Monday, August 29, 2011

Helen Lamb, founder of camp that led to disabled adults creating "How's Your News," dies

From The Boston Globe:

Helen Lamb (pictured) picked up the nickname Hellcat for her take-no-prisoners approach to driving, but it fit tidily with all aspects of her life, not least her decision in 1953 to found a summer camp on Martha’s Vineyard for the developmentally disabled that would become known as Camp Jabberwocky.

Told it would be impossible, she did so anyway. Turning down federal money and the intrusion of outsiders, she built the camp from a borrowed cottage into a 14-acre site in Vineyard Haven, always staffed entirely with volunteers.

Famously forthright, she spoke in far less delicate terms than most who work with the developmentally disabled.

In 1966, she told the Globe that in its early days, the camp drew some contributions from the island’s wealthy summer visitors who saw “this gang, like refugees, making our way to the beach - those who couldn’t walk, in wheelchairs; those who could, helping to push; others carrying suitcases, braces, and casts.’’

Mrs. Lamb remained remarkably healthy into her 90s, until “it was almost like she said, ‘This will be a good time to die, and so I’m going to die,’ ’’ said her son, John of Brookline. She began sleeping more, stopped eating, and then ceased taking fluids before dying Friday night, the eve of her birthday, in her Oak Bluffs home at 96.

“Helen was an inspiring person,’’ said Lynne L. Wolf, who chairs the board of trustees for Camp Jabberwocky, which is officially named Martha’s Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp Inc.

“I would call her a visionary,’’ Wolf said, “someone who saw a need to give folks with disabilities a chance to have a vacation - both the campers and their families - and to do something really fun.’’

In the beginning, few could envision the kind of camp Mrs. Lamb believed she could create. She was a speech therapist at a Fall River clinic that treated developmentally disabled clients, and “the doctors were telling her, ‘No, you can’t do this,’ and she said, ‘Well, I’m doing it anyway,’ ’’ her son said.

“In 1953,’’ he said, “people weren’t taking handicapped kids to camp because they were afraid they might have seizures, they were afraid they might die. She said these kids are trapped in their apartments with not much air conditioning, particularly the ones who are poor.’’

Her sister was renting a cottage called “Happy Days’’ in Oak Bluffs and let Mrs. Lamb use it for a month. A week at a time, she brought a few children to the island.

The cottages were “so close together you can literally shake hands from one piazza to the next,’’ she told the Globe in 1966. “And ours had no hot water, no bathrooms as such, no cooking facilities except an old oil stove, which never did work, but this was all I could afford.’’