25+ years of experience
Growing from 30 to over 400 campers and counselors every summer, we've been building friendships and breaking down barriers.
Located within St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in historic San Juan Capistrano, Special Camp was founded by Father Mike Wallens in 1992 to address the scarcity of resources for school-age children with disabilities in the community. Over 25 years later, his one-to-one ratio designed with the help of parents of children with disabilities and experts in the field of special education continues to be the foundational basis and catalyst for the Special Camp Family.
Each year, our counselor staff continues to grow in age and experience and represents some of the brightest, most talented and compassionate young young adults in the nation, making an impact that reaches far beyond Southern California. With service, opportunity, and love, we will continue to work toward inspiring future generations to eliminate the stigma associated with this beautiful community.
Fun With Purpose
Special Camp consists of four, one-week sessions along with additional days devoted to counselor training seminars and meetings. Campers blossom through the magic of the camper-counselor relationship. However, it is not only campers who benefit from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Counselors are given the chance to work in a positive, nurturing environment that fosters an educational atmosphere of opportunities to explore the intricacies and the needs of this community with a focus on:
When counselors are comfortable with a wider range of individual learning abilities, they can help meet campers where they are. This brings a special unity to our group and ensures that no one feels left behind.
Communication skills are a two-way street—it’s not something we’re just teaching our campers. Our counselors use clear and positive language to help campers participate, feel heard, and have more engaging experiences while at camp.
A camper’s emotional well-being can affect them far beyond their experience at Special Camp. That’s why we place special care in fostering healthier self-esteem so campers have a positive summer camp experience to take home with them.
Social development is a big part of what makes summer camp fun, so our counselors nurture skills that help campers relate to others in a constructive way. This means they not only having a great time making friends at camp, but also gain a sense of who they are and grow as individuals.
We have decades of combined experience working with special needs of all types. Below are a few of the more common abilities we’re pros at caring for, but our team is equipped to welcome children and young adults of all abilities.
Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of neurodevelopmental conditions. Some characteristics of autism include challenges with repetitive behaviors, communication, and social interactions, giving way to unique strengths and differences.
Cerebral Palsy is a neurological disorder that affects muscle control and coordination. Typically, the effects of cerebral palsy are seen in motor and oral skills. Despite these limitations, advancements in assistive technologies and services are making independence in daily life more attainable.
Developmental delays occur when a child experiences continuous roadblocks to reaching developmental milestones at the anticipated times. These delays may be in areas such as motor, language, social, or thinking skills. Early detection and intervention with a specialist can help to accelerate reaching those milestones.
Down syndrome is a chromosomal condition that affects the development of the brain and body. While it does lead to physical and mental challenges throughout life, down syndrome typically does not take away one’s ability to participate at school, work, in relationships, or other areas of society.
Epilepsy is the fourth-most common neurological disorder and affects people of all ages. It is characterized primarily by unpredictable seizures, but is considered a spectrum condition so not everyone shares the same symptoms. Epilepsy does not affect one’s intelligence and usually, daily physical limitations tend to be minimal.
Intellectual disabilities are characterized by significant limitations in two key areas — intellectual functioning (processes like learning, reasoning, and problem solving) and adaptive behaviors (the social and practical skills used in day-to-day life). However, with the right support, those with intellectual disabilities can develop and learn at great rates.
Aphasia is a communication disorder that occurs when there is damage to areas of the brain that are responsible for language. Although it may affect how one understands, reads, writes, or speaks, aphasia does not affect intelligence.
Fragile X Syndrome
Fragile X Syndrome
Fragile X Syndrome is a genetic disorder characterized by learning disabilities, developmental delays, and social or behavioral challenges. Support in learning key language and social skills helps individuals with Fragile X Syndrome live a high level of independence as adults.
Angelman Syndrome is a complex genetic disorder that primarily affects the nervous system. Characteristics include delayed development, intellectual disability, speech impairment, and challenges with movement and balance. Different types of therapy are important in allowing individuals with Angelman Syndrome to reach their maximum developmental potential
A Week at Camp
The first session starts July 8, 2019
Meet the people who help make the Special Camp vision a reality.
Lindsay started as a volunteer Counselor with Special Camp in 1995, and joined the Staff in 1998. During her years on Staff, Lindsay served as a Senior Counselor, Camper Coordinator, and Counselor Coordinator. Lindsay then assumed the Director’s role in 2003 while in college at the University of Southern California. After graduating with her BA in Communication in 2005, Lindsay had the fantastic opportunity to work for Best Buddies International for 3 years. In 2008, Lindsay was offered a full-time position at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, which allowed her to return to the Special Camp Director’s role – a position that she greatly missed! In addition to Special Camp, Lindsay is a Junior/Senior Dean of Students at St. Margaret’s. She and her spouse, Rob, are proud parents to two little girls!
Camp Operations Director
Camp Operations Director
Stefani served as a volunteer Counselor with Special Camp from 2000-2003. In 2004, she accepted her first position of employment as Staff Intern. Stefani grew with the program, contributing her unique skills as the Special Events Coordinator (2005) and Camper Coordinator (2006-2007). In 2008, Stefani became the Camp Operations Director – a position that she continues in today! Stefani is the head of daily operations, administering to all affairs of camp including Staff, Campers, Counselors, and for the well-being of Special Camp. Stefani graduated with her BA in Liberal Studies from Cal State San Marcos. In addition to her role at Special Camp, Stefani also serves as the Lower and Middle School STEAM Teacher and Upper School Yearbook Advisor for St. Margaret’s Episcopal School.
Associate Program Director
Associate Program Director
Elizabeth served as a volunteer Counselor with Special Camp in 2011 and 2012. She took her first step in program leadership as a Staff Intern in 2013, and then contributed her planning skills as the Special Events Coordinator from 2014-2015. Elizabeth found her niche as Camper Coordinator (2016-2017) while studying Psychology and Disability Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Elizabeth has grown with Special Camp, and now shares her knowledge of disabilities and her Special Camp expertise as our Associate Program Director. Going into her senior year at UCLA, Elizabeth plans to pursue a career in either special education, disability rights, or mental health advocacy.