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Sandy Hook Father Starts Virtual Camp For Those With Disabilities

Camp Wings of Friendship was held virtually over the summer
Ian Hockley
Camp Wings of Friendship was held virtually over the summer.

Ian Hockley lost his 6-year-old son Dylan in the Sandy Hook school shooting. In the years since, he founded the nonprofit Dylan’s Wings of Change to support kids with autism and other challenges. Now he has a new project: a summer camp where he says his son would have felt understood.

“He was a shy little lad,” Hockley said about Dylan, who had special needs. “He was struggling with his speech comprehension and his speech development.” 

Along with starting Dylan’s Wings of Change to honor his son’s memory, Hockley helped launch a summer camp last year for people like Dylan, though it had to be virtual because of pandemic shutdowns. 

Dylan Hockley had autism. He was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.
Credit Ian Hockley
Dylan Hockley had autism. He was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.

“The summer camp was three hours a day, three one-hour sessions, five days a week for eight weeks of the summer,” said Hockley.

He partnered with The Friendship Journey, an organization that works to honor two of its volunteers who died in the Parkland school shooting in Florida. Camp Wings of Friendship helps teenagers and adults with disabilities come together for virtual field trips, activities and for real conversations about changing stigmas.

Emma Summers, 17, who had been part of The Friendship Journey, volunteered to be a counselor.

“The more prevalent disabilities are cerebral palsy, autism and Down’s syndrome,” said  Summers.

Last summer, the 40 campers did activities together, then met in smaller groups or virtual cabins where they engaged in deeper discussions.

“It was kind of empowering to hear how they were so adamant to fight for their equitable rights and advocate for themselves and the community that was built on loving each other and being kind and working hard to get the rights everybody else had,” said Summers. 

Most of the campers are from Connecticut or Florida. Hockley said another virtual experience is planned for this year. But his ultimate dream would be for all of them to meet in person.

“We would absolutely love to bring the people who have been in our virtual camp and translate that to an in-person camp for them,” said Hockley. 

He said the camp is free and mostly run by volunteers from both organizations. Much of the cost is covered by fundraising efforts throughout the year. 

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