience for every child, it’s no wonder that her favorite Camp Starfish Tool is: “We are members of a team.”

Staff photo of Jamie

Jamie Mahnken

Jamie Mahnken is Camp Starfish’s Executive Director, and has been an integral part of the Camp Starfish community since 2010, serving in a variety of roles. With a degree in Business Administration and Organizational Leadership from Southern New Hampshire University, Jamie is committed to creating a safe and positive environment for every camper, staff member, and volunteer.

As a North Carolina native, Jamie enjoys spending time outdoors with her family. Her favorite camp activity is kayaking to Blueberry Island, which is a meaningful and memorable experience for many campers, as well. Jamie’s favorite Camp Starfish Tool is: “I am flexible and open to change.”