Erica Cona, a Palm Coast resident whose son Vincent is on the autism spectrum, founded the nonprofit.
Erica Cona was standing in her kitchen on a sunny day last summer when out of the blue her now 9-year-old son, Vincent, asked her if he could go to summer camp with his cousins. Cona lied. She told him the camp was filled, but the real reason he couldn’t go was because Vincent is on the autism spectrum.
“The traditional summer camp wouldn’t be able to meet his special needs,” Cona recalled.
But she wasn’t going to let this stop her son from having a real summer camp experience. Over the next year, Cona founded Vincent’s Clubhouse, a nonprofit organization with the mission of creating summer camps that are enjoyable, educational and suit the needs of children who have autism or other sensory sensitivities.
“Our vision: to create a place where children with autism and their families feel welcomed, supported, safe and encouraged — a clubhouse of their own,” she said.
Seven elementary-school-age children attended the first Vincent’s Clubhouse summer camp this June for a two-week social and learning experience, which was hosted at Parish Hall at Santa Maria del Mar Catholic Church in Flagler Beach.
The campers and their families came together on Friday, June 16, to celebrate the camp’s success and award each student with certificates and gold star trophies.
Isaiah Wiggins, 10, was given the Distinguished Zoologist Award for his animal and dinosaur enthusiasm.
Isaiah’s mother, Laura Robinson, praised the camp’s ability to teach social and life skills. She said Isaiah made friends and learned that it’s OK to lose games because winning isn’t everything.
The group loved playing with bubbles together, especially 10-year-old Dillon Lopez, who was given the Bubble Master Award.
“My grandson wanted to stay there forever,” Leslie Elmore said about Dillon. “He told me to not come pick him up anymore because he didn’t want to leave.”
“Our vision: to create a place where children with autism and their families feel welcomed, supported, safe and encouraged — a clubhouse of their own.”
Erica Cona, founder of Vincent's Clubhouse
Shedrick Moten, 8, was kicked out of two summer camps in Flagler County because he couldn’t cope in their atmospheres, said Shedrick’s mother, Otisa Riles.
“[Vincent’s Clubhouse] really gave him the experience — an experience I doubt he would be able to have if [Cona] didn’t start this nonprofit,” Riles said. “I’m grateful for it.”
To make this camp possible, the nonprofit raised $2,000 at its superhero-themed gala in March, in addition to the being granted free venue use at Santa Maria del Mar Catholic Church and having student volunteers. Cona is hoping to partner with local colleges and Flagler Schools to get more student volunteers for future summer camps. Vincent’s Clubhouse now offers parent support groups, social events and is working to establish an advocacy committee.
For more information, visit www.vincentsclubhouse.org.