YMCA Healthy Kids® Day

Meet Nora and cameron hussey

"He is happy and included"

Nora Hussey travels with Shaker, a mostly retired service dog who offers comfort to wounded warriors and blind veterans. They are constant companions, that is, until Cameron comes to town. “Cameron kind of takes him over,” she explains, and that’s OK with her. Cameron is Nora’s 9-year-old grandson who comes to visit from South Carolina every summer. He is a bright and energetic boy, and he is autistic. He is a beautiful child, she says, but as you can imagine, it’s challenging for a retired grandmother with multiple sclerosis to channel the energy of a young boy and minimize the frustration he experiences when he communicates. So, she turned to the Y.

A 24-year veteran of the military, Nora had become quite familiar with the Armed Services YMCA and, more recently, the YMCA of San Diego County. Looking for a safe way to expand Cameron’s world while also providing herself a break, she registered Cameron for one week of camp at the Friars Road location. That first morning three years ago, Nora admits she was scared and worried. "He is vulnerable. He can’t communicate like other kids."

This summer, Cameron logged three weeks of camp, and each morning he readied himself — clothes laid out and lunch packed — eager to get over to the Y to see his friends. With a wave of his hand, he was off, leaving Grandma and Shaker to their own devices. "There is no greater joy for family members of an autistic child than to see him happy and included. The counselors and the Y have gone miles toward making a difference in his future." What Nora especially appreciates is the one-on-one inclusion aide that the Y provides at no additional charge. "I called and was told Cameron would be welcome, and it wouldn’t cost me any extra for his one-on-one aide," she remembers. "I know he has been a challenge at times, but Heather, his aide this year, just handled any problems. She even learned some techniques and shared them with me."

For parents and family members, it’s important that their autistic child knows that "he’s not broken; he is just different." Cameron’s presence in camp does wonders for his confidence and growth, and it can be a benefit to other children, as well. "It teaches kids that we’re not all the same, and to put themselves in his place." Cameron wants to be like those kids — he wants to play and be accepted."

"There is just no better way to spend my money than here at the Y," she says. "And it’s doing something for society by helping Cameron move toward an independent life. It’s investing in the child."

Editor's note: The Y is able to provide an aide for Cameron and others who need it thanks to contributions to our Community Outreach Campaign. There is an application process for requesting an inclusion aide.

Posted 8/16/12