“My parents wanted me to have increased independence away from home and Pine Tree Camp was the first real outlet for that. It set the stage for some other things to happen in my life that were important.”
That’s how Craig Popper described his experience at Pine Tree Camp when he was in 8th grade. Now in his 30s, he’s a lawyer living in Chicago.
“I remember when we were considering whether or not to send him to Pine Tree Camp,” his mother, Bonnie, said. “We kept thinking of reasons why we shouldn’t and every time we’d come up with a reason why it would be too hard for him to go, the camp staff would say ‘Oh, that’s okay, we deal with that all the time.’ Whatever we threw at them they said they could handle it. We knew we didn’t have to spend the whole week worrying because they gave us so much confidence.”
“I think once my Mom and Dad felt comfortable that I could be at away from home and be more independent, that made them feel more comfortable that, under the right set of circumstances, I could do some other things,” said Craig.
He remembered Pine Tree Camp staff “being light years ahead of the general public in terms of being able to accommodate and cater to everyone’s needs.”
“Sometimes when a kid goes to Pine Tree Camp, it’s their only opportunity to socialize and feel like a normal person,” he said. “The fact that the staff could make that happen so easily and genuinely is a credit to the infrastructure and legacy that has been built there.”
Cerebral Palsy affected Craig’s ability to walk but his upper body was strong and allowed him to develop a passion for wheelchair basketball.
“By the time I was a sophomore in high school, I was going away all summer long to wheelchair basketball camp,” Craig continued. “It was nerve-wracking for my parents to take the leap of faith and let me fly alone for the first time to spend the summer 1,300 miles from home. I don’t think that would have happened without me first having gone to Pine Tree Camp. We had to take incremental steps towards more independence. If I wasn’t able to fly to go to those camps during high school, who knows what would have happened.”
Craig’s success at the sport propelled him to attend an out of state college with a wheelchair basketball program where he earned a degree in education before attending law school.
“When I look back, I can see how it all fits together,” he said.
For Bonnie, Craig’s outgoing personality traces back to his early experience at Pine Tree Camp. “He’s had many positive situations in his life come about due to his willingness and ability to reach out to people. He can talk with anybody and is accepting of everybody. He learned those important social skills at Pine Tree Camp.”