FREDONIA, WI — Meet Mande Matheis. Today, she is an increasingly independent 17-year-old, but rewind a few years, and that wasn’t necessarily the case.
"She needed a lot of extra support," Jody Margolis, the director of the Center of Inclusion and Special Needs with the Jewish Community Center said. "Mom would come. A therapist would come. She was really hesitant. She had some really tough days."
Margolis organizes the camp Mande, who has autism, has gone to for the past eight years. It’s called Stars Camp.
"There were days Mande did not want to come back," Margolis said.
The camp stands for Students That Are Really Special. It’s designed for people with special needs. The JCC has other programs throughout the summer for people with special needs and offers resources during the school year, but this week-long adapted camp had an extra special impact on Mande.
It did take a while for her to warm up to the camp, but slowly a profound change occurred.
"It makes me feel happy it makes me feel great," Mande said.
Mande use to need an aide by her side almost all of the time. Now, that's no longer the case. She even helps lead some of the activities.
Before Mande started going to this camp, her mom, Shannon, never thought her daughter would become so independent.
"I didn’t know that would happen six, seven years ago. I thought I’d still have to be right there waiting, ready in case something happened.”
Her mom said she has seen how the camp has helped Mande grow and mature into a young woman.
“Our life really has changed,” she said.
Now Mande just gets dropped off and her mom knows she can take care of herself. Sometimes though, the independence gets to be a little too much for mom.
"Be told by my own daughter, 'Go away mom. I got it.' and ‘Leave me alone," Shannon said.
But then again, that’s just what 17-year-old's do.