Katie in the play “Grease” in 1991
The Katie Johnson Fellowship began informally at Camp Jabberwocky in 1993. It was a passionate effort to remember the life of Katie Johnson, a little girl with severe cerebral palsy, who died tragically at the age of 12 in a Maryland institution, where she had lived since she was six years old.
After her sixth year, whatever Katie knew or experienced of family life, of summer activities, of sports, of animals, of travel, came through two friends, Midge and Maria, who worked at the institution and were captivated by her. Midge took Katie home with her for holidays and many weekends and, in the summers of 1991 and 1992, Midge and Maria rented a wheelchair accessible van and brought Katie up to Camp Jabberwocky, on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Katie did not have speech or control of her extremities, although she was dramatically exuberant and communicative with her facial expressions! At Jabberwocky a young speech pathologist, Kim, introduced Katie to a computer program using scanning and a single switch. It would be a long learning period, but Katie responded with enthusiasm and, for the first time, began to communicate with more than a weakly signed “yes” and “no”.
Katie’s charisma was unusual, and she made lots of new friends at Jabberwocky among those with and without disabilities. She especially loved participating in the end of camp musical plays and, luckily, her “steal the show” acting in “Grease” was captured in a photograph. It was Katie’s camp friends who began The Katie Johnson Fellowship in the fervent hope that Katie’s life might be actively remembered. In Katie’s name, they hoped to begin programs which could help other children and adults with severe disabilities and few resources to discover places and friends which might reveal to and share with them the excitements and adventures of life.
Kim and Katie at State Beach
It quickly became apparent that the best way to do this was to start as many other camps as possible in the philosophy and spirit of Camp Jabberwocky. The plan was to instigate and support the start of such programs but to quickly encourage the independence of each. In the late 1990’s The KtJ Fellowship economically and philosophically supported the start up of Camp Looking Glass in Mississippi and El Convite in Mexico. El Convite began as a summer camp but has grown into a year- round school for children with severe disabilities.
In 2004, The Katie Johnson Fellowship became a registered 501 (c) (3) program and in 2005, the Fellowship parted from Jabberwocky to begin working exclusively on the start up of new camps that would follow the founding principles and spirit of Jabberwocky.
Kim, Katie, Gillian and Star at Greenwell