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Ashland - Local Town Pages

Making Space For Everyone Former A.D., his wife, start nonprofit

Write your article here..By Susan Manning

Staff writer 

When former Ashland High School Athletic Director Stephen Marks, and his wife Jamie, were looking for summer camps for their 5-year-old son Lincoln, they found very few options.

The couple wanted Lincoln, who is non-verbal, diagnosed with autism, and has significant developmental delays, a camp that was fully inclusive.

“We are strong advocates and believe wholeheartedly in the benefits of fully inclusive programming and as we began searching for opportunities for Lincoln to attend summer camp with his brother and peers last summer, it became apparent that there were very few opportunities. The handful of opportunities that were available, came at a significant additional cost for families and many camps were unprepared to support and navigate the experience for campers with disabilities,” he said.

Rather than accept the fact that there were few options for Lincoln, the Marks took matters into their own hands.

“Earlier this year, we founded Linclusion, a nonprofit organization dedicated to facilitating the integration of children aged 3-15 with disabilities into traditional summer camps. The is inspired by our amazing son Lincoln,” said Marks.

The organization integrates the children in camps, with the help of one-on-one aides at no cost to families.

How it began

*I stepped down from my dream job as the Ashland Athletic Director so that I could spend more time with my family and be available to help with both of our children; especially given all of the therapies and appointments that our younger son has.  

“Additionally, our older son is beginning to play sports himself and now I can be available to coach/watch him. My wife was basically doing it all herself while I often worked 12-14 hour days, and was on call 24/7,” said Marks. 

The couple runs the nonprofit from their house in Ashland, but partnered with local existing camps.

“Our office is in our house in Ashland, however the camps we have partnered with for the first summer are in Framingham (Pilgrim Day Camp) and Ashland (Ashland rec center),” he said.

A couple is busy, raising funds to higher than necessary staffing, and any facilities needs to accommodate campers.

Marks said children with disabilities and their families will benefit from this nonprofit.  

“The kids can experience the magic of summer camp with their peers in a fully inclusive setting.  It also serves the camps and other campers as we fully believe that campers of all abilities benefit from being together,” he said.     

“It was our experience where our idea would provide a platform for children with disabilities to be able to attend traditional summer camp while taking the financial burden off families began to form.  

“We were fortunate to be able to hire a one-on-one aide for Lincoln and saw the absolute joy he had this past summer alongside friends, peers, and his brother, Logan. The feeling we would get when we would pull into camp and a group of campers would run over screaming “Lincoln is here!,” cannot be adequately captured in words. That is the magic of camp! 

“We also experienced the financial hardship and stress that providing one-on-one support caused our family and can only imagine how others in similar situations felt. Lincoln was not defined by or labeled as the “kid with special needs,” at camp, he was simply a member of his group. He participated in all of the activities with his cohort with his aide by his side, and we saw how powerful and meaningful this experience was for campers of all abilities,” said Marks.

How it’s going

Marks said the short term goal is to get kids signed up for the summer of 2024.

“Our goal for Linclusion is to provide the financial resources and partnerships with summer camps to support children with disabilities attending.  We have secured partnerships with 2 camps already and after our soft launch on social media, have been approached by numerous others.  We are aiming to send as many campers as possible to camp, free of financial obligations for added support services in the summer of 2024,” he said.

Down the line, he and his wife hope to push the brand out to several camps, offering the option for as many kids as possible to enjoy summer camp without barriers.

“We would like to have a successful model that can be taken and used at other future partner camps; the Linclusion brand. We want to be able to send unlimited numbers of campers to a number of partner camps. We have been approached by camp directors in other states who have heard about us, and want to partner with us, so potentially expanding to other parts of the country,” Marks said. 

For more information, visit: www.linclusion.orgorganization’s mission and name