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  • AuSM Summer Camps celebrate retiring directors and welcome new staff

AuSM Summer Camps celebrate retiring directors and welcome new staff

CampLogo2020colorA team of dedicated camp directors and staff ensure that AuSM Summer Camps afford youth and adults with autism safe, fun, and rewarding summer camp experiences.

The 2020 AuSM Summer Camp season will see some changes as AuSM bids farewell to two of the seasoned Camp Hand in Hand directors, Wendy McNeil and Edward Todd Schwartzberg, M.Ed., MT-BC.

Wendy McNeil
Wendy, a Camp Hand in Hand director for 20 years, began her career in special education in San Antonio, Texas and over the years moved into the St. Paul Public Schools system, where she was honored as a SPED Teacher of the Year. It was during her time back in Minnesota that Wendy first experienced AuSM’s Camp Hand in Hand.

“Camp was and still is my heart,” she said. “Camp was my home away from home. It brought me joy beyond words.”

Wendy dedicated her camp years to build community, relationships, and trust. Her overarching goal was to ensure that campers had the best week of their life while at Hand in Hand. Her sons also offered support during her time as the camp’s director. Wendy is grateful for all of the opportunities Hand and Hand has afforded her throughout the years.

“I have had the privilege to give my incredible staff the confidence to not only support our campers but to give them the confidence to push themselves to make a difference not only at camp but in their lives as well,” she said. “Camp is a place of inclusiveness and teaches about creating possibilities and relationships built on acceptance. To never give up and always remember we ALL have gifts to share. Camp Knutson and Camp Hand in Hand is a magical place where anything is possible. Camp is undeniably the best place on earth.”

Todd Schwartzberg, MEd, MT-BC
With a keen interest in music education, Todd has degrees in music education, music therapy, and education. His specialization in working with children and adults with autism spectrum disorder and other intellectual disabilities led him to Camp Hand in Hand in 2002.

The responsibility of working at Hand in Hand has meant a great deal to Todd, and he understood the value of his consistency of being the music director at camp year after year for the Hand in Hand participants.

“I felt that I had a responsibility, with the rest of our staff, to provide the best week of vacation for our campers,” he said. “One way to do this was to be as consistent in attending each year and to holding myself to the highest of standards – our campers, their families, and our staff deserved no less.”

Todd is humbled to have had the opportunity to positively impact and learn from more than 100 campers, family members, and staff each camp season of Camp Hand in Hand, and he will miss everyone.

“Over the years, I have had the privilege of learning SO much from campers, families, and staff, and I will dearly miss the continued learning and inspiring moments that come each and every day at camp,” Todd said. “I'll also miss the amazing friendships.”

Though he is retiring from is music director role at Camp Hand in Hand, Todd will continue directing Camp Wahode, an AuSM day camp program he and Wendy created in 2004.

Retiring Directors Celebrated
AuSM will celebrate Wendy and Todd for their many years of service at Camp Hand in Hand during the special new Autism Community Day held on Saturday, May 2 during the 25th Annual Minnesota Autism Conference at the Minneapolis Marriott Southwest in Minnetonka. All campers, families, and staff from throughout the past 20 years and beyond are invited to join us for the celebration. More details will be shared soon.

Camp Hand in Hand Directors Ready for 2020 Camp Season
With Wendy and Todd’s retirement, Camp Hand in Hand will welcome back camp director Dustin Suggs and a new camp director, Sarah Hauer, both of whom have been a part of the Hand in Hand camp program for years.

Dustin is excited to have the opportunity to continue to co-direct Camp Hand in Hand, a place where he has dedicated summer time for more than 15 years. His experience at camp inspired him to follow a career in education. Dustin is working toward his Masters in Applied Behavioral Science at Augsburg College while working as an educational assistant at Lionsgate Academy.

“I’m excited to continue working with passionate counselors and program staff to provide this specialized opportunity for campers on the spectrum,” he said. “I feel honored to have seen so many campers grow throughout the years and I especially enjoy seeing the social development that happens at camp. I am really proud to be helping camp staff pursue career paths that will bring them a lifetime of purpose and joy.”

Sarah began her Camp Hand in Hand journey as a camp counselor 16 years ago, and camp has inspired the trajectory of her professional career. She currently is in her ninth year working in education, her sixth year as Special Education Teacher and Case Manager, and first year as an elementary school teacher within the Anoka Hennepin school district. Sarah has worked extensively with youth with autism and emotional behavior disorders, and she has been honing her skills in building relationships, addressing needs, and ensuring all will thrive in a safe, supportive environment.

Sarah said, "After 16 years of working at Camp Hand and Hand and the Autism Society of Minnesota, I feel both honored and hopeful to continue developing and providing the incredible programing we offer our community summer after summer. I can't wait to see where we go!"

Hand in Hand Music Continues
Toneworks Music Therapy Services, LLC will provide a board certified music therapist for Camp Hand in Hand music groups. Toneworks has been partnering with AuSM for the past five years to provide Camp Wahode music groups, and collaborates with AuSM for spring and summer social skills classes. Toneworks was founded by and continues to be operated by a former Hand in Hand staff member, Lyndie Walker-Spitzer. Lyndie was introduced to Camp Hand in Hand when she was as a student of Todd's at the University of Minnesota. AuSM is fortunate to have this passionate, experienced music therapist carry on the legacy created by Todd more than 15 years ago.

Lyndie said, "As someone who chose my profession as a result of my experiences as a counselor at Hand in Hand, this place is so special to me, and I am thrilled to be returning. To be given the opportunity to continue Todd's hard work is an honor, and I can't wait to reconnect with old friends and make lots of new ones."