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A Community of Communities: Aspiring to Succeed    

By  January 20, 2024 2 min read
campers paint rocks
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Aspire is a Mass General for Children program that provides opportunities for children, teens, and adults who are on the autism spectrum. It also supports their caregivers and offers corporate and school consultations. 

Hale is proud to have hosted Aspire’s summer program for more than 40 years. Today, it welcomes youth from throughout Greater Boston, including those who take advantage of bus service from Westwood and the program’s original neighborhood, Charlestown. 

“The longevity of some of these connections is pretty impressive,” says Scott McLeod, executive director of Aspire and clinical instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School. He points to a group of girls that sustained summer camp relationships with weekly Sunday morning meetups at each other’s homes, and a group of close-knit adults whose lifelong friendships started at camp 25 years ago.  

Aspire’s school-year social skills classes attract many of its summer program participants. Others come by way of referrals from educators and clinicians. Still others learn about it online or by word-of-mouth. 

Serving anywhere from 90 to 95 children each summer, the program boasts a high counselor-to-camper ratio and interdisciplinary instruction in everything from anxiety management to social pragmatics. Intentional setup of physical spaces, thoughtful design of schedules and systems, and intensive staff training allow campers to thrive in a nature-based setting. Traditional camp activities round out each day. 

“For some kids, it’s the first, or maybe most, meaningful form of membership that they feel,” says Jill Dyment, Aspire’s program manager of child services. “They really connect with [each other]. Their families can feel that, too.” 

Participants benefit from a blend of directed activities and organic, joyful time spent outside. The program also helps them better relate to classmates when they return to school in September, since many of their peers have had similar summer experiences. 

“They want to capitalize on that and keep it going,” she says. “And some parents or caregivers are also looking for that, and so they take advantage of [new] opportunities, too.”

This article originally appeared in the 2024 issue of Hale Magazine. 

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