Years ago – 1953 – Helen Lamb (fondly known as Hellcat) began an unusual summer camp for children with severe disabilities on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, MA – The Martha’s Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp. This was a time when many children with severe disabilities were all but thrown away. The advice to Ann Perry from her pediatrician (when her son, Larry, was diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy) was “The best thing you can do for this child and the rest of your family is to put him in an institution and throw away the key.”
Ann Perry did not do that, although there was no public education or therapy program available for Larry. There were a few, scattered hospital clinics which did what they could to provide therapy and education for children with severe disabilities. And, In 1951, Ann was able to get Larry (then 6 years old) to the Cerebral Palsy Clinic of Truesdale Hospital in Fall River, MA. There they met Helen Lamb, the speech therapist and coordinator of the clinic.
In her work Helen Lamb saw ﬁrst hand the all consuming diﬃculties confronting parents who chose to keep at home their children with severe disabilities. Many families broke up under the strain. There was no respite for the parents, and siblings felt neglected with so much of their mother’s energy and time being needed by the brother or sister with disabilities.
To make a long and interesting story as short as possible, Helen Lamb decided in 1953 to begin a summer camp on Martha’s Vineyard for children with severe disabilities – so that parents might have a break and spend time with their other children, and the children with disabilities might experience and enjoy the same summer activities and adventures as did children without disabilities. Larry Perry was one of the ﬁrst campers.
From the Martha’s Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp to its sprouts (via the Katie Johnson Fellowship) of The Tulgey Wood on Nantucket and Zeno Mountain Farm in Vermont, Larry Perry never missed a summer. Larry died in the summer of 2011, and just two weeks later Helen Lamb died. A beloved Jabberwocky counselor, who had known both Larry and Hellcat well, humorously quipped that Larry from his heavenly abode must be saying “There goes my peace and quiet.”
The Martha’s Vineyard Cerebral Palsy Camp was “an idea whose time had come”. Surely it took part in changing our society’s attitudes towards towards people with severe disabilities. Camp Jabberwocky ﬂourishes today as do its many offshoots nurtured by the Katie Johnson Fellowship. The Wabe of Whidbey Island is its most recent.