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Stephenville youth with autism has strong praise for Camp Evergreen

Tianna Butler and her son, Connor Butler, pose for a photo. Connor has attended two weekend camps at Camp Evergreen.
Tianna Butler and her son, Connor Butler, pose for a photo. Connor has attended two weekend camps at Camp Evergreen. - Frank Gale

Connor Butler said he just needs two words to describe Camp Evergreen and that’s “greatest experience.”

The 15-year-old son of Tianna Butler, who is a Grade 10 student at Stephenville High School, attended Camp Evergreen in the Bay St. George South area the past two summers and really enjoyed both.

He said one of the great features about the camp is that you have your own space, but you are also among peers who are from all over western Newfoundland.

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Butler, who has moderate autism with low adaptive skills on the autism spectrum scale, said he found it a bit uncomfortable at first, but as you go on through the weekend camp you get closer and build a bond with the other campers.

He said the first year Camp Evergreen was held at Pirate’s Haven in Robinsons, but last year it was on the property of Debbie Brake Patten and Dave Patten on what’s known as Camp 180 Road near St. Fintan’s.

Debbie Brake-Patten addresses the Stephenville Rotary Club at its regular luncheon meeting on Wednesday about Camp Evergreen for children with autism that she and husband, Dave Patten, have set up near St. Fintan’s.
Debbie Brake-Patten addresses the Stephenville Rotary Club at its regular luncheon meeting on Wednesday about Camp Evergreen for children with autism that she and husband, Dave Patten, have set up near St. Fintan’s.

Butler said his favorite part was kayaking on the pond, where he was assisted by a camp counsellor.

“It’s not as nerve-wrecking with someone there to help you out along the way,” he said.

His mom, who attended the camp with him the first year, said she was impressed with how all the activities were planned with the needs of autism children in mind, including some things they could do themselves.

There’s even a meal plan tailored to each of the participants.

Butler loved the petting zoo that was part of the camp the first year, and especially liked the goats. He said going for a ride on a side-by-side was fun, too.

Butler likes the fact parents or guardians are allowed to be there if the campers need them, and he had his mom there the first year and his grandpa, James Butler, who was down visiting from London, Ont., this past summer.

He definitely plans to attend Camp Evergreen again next summer and hopefully get some camping time on his family’s 80-acre lot in Barachois Brook with his grandpa.

Butler said he loves camping, as it’s a comforting environment to be out in the fresh air.

He said Debbie and Dave (Patten) are really caring about every child at the camp.

In an address to the Stephenville Rotary Club on Wednesday, Brake Patten said the family weekend of three days and two nights was certainly enjoyed by those who attended.

She said Camp Evergreen, set up under the Hope for Ryan Foundation for children with autism, is being expanded annually, and about 25 children attended this past summer.

In addition to the Pattens, there were summer students who volunteered their time. Future plans are to expand into different programs and market the camp globally for tourism and autism support, and hopefully employ people over the age of 18 years.

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