When eleven-year-old Crystal A. woke up from a coma a year ago, no one would have expected her to be attending Outdoor Education days at Camp Timber-lee this year. A brain aneurism left her, as she says, “like a baby,” and she had to begin learning to walk and talk all over again.
Crystal is a 6th grade student at Heritage Elementary in Streamwood, IL. For the past fifteen years, Heritage 6th graders have been coming to Camp Timber-lee for Outdoor Education, one of the few schools in District U-46 still offering this experience to students. Heritage serves an area of mostly low-income people. Karen Davis, one of the Heritage 6th grade teachers says, “For our kids, this is a huge opportunity they would otherwise never get to experience.”
At first, Crystal was the only one who believed she would be going to camp this year. She was “the girl in the wheelchair” in the Special Ed classroom. Her parents, knowing what she had been through already, had grave doubts and teachers worried that she would not be able to handle the demands of the experience. But Crystal was so determined to go to camp with the other 6th graders that she began getting out of her wheelchair to practice walking short distances at first and then a little longer until just before the trip she walked across the entire library floor. Teachers were astonished. Her classmates whooped and cheered. Her parents met the 6th grade teachers and the Physical Therapist who agreed to accompany Crystal, and were reassured.
Crystal, who wants to go to college and study to be a lawyer, joined enthusiastically with the other students to raise money for camp, selling Yankee Candles and chocolate. Many students raised enough money to pay for a portion of their trip to Timber-lee, and some raised enough to pay for their trip entirely.
At camp, Crystal was an inspiration to everyone, never complaining, walking everywhere, and taking part in most of the activities. She especially loved the animal tracking—seeing actual deer tracks in the snow—and, as she says, “Watching the kids having so much fun there.”
“We love coming to Camp Timber-lee,” says teacher Karen Davis. “It offers facilities and personnel well above what other camps are offering.” And this year, it offered Crystal Arroyo an experience she will never forget.