25th Anniversary: Let’s start at the beginning!

Let’s start at the beginning! Let’s go back to day one of Aaron’s Acres. Let’s go back to BEFORE Aaron’s Acres held its first summer camp session and why it exists today. Here are the stories of Janiece Seldomridge and Barbara Beakley who were integral to the creation of Aaron’s Acres and were there at its inception.


When Aaron got diagnosed with Autism, we went to CHOP. I left as a mom and came home an advocate.

I needed to advocate for him, so that his needs were met just like any other child. When Aaron was about 5 years old, I started calling around to summer camps. There was one problem. At each location, I was told that Aaron needed to be toilet trained and he wasn’t. As my calls continued, the list of summer camp options got shorter, and my passion grew larger.

Aaron’s Acres was built out of necessity. It was built so that children like Aaron, who didn’t fit the mold, also got a camp experience. Aaron started it. He is the founder. He is the reason for Aaron’s Acres.

We reached out to IU13 classes who might be able to connect with service providers and gauge the interest in and benefit of providing a camp experience to children in similar situations.

The program started with 11 kids. When we began, we got a grant for $250 and we thought it was the most amazing thing we could ever hope for. Little did we know what was to come. We just wanted our 11 kids to have fun at camp and that’s what they did. Then the program quickly grew via word of mouth. It was no longer about what camp, it was just “my kid went to camp”. Aaron did this. Not me. He gets the credit. He needed it. I did it. As a mom, you want the best for your kids and sometimes that means going the little extra mile. I’m just a mom.

There was a spotlight in the newspaper that highlighted me and the start of this new program. This was such an exciting thing! It was after this article, that Risa joined us. Risa had seen the article in the paper and wanted to be a part of our vision. In the blink of an eye, things quickly evolved as Risa expanded outreach to Millersville University.

Camp started with just one week, then two… then other families in other counties wanted weeks!

I can’t believe how many counties it’s in now, and its expansion is so far beyond anything I could have imagined then. To know that it has that much community support and dedication from its partners is unbelievable.

To see that it continues to be a need for families outside the original scope… we were onto something. It’s still such a need and I love the community outreach with AAAOK and more peers of the same age to aid in their support.

So many times, these children were segregated, even in school, and this camp helped to create connections and community – it still does! This camp helps to make these children visible and give them a voice. This camp allows them to show others, and themselves, what amazing things they’re capable of doing. It’s created a ripple effect, and those ripples have gone far and wide.

When it came time to name Aaron’s Acres, I really wanted to give credit to my son Aaron. Aaron is why it happened. He’s the creator. We were stuck on the idea of using an acronym and then used Aaron’s name as the jumping off point… so it became Aaron’s Acres.

I am so proud – of it all. From then to now, the parents that got together for a common cause, and now to see everything. I don’t think it’s ever stopped growing! To say WOW is an understatement.

Aaron created a camp; Risa designed it, community members welcomed it, and parents are thankful.

Janiece Seldomridge, Aaron’s mom


It’s hard to believe that twenty-five years have passed since the first Aaron’s Acres camp. It began with Aaron’s mother sharing her desire with others to have a summer program for her son. Among other contacts, Janiece, Aaron’s mother, reached out to Millersville University inviting me to an informal meeting to brainstorm possibilities. It was evident from that meeting that there was a large need for recreational activities for children who could not participate in other programs and a strong desire to fill that void. Thus, through much effort and community support the first Aaron’s Acres camp became a reality.

Camp was held at the Jewish Community Center. Everyone wore the iconic yellow tee-shirt. It was a two-week schedule with typical activities, play time, snacks, and best of all, swimming. Practicing teachers from a Millersville University graduate program provided camping activities and gained first-hand experience working with the campers. A nurse was present daily and community members brought in special programs. There were entertaining sessions for mothers and two evening family nights.

It was obvious that the first Aaron’s Acres camping experience was enjoyable and rewarding for everyone involved. I don’t think anyone could envision that Aaron’s Acres would extend into multiple counties, several sessions, and serve young children to young adults throughout the year. The growth has been amazing and a real testimonial to shared dreams, a clear vision, and the hard work of a very dedicated staff.

Dr. Barbara Beakley, Professor Emeritus, Millersville University