In 1953 a few children from Fall River, some in wheelchairs and some wearing braces, clambered off the ferry and found freedom for the first time on the Vineyard. Sixty years later, Camp Jabberwocky is still changing lives.
Officially known as the Martha’s Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp, this extraordinary program gives adults and children with severe disabilities a few weeks each year to experience all the joys of summer — swimming, dancing, fishing, parasailing, painting, horseback riding, to name a few.
The camp was founded by a firebrand named Helen Lamb — Hellcat, as she was aptly nicknamed — who thought what people with disabilities needed more than pity was concrete help to participate in normal activities. With singleminded determination, she insisted that her cause become a community effort, using any means necessary to secure donations of food, equipment, services and money to keep costs to campers minimal.
Six decades later, the model she established endures.
At a time when physical and mental handicaps were treated like infectious diseases, Mrs. Lamb’s idea was nothing short of audacious. And the same spirit still defines Jabberwocky. How else to describe this year’s camp play, Romeo and Juliet in Las Vegas, featuring campers and counselors as Elvis impersonators?
Watching the play, or seeing campers all gussied up in the Fourth of July parade, or unexpectedly running into a group getting ice cream in Vineyard Haven or drumming on State Beach, something like pride wells up.
“It’s a remarkable thing,” Helen Lamb’s son, John, told the Gazette this week.
“I was asking businesses if I could put a poster up one summer and I realized that not only do the Islanders like the camp, but they need the camp. You can feel good about supporting the camp. It makes you feel good to be a human being. People see us and think all is not lost.”
Happy 60th birthday, Camp Jabberwocky. We need you more than ever.