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Creighton’s Abilities Camp: Empowering Children, Inspiring Students

Jun 20, 2024
5 min Read
Amanda Biggs

Creighton University’s annual Abilities Camp brought together 90+ campers—children with special needs—alongside the physical therapy (PT) students and the men’s and women’s basketball teams. The camp offered a unique experience that combined fun, learning and personal growth for all involved, exemplifying Creighton's mission of service and community engagement.

When campers arrived, they found PT students and basketball players forming a tunnel to welcome them. Michelle Reilly, PT, DPT, OCS, shared her enthusiasm for this special moment: “That's probably one of my favorite things that we do—the tunnel in the morning. We modify it for each camper.” If a camper is full of energy, the PTs and basketball players get extra loud, and if a camper does not respond positively to loud noises, the volunteers provide welcoming smiles and waves.


Throughout the day campers work one-on-one with a physical therapy student to stretch, complete obstacles at stations and play with others. The basketball players lift campers to reach the basketball rim and provide pointers. By the end of the day, campers progress from nervous participants to confident graduates. The day serves as a formative experience for all. “I think everyone just learns a little bit more about the human experience on that day,” Reilly reflected.

The event, originally spearheaded by Lisa Black, PT, DPT, has become a beloved Creighton and the greater Omaha area tradition. And now Reilly and Kimberly A. Beran-Shepler, PT, DPT, OCS, FNAP, will carry its torch into the future.

Reinforcing what motivates a student to pursue physical therapy

Ben Gordon, a class of 2025 PT student, shares: “The camp provided an incredible example of the foundation of the physical therapy profession: serving others to guide them in living out their passions, regardless of their characteristics or background.”

Anna Grzelak, a class of 2025 PT student, echoed this sentiment, describing how the camp encouraged her to seek out further opportunities to serve children with various medical conditions. “I love working with kids because they are so honest, hardworking and energetic. They definitely keep you on your toes!” she said.

 It was amazing to see what could happen in just a couple hours. This shy little guy in the beginning of the day was running around and laughing with a new friend by the end of the camp.
— Christopher Hansen, physical therapy student, class of 2025

Building confidence in each camper

Christopher Hansen, class of 2025 PT student, recounted how “in the beginning, many of the children were energetic yet shy. As the camp continued, they started to relax and become comfortable interacting with other children.”

For Meghan McCarey, class of 2025 PT student, seeing her camper’s transformation was particularly heartwarming. “He started out the day being quite shy, needing help from his sister to pass and shoot the ball. By the end of camp, he was playing with a friend and shooting the ball into our arms all by himself,” she shared.

Similarly, Gordon saw significant growth in his camper's confidence and skills. “By the end of the camp, they were volunteering for every activity, teaching others and fully embracing that they could do anything they set their mind to,” he said.

Participating in the Abilities Camp provided me with invaluable hands-on experience working with children of diverse abilities, reinforcing the importance of individualized care and adaptability in treatment approaches.
— Meghan McCarey, physical therapy student, class of 2025

Creating space for inclusivity and unwavering joy

Kalli Kuebler, class of 2025 PT student, noted: “I found seeing the joy all around to be the most fulfilling.” She witnessed high-functioning campers going out of their way to help others who needed more assistance. Kuebler noted that every person in attendance—camper, parents, volunteers, basketball players—had a smile on their face from start to finish.

Matt Welinski, class of 2025 PT student, highlighted the importance of adaptability and inclusion. “The camp really opened my eyes to how important it is to understand your campers and what they can and can’t handle,” he said. Welinski’s camper expressed her frustration at not being able to shoot baskets on her own, despite earlier attempts with her dad. By the end of the day, she still hadn't made a basket but was thrilled with the practice and improvement she saw in herself. Welinski shared how honored he felt to add to her confidence and perseverance to take what she had learned beyond the camp.

Opportunities like this camp align with my goals as a physical therapist to build environments where people can do what they want to do as much as they want to do without restriction.
— Matt Welinski, physical therapy student, class of 2025

Celebrating what makes us unique

The Abilities Camp doesn't just resonate with the children and students; it also has a profound effect on the camper’s parents. For parents, this camp is more than just a day of activities. It's a celebration of the uniqueness of each child. “Seeing the joy and pride that the parents have in their children as they play and learn is so cool,” said Hansen.

Noah Jacobson has been a camper for multiple years, and his mother, Michala, expressed her gratitude: “What keeps us coming back to the Abilities Camp is the amazing staff, men’s and women’s basketball teams, coaches and the physical therapy students who do an outstanding job interacting with the children on their level,” she shares. “The camp gives Noah a chance to interact with children at similar ability levels, and it celebrates the uniqueness of all these special children!”