HOLLAND — A South Carolina-based nonprofit is bringing its mission to provide sailing camps for children with autism to Holland this summer.
Spectrum Sailing will host a three-day sailing camp at Macatawa Bay Yacht Club, in partnership with the Macatawa Bay Junior Association, Saturday-Monday, Aug. 19-21.
Scott Herman, executive director and founder of Spectrum Sailing, founded the organization six years ago in Charleston, South Carolina.
He started the organization to provide opportunities for his son Daniel, now 15, who has autism and wasn’t allowed to join local sailing camps when the family moved to Charleston six years ago.
“There were five in town, and none would take him because of his diagnosis,” Herman said. “My wife and I decided we’d start our own.”
At the first camp, which offered 10 spots, more than 70 parents signed up, Herman said. He and his wife continued to run the sailing camp locally for several years before rebranding to Spectrum Sailing and taking their mission nationwide.
Last year, the organization ran camps in three different cities. That expanded to eight cities, including Holland, this summer. Herman, who used to live in Chicago, said he has friends who sail at Macatawa Bay and a Spectrum Sailing board member lives in Holland.
Herman said the camp operates like any other sailing camp, but uses different teaching methods and allows students learn at their own pace.
“We pride our program on not just being a boat ride program, it really is about learning to sail,” Herman said. “We teach the same skills you’d learn at a sailing camp. They get to learn how the boat works, why the boat works, what the parts of the boats are.”
But while the camp provides real training, there’s more to it.
“I know some of these kids will never walk on a sailboat again,” Herman said. “We’re using sailing as a vehicle to give them an opportunity to feel included, to feel valued, to feel like they’re part of a team.
“The real value in the program isn’t that I’m leaving 20 kids in every city that know how to sail. It’s that we’ve created an environment for them to feel important and valued and for them to be able to take that self-esteem boost and be successful in other areas of life.”
In addition to working with children at the camps, Herman said Spectrum Sailing works with local staff members on how to work with neurodiverse students. He said the camp also creates a sort of support group among parents who talk while the students are out sailing.
“We’re influencing multiple groups of people in the community, not just the kids we take sailing,” he said.
The camp is free and open to children ages 10-17. It will have a morning and afternoon session, giving a total of 20 local kids a chance to participate.
Registration is done through a lottery system — meaning all eligible registrants will be put into a drawing to participate. The organization is also looking for volunteers and community partners.
For more information or to register, visit spectrumsailing.org.
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: A sailing camp for children with autism is coming to Holland in August