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Kansas City Stroke Camp 2011

Q: What do you get when you combine 12 stroke survivors, 13 caregivers, and 20 volunteers for a weekend?

A: Some really corny skits.

I just spent the last weekend at the Retreat and Refresh Stroke Camp here in Kansas City. Sponsored by Midwest Stroke Care, this was the first ever stroke camp for the Kansas City area, but it was one of a network of camps spanning the nation designed especially for stroke survivors and their caregivers to attend together. Campers come together to share their stories with others in similar situations, to relax in an environment designed for their comfort and safety (no tents here, by the way!), and to laugh, joke, and play in a way you only can at camp.

Music therapists often work with stroke survivors in rehab settings, targeting physical goals (e.g. improved gait, improved hand strength and coordination), speech goals, and cognitive goals (e.g. improved concentration). At the stroke camp, though, these goal areas were secondary to the emotional and social needs that stroke survivors and their caregivers have in facing long-term recovery and chronic disability. As the camp’s music therapist, my main role was to bring music to the camp in all the camp-y ways you might expect: singing at each meal, singing around the Friday night campfire, music at the Sunday morning reflection time (with tone chimes!), an introductory drum circle on Friday afternoon, and a big drum circle to end the weekend on Sunday. Because of my training and experience as a music therapist, I could plan and adapt music experiences to meet the needs of the stroke survivors in particular, while also fitting in planned and spontaneous music experiences with the general flow of the weekend. At the same time, I could be a source of information on how music therapy and music-based exercises can help with long-term rehabilitation from stroke. In between the musical moments, I got to be like any other volunteer, spending time with the caregivers and survivors, caring for their needs to ensure that relaxing and restoring weekend, and helping with all the behind-the-scenes work that keeps the camp running.

The weekend was intense, and the incredible moments are too many to name, but here are a few of the highlights:

  • Our introductory drum circle was the first scheduled event after the campers arrived, and I anticipated some difficulty getting a solid groove going since many folks would be new to each other and new to drumming, and some would have extra physical difficulties playing in rhythm. I was wrong. The group found their groove quickly, and soon everyone was jamming on their drums and their voices. We were making beautiful music from the start!
  • We had rain off and on all weekend, but it seemed clear enough to have our campfire outdoors on Friday evening. The campfire area was some distance away from the main lodge, so we trundled down to the fire pit in golf carts a few people at a time. We were having a great time singing old campfire tunes and toasting marshmallows when it started to sprinkle again. Of course, we had the perfect song then – “Singin’ in the Rain.” What a picturesque camping moment that was!
  • One man told me he had given up singing after his stroke three years ago, because his beautiful tenor voice just wasn’t the same in the months after the stroke. After encouragement throughout the weekend from his wife and from me, he sang “Amazing Grace” with the other campers in the Sunday morning reflection service. He told another volunteer that he found his voice again.
  • Our final drum circle was absolutely overflowing with love and gratitude. The best part came with a little melodic facilitation on the oboe. “Yankee Doodle” inspired several folks to begin marching in a smaller circle in the middle of the larger drum circle. Soon we had melodies and rhythm blending together in an incredible musical tapestry. That energy will carry us for a while, I hope!

Stroke Camp was incredible. If you are or someone you love is a stroke survivor, consider attending a stroke camp in your area. All the information you need is on the Stroke Camp website. If you are thinking about volunteering or if you are a music therapist and have a chance to work at a Stroke Camp, I highly recommend it!

What kind of experiences have you had at Stroke Camp or a similar kind of setting? Please share your story below!

2 comments… add one
  • Rachelle, What a fabulous description of last weekend. I hope I can find a way to link it to our Facebook page so others can see what you had to say. You did a fabulous job and I thank you personally for your understanding when the oboe playing spoke to my feet and I just couldn’t help but get up and march. What a refreshing and fun way to end our weekend! We heard that the sponsors have approved the funds for next year, so mark your calendar! Third weekend in September, let’s meet again.

    • soundscapemusictherapy

      Yay! I am marking my calendar right now. Thank you so much for your comment, Marylee, and for starting such a wonderful camp!

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