Gillian Butchman revels in

The Wabe

Director of The Wabe of Whidbey Island and President of the Katie Johnson fellowship, Gillian Butchman deep dives into the history of the camps and their purpose.

hosted by Sydney Lorton
audio edited by Sydney Lorton
audio produced by Sydney Lorton

Gillian Butchman, director of The Wabe and president of the Katie Johnson fellowship.

Audio Transcription:

I am Gillian Lamb Butchman, and I have helped to start a camp on Whidbey Island for people with disabilities, and I am currently the director.

This is all volunteer, and friendships really develop which can last a very long time.

So we are in the fourth year of that camp, which we call the Wabe of Whidbey Island. And the Wabe is a very strange name. Everybody thinks it’s wave, but we have very much a Lewis Carroll infatuation. Most of the words have already been taken, but this one, from the poem “Jabberwocky”: ’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves; Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. 

And it seems fitting and proper somehow, Whidbey is kind of a lovely name, and so the Wabe of Whidbey suited us very well.

The camps that we grew from began in 1953. It was my mother who started Jabberwocky who was a speech therapist and saw what the need was for kids to experience the kinds of summer activities that kids without disabilities experienced.

We had a favorite camper by the name of Katie Johnson, who was one of the last children admitted to a Maryland institution. She was admitted at age six. When she was 12, I was working for a while at the institution and met Katie and a therapist who really loved her and used to take her home on weekends and holidays. And together we brought her up to Camp Jabberwocky for the summer, where she had two summers and it changed her life.

So through a camp like Jabberwocky, she was really not only able to explore so many other areas of life, but one of the counselors at Jabberwocky, who was studying to be a speech therapist at the time, was really planning to adopt Katie. And that would have made a totally different life for Katie Johnson.

Katie died in 1992 at the institution shortly after returning from Jabberwocky. We were devastated and wanting to do something in her memory.

We started what we called the Katie Johnson fellowship, and turned that into a nonprofit. And our idea with it was to start other camps like Jabberwocky in as many places as we could. And some of us moved on then to start the camp here on Whidbey Island.

We do a lot with adults, maybe more than children because there are many opportunities today for children with quite severe disabilities. Not so with adults. They are able to go to school until their 21st year, and then there’s really very very little for them.

A lot of our campers have very, very special abilities and talents. And we do have a young woman who’s phenomenal, who really plays the piano beautifully, doesn’t read music, but can hear something. This is what she tells me she can hear it five times and she can play it. 

The camp is an eye-opener really, into your own creativity, be you a camper or a mate. There is a bond you get from having had the same experience. Particularly for the, for the mate, so remarkable looking into the lives of someone who’s very different and has very different opportunities or lack thereof.

The stories and the struggles that emerge; it’s like you’re constantly inside a good book or inside a good movie. You’re living stories.

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