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Monroeville Girl Scout's summer camp offers safe space for kids with autism

Dillon Carr
| Tuesday, July 25, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Vicki Huff, camp organizer, with Adam Mrusek, 10, of Forest Hills, on the last day of Camp M.A.P. (Monroeville Autisim Program) at the Gateway Heights pool on Friday, June 30. The program was Huff's Girl Scout Gold Project. Lillian DeDomenic  |  For The Tribune Review
Vicki Huff, camp organizer, with Adam Mrusek, 10, of Forest Hills, on the last day of Camp M.A.P. (Monroeville Autisim Program) at the Gateway Heights pool on Friday, June 30. The program was Huff's Girl Scout Gold Project. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review
Vicki Huff, camp organizer, with Mia Barr, 12, of North Versailles, on the last day of Camp M.A.P. (Monroeville Autisim Program) at the Gateway Heights pool on Friday, June 30. The program was Huff's Girl Scout Gold Project. Lillian DeDomenic  |  For The Tribune Review
Vicki Huff, camp organizer, with Mia Barr, 12, of North Versailles, on the last day of Camp M.A.P. (Monroeville Autisim Program) at the Gateway Heights pool on Friday, June 30. The program was Huff's Girl Scout Gold Project. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review
Vicki Huff, camp organizer, with Mia Barr, 12, of North Versailles, on the last day of Camp M.A.P. (Monroeville Autisim Program) at the Gateway Heights pool on Friday, June 30. The program was part of Huff's Girl Scout Gold Project. Lillian DeDomenic  |  For The Tribune Review
Vicki Huff, camp organizer, with Mia Barr, 12, of North Versailles, on the last day of Camp M.A.P. (Monroeville Autisim Program) at the Gateway Heights pool on Friday, June 30. The program was part of Huff's Girl Scout Gold Project. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review
Adam Mrusek, 10, of Forest Hills, Matti Shelton, 13, Monroeville, Katherine Marston, Monroeville, Mia Barr, 12, North Versailles, with Vicki Huff, camp program organizer, on the last day of Camp M.A.P. (Monroeville Autisim Program) at the Gateway Heights pool on Friday, June 30. The program was Huff's Girl Scout Gold Award Project . Lillian DeDomenic  |  For The Tribune Review
Adam Mrusek, 10, of Forest Hills, Matti Shelton, 13, Monroeville, Katherine Marston, Monroeville, Mia Barr, 12, North Versailles, with Vicki Huff, camp program organizer, on the last day of Camp M.A.P. (Monroeville Autisim Program) at the Gateway Heights pool on Friday, June 30. The program was Huff's Girl Scout Gold Award Project . Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review
Vicki Huff (center), camp organizer, with Adam Mrusek, 10, of Forest Hills and, Mia Barr, 12, of North Versailles, on the last day of Camp M.A.P. (Monroeville Autisim Program) at the Gateway Heights pool on Friday, June 30.  The program was part of Huff's Girl Scout Gold Project. Lillian DeDomenic  |  For The Tribune Review
Vicki Huff (center), camp organizer, with Adam Mrusek, 10, of Forest Hills and, Mia Barr, 12, of North Versailles, on the last day of Camp M.A.P. (Monroeville Autisim Program) at the Gateway Heights pool on Friday, June 30. The program was part of Huff's Girl Scout Gold Project. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Tribune Review

Victoria Huff of Monroeville had numerous surgeries growing up.

The 17-year-old Girl Scout ambassador has Charge syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects several parts of the body, including the heart, eyes, ears and reproductive organs.

The surgeries have left a number of malformations on the teen's body, and some of Huff's peers have been less than kind about it — especially at summer camps, she said.

“I would go to summer camps, and I wouldn't feel comfortable around other kids,” she said. “I went to the YMCA for a couple weeks and I had a feeding tube. … Kids would pick on me for that.”

So when Huff had to develop a project that would earn her the highest honor in the Girl Scouts — the Gold Award — she wanted to offer other children with debilitating diseases a summer camp just for them.

“I wanted them to have a better experience than I had when I was growing up,” Huff said.

From June 26 to 30, she hosted a day camp at Cleveland Steward Elementary and Gateway Heights Swim Club for three boys and one girl with autism.

“They all had a blast,” she said, adding the activities were aimed at kids who have been diagnosed with varying degrees of the disorder. Most of the activities, Huff said, involved sensory stimulation.

“It was geared toward them. We had stuff for them to do that they would enjoy,” Huff said. “If they needed a break, they got a break. It was something for them to do where they felt comfortable and weren't scared, Huff said.

“We had shaving cream; we made Jello and pudding, slime. The science center did rocket activities, and we made an Alka-Seltzer rocket. Gateway Robotics came out. … On Monday, we had a K-9 officer and they learned about the dog — and then they all tried on a bulletproof vest.”

The Gold Award, according to the Girl Scouts website, represents the highest achievement in the organization. It is a project that is meant to leave a lasting impact on a Girl Scout's community.

For now, she said, the camp focused on kids with autism, but she hopes it expands to include others with different disorders in years to come.

She's awaiting word from the Girl Scouts of Western PA if her project merited the Gold Award, likely in the winter, when Huff will be a senior at Gateway High School. With the prestigious award, she hopes to stand out to colleges when she applies.

She said she wants to study secondary education and history.

“I want to teach, do tours in the summer and work at museums maybe. I also want to go abroad if I can,” she said. But she will always be part of the Girl Scouts, she said.

“After I graduate, I'll join the life membership (of the Girl Scouts),” she said.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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