Spirited Solutions A Detroit-based SLP has built a camp for kids with developmental delays that offers free sessions focusing on speech-language skills, motor skills and more. In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   July 01, 2016
Spirited Solutions
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is a content producer/editor for the Leader. shutchins@asha.org
    Shelley D. Hutchins is a content producer/editor for the Leader. shutchins@asha.org×
Article Information
Special Populations / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   July 01, 2016
Spirited Solutions
The ASHA Leader, July 2016, Vol. 21, 24-25. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.21072016.24
The ASHA Leader, July 2016, Vol. 21, 24-25. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.21072016.24
Name: Kristy Piana Schena, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Founder/executive director, Kids on the Go
Hometown: Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan
Kristy Piana Schena kept hearing the same question from parents at the hospital where she provided speech-language treatment to in-and outpatient adult and pediatric clients: What should I do for my kids over summer break? Many of the families couldn’t afford private treatment sessions, but they wanted their kids to continue progressing between school years—or at least not lose ground. And Schena wanted to help.
With colleagues, she brainstormed ideas for a multidisciplinary camp to include speech-language treatment. But she found most insurance companies don’t cover treatment for speech-language disorders. And “even charging the lowest fees possible to cover expenses was beyond what these parents could afford,” she says.
Instead of giving up, she sought funding from businesses and charitable organizations, such as the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, in her community. Less than a year later—in the summer of 1999—Schena launched Kids on the Go. The first camp offered six weeks of speech-language, physical therapy and occupational therapy sessions. Campers came twice a week for two hours each time. Parents paid nothing.
To engage participants, Schena and her occupational therapy and physical therapy colleagues came up with themes—super heroes, fun at the beach and all-star sports. They also hosted a breakfast to engage sponsors and show them what their donations accomplished.
In 17 years, the camp has grown from those 13 kids to more than 600 applicants for this summer’s 275 spots in one of 23 programs. Applicants send IEP or treatment goals for consideration, and participants are selected based on geographic diversity and how well their goals fit specific programs.
Schena still raises all of the money needed to cover camp expenses. She matches donors to specific campers from their neighborhoods to help generate community connections. She also organizes fundraisers, including a large gala every other year and smaller events in off years. This past March, she held a dueling-piano evening called “Tips for Kids.” A camper’s dad helped organize the group’s first golf outing, scheduled for early fall.
The camp outgrew the sponsor breakfast, but now donors receive invitations to an end-of-camp ice cream social.

In addition to the original multidisciplinary camp—still the most popular—children ages 3 to 14 participate in sessions focused on music, art, baseball, basketball, bike riding, handwriting, storytelling, tennis, filmmaking and a new social skills program for older students.

“I do about 50-50 fundraising and setting up new programs balanced with taking care of executive director duties,” Schena says. She also provides treatment for multidisciplinary campers and, until five years ago, still worked in hospitals. “I’m trying to get to the point where I can hire administrative help, but we need to make a big growth step, so I can justify paying someone instead of putting all donations toward programming.”
In addition to the original multidisciplinary camp—still the most popular—children ages 3 to 14 participate in sessions focused on music, art, baseball, basketball, bike riding, handwriting, storytelling, tennis and filmmaking. A new social skills program for older students is already so in demand that Schena added a second session. Three years ago, she also organized parents’ frequent hallway chats into a formal support group.
One support group presentation featured attorney Michelle Fuller advising families with a special needs child on setting up their will. The success of these parent classes led to the formation of a sibling workshop, launching this summer.
To select and plan these varied sessions, Schena carefully researches the unmet needs of local kids.
“I try to balance a variety of programs for each type of delay, from speech to fine or gross motor and more,” Schena says. “I also survey parents at the end of each summer and ask what they want us to provide. And I see what’s offered in the community, because we don’t want to duplicate programs.”

“I try to balance a variety of programs for each type of delay, from speech to fine or gross motor and more.”

For example, there are local horseback riding and swimming programs for children with developmental delays, but no basketball, baseball or bike-riding programs within a 45-minute radius. The basketball camp was quite a coup for Schena. A Michigan State University alum, she reached out to former Spartan basketball star Anthony Ianni and asked him to coach a camp—and he agreed. Ianni was the first athlete diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder to play NCAA Division 1 college basketball.
“He has this magical connection with these kids,” says Schena. “He’s a functioning adult, but he still has autism and he can get the kids to do things not one of the therapists can!”
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July 2016
Volume 21, Issue 7