Hi!  I’m Jane Williams, parent of a special needs 20-something.  In 2015, my husband and I incorporated a non-profit business whose purpose is to help create an independent future for handicapable young adults (see the whole story at www.OurBanyan.com). 

While our overarching goal is to build a hotel and community, we’ve been developing offshoot programs and plans to provide development of proof of concept and sharpen our ‘friends’ skills, too. We’ve hosted Summer Camp, Spring Break Camp and two special events in between that presented opportunities for Campers to practice job skills, learn and reinforce life skills, build friendships and experiment with the arts.

Last month, in our very first blog post, we shared brief bullet points about what we have been up to and where we are headed. It’s time to go a little deeper. Allow us to share with you a bit of our recent past and our vision for our near future!

Camp Banyan is a 5-day a week, 6-hour a day summer program.  Last year was our first venture.  We saw Campers’ trepidation and fear at the beginning replaced by excitement and participation by the end.  We wanted Campers to enjoy learning, so typically mundane activities (such as learning to sweep a floor or sort and fold laundry) became team sporting events.  Cooking class started with grocery lists and shopping trips before hitting the kitchen so Campers could see the whole picture of getting food to the table.  We role-played social situations, etiquette, manners and different work scenarios to practice appropriate actions and responses—preparation for the day when a demanding or grumpy customer confronts them at work.  In a safe, accepting environment, this is fun improv where life lessons are taught and caught!  Some of my favorite memories are of Art Class—over the course of a summer (and at Spring Break 2017 Art Fest) Campers dabbled in drawing and painting, a variety of musical forms, scriptwriting and acting, photography and creating beautiful paintings in the new medium of ink and alcohol. It is exciting to see eager Campers ready to tackle something new and discover gifts and talents along the way.

Here’s the bottom line: Employers look to hire employees who are confident, willing to try new things, enjoy being with people and who place no limits on themselves. Camp Banyan offers opportunities to develop those traits.

Next up is Camp Banyan, coming in June and July of 2017 in Clearwater, Florida.  Then, this Fall we plan to open a restaurant with a large, teaching kitchen to train and employ Campers that are preparing for independence.  This will also help us get The Banyan Odyssey name and vision out to the business community who will be able to help us realize the hotel and residential dorm in our ultimate plan to provide independent living with supports. There’s personal satisfaction and enjoyment that comes with being a contributing member of society and becoming as self-supportive as possible.  Food service may not be the path for every handicapable young person, but it provides a good training ground.

The purpose of this blog is two-fold:  1) to inform and be a resource to the handicapable population and their families and, 2) to share the challenges and joys of our world with the surrounding community.  If you have a question or would like to suggest a future topic for us to explore, leave a comment. 

And welcome to our odyssey—it’s a great adventure!