Los Angeles Sparks Join Local Nonprofit to Celebrate Special Needs Camp’s 5th Anniversary and Growth

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Special Needs Network celebrates 5th annual Joe Patton Academy Camp with visit from Los Angeles Sparks.

We’re so excited to be partnering for the fifth time with LA County’s youth employment program, and for the first time with Vision to Learn, to make this camp experience even more beneficial for all.

Now in its fifth year as the only summer inclusion camp in Los Angeles for special needs children and their siblings, Special Needs Network’s Joe Patton Academy Camp (Camp JPAC) continues to grow and expand to serve more children with more free services. The camp will be held from July 15 through August 9 at former St. Bernadette Catholic School in the heart of Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw area.

While most summer camps maintain their enrollment year after year, Camp JPAC continues to expand to meet the ever-growing demand from the community. This year, members of LA’s WNBA team will join campers and counselors to share in the milestone anniversary by providing a basketball clinic. Sparks players also hope to inspire campers by sharing life lessons and encouraging campers to work hard and reach for their dreams. This will be the fourth year the WNBA team, recently purchased by basketball legend Magic Johnson, has been involved with the summer camp.

“Mr. Johnson’s investment earlier this year in the Sparks organization is a perfect example of community investing and that’s exactly what we do at Special Needs Network,” says Areva Martin, Esq., the nonprofit’s president and co-founder. “We invest in our community by helping deserving kids and their families. We are honored to have the Sparks join us. On and off the court, it is such a gift to see the positive impact they bring to the LA community.”

This year’s anniversary comes off the heels of a recent announcement from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that our nation is facing an epidemic when it comes to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and our children. The CDC report states that diagnoses of autism have increased 30 percent since 2008. ASDs are complex developmental disorders that affect how a person behaves, interacts with others, communicates and learns. There is no known cause or cure.

Sixty percent of Camp JPAC’s campers have autism or other disabilities, and 40 percent are peers of the special needs campers, such as siblings or friends. The camp itself has grown to now serve 300 children in two sessions, with 100 camp counselors who participate through a partnership with the Los Angeles County’s Summer Youth Employment Program. The number of participants in the popular counselor program has expanded from 30 to 100 over the course of the five-year partnership with Special Needs Network.

Counselors, many who are college-age students with a desire to work professionally with developmentally disabled children, receive 18 hours of intensive job readiness program and leadership and skills training. The camp offers a ratio of 4:1 between students and credentialed behavioral therapists, special education teachers, professional staff and volunteer counselors. Camp counselors will be focusing on a Lorax-type theme where campers will learn about the environment and the importance of conservation.

The camp also expanded this year to include eye exams and eyeglasses as needed for the 300 campers. The exams and eyeglasses are made possible by Vision to Learn, a nonprofit that brings eye clinic services to elementary schools in low-income communities of California. The organization’s president and founder, Austin Beutner, was honored for his philanthropy in the community at one of Special Needs Network’s special events last fall.

“We’re so excited to be partnering for the fifth time with LA County’s youth employment program, and for the first time with Vision to Learn, to make this camp experience even more beneficial for all,” says Martin. “We continue to sell out and have a waiting list for JPAC each year, which highlights the growing need for programs like this. With experts estimating the lifetime cost of supporting someone with autism at $2 million, it’s even more crucial to ease some of the burden on these families.”

Free for low- to moderate-income families, Camp JPAC includes structured activities, spontaneous play, organized sports and social interaction for children between the ages of 5 to 16 years old. Educational activities include dance, music, social skills, arts and crafts, sports, games, theater, science, field trips, math and reading.

The camp also provides lunches, field trips and access to professional educators, behavior therapists and other professionals. For the second year, children will also receive dental screenings through a partnership with The Children's Dental Center of Greater Los Angeles.

“Given the professional qualification of the staff and the staff-to-student ratio, meals and specialized programs, programs like Camp JPAC would cost up to $1,000 a week,” says Martin. “Clearly only the most well-to-do families would be able to afford a camp like this, so we’re always excited to offer this annual event to our community free-of-charge.” Martin hopes to accommodate more kids with the continuing expansion of resources and sponsors.

Martin knows all too well the effects autism has on a child. Her son was diagnosed shortly before his second birthday. In addition to running a successful law firm, Martin has committed her life to helping surround California families with resources and support to help children with special needs and autism spectrum disorders thrive.

The camp is being held again this year in the former St. Bernadette Catholic School in the heart of Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw area, on a beautiful campus with classrooms, ball courts, a courtyard and large grassy field.


Special Needs Network is based in Los Angeles and is California’s leading grassroots autism advocacy organization. SNN was established to help individuals and families faced with autism and other developmental disabilities. The organization focuses on raising public awareness, impacting public policy, increasing education and access to resources for families, children and adults. Since its inception, SNN has served more than 35,000 individuals and families impacted by autism. To learn more, visit specialneedsnetwork.org.

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Jennifer Cherock
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