As a group of children with autism play the outdoor musical instruments together in harmony in the Rotary Musical Park at Camp Courageous, a lady with a visual impairment sits holding her ears, feeling the sound of the music. Turning to my left I see a child in his power wheelchair moving backward and forward over the brightly colored stepping-stones that activate harmonized sounds. All have constant beaming smiles across their faces.

For nearly 50 years, the team at Camp Courageous has looked for different ways to reach all our campers who have additional educational and physical needs, but our most recent addition, the musical park, is proving to have a particularly remarkable impact. 

When I arrived at Camp Courageous, I began researching the idea for an outdoor musical park and could immediately visualize the benefits. The large musical instruments and the path of stepping-stones would intrigue and engage everyone — regardless of their physical or cognitive needs.

While researching the available options I noticed that some instruments offered the pentatonic scale — a musical scale with just five notes per octave — meaning that however many people are playing the various Percussion Play instruments at the same time, the resulting sound will always be beautifully harmonized. Giving campers such a positive feeling of success, independence, and increased confidence would be a wonderful addition to the camp. These were clearly going to be ideal to help bolster our vision of inclusivity — supporting all ages from four to 100 and a wide range of people with disabilities. 

We approached our local Monticello Rotary Club about sponsoring the venture, and the club loved the idea of funding our “Rotary Music Park” to mark its 100th year of supporting causes across the region. 

We gave Percussion Play (a creative manufacturer of outdoor, inclusive, and accessible musical instruments) background information on our campers and their range of abilities and our available budget. They, in turn, recommended a beautiful collection of instruments, some for younger and some for older individuals: 

  • Rainbow Cavatina
  • Babel Drums
  • Papilio
  • Diatonic Freechimes
  • Tembos
  • Calypso Chime Post

Very soon, our wonderful friends at the Monticello Rotary Club had installed them, and we started seeing their impact.

Many individuals with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or other special needs often experience challenges participating in the sports or recreational activities. However, when they discover the music park, they are captivated and begin either playing on the drums or using mallets to chime the large-scale xylophone. And for those who utilize wheelchairs, the stepping-stone pathway gives them a different way to engage with the sounds. 

While some campers engage in group activities, others choose to spend their time doing more sensory-based activities. One young man with a behavioral disorder attended camp for the first time after being housebound due to the pandemic. He spent most of his camp day with the instruments. Like many individuals with similar diagnoses, he found the music area to be relaxing and soothing. It wasn’t long before counselors recognized the therapeutic, sensory benefits that the music park offers our campers — especially those with autism or visual impairments.

Every day at Camp Courageous I see jubilant campers playing next to and with each other. It joins people from different backgrounds who may not normally find themselves together.  

No matter what disability a camper has, everyone finds their own way of engaging with the music. And every day is beautiful and full of new possibilities. 

Camp Courageous is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing year-round recreational and respite care opportunities for individuals with special needs.

Amy Kurth has been the program director at Camp Courageous for about three years. She first came to camp as a counselor in 2006 and has always stayed involved in Camp Courageous.