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Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology to host second annual Aphasia Camp in September 2024

The annual Nevada Aphasia Camp brings people from diverse backgrounds together for a weekend of camping filled with activities, good food and great conversation

Aphasia camp attendees posing underneath the Sierra Nevada Journeys wooden arch sign.

In September of 2023, a total of 21 participants journeyed from Reno to Grizzly Creek Ranch for the first annual Aphasia Camp.

Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology to host second annual Aphasia Camp in September 2024

The annual Nevada Aphasia Camp brings people from diverse backgrounds together for a weekend of camping filled with activities, good food and great conversation

In September of 2023, a total of 21 participants journeyed from Reno to Grizzly Creek Ranch for the first annual Aphasia Camp.

Aphasia camp attendees posing underneath the Sierra Nevada Journeys wooden arch sign.

In September of 2023, a total of 21 participants journeyed from Reno to Grizzly Creek Ranch for the first annual Aphasia Camp.

A wooden tower stands in the forest north of Lake Tahoe, taller than some trees around it. It’s the centerpiece of an imposing ropes course at Sierra Nevada Journeys, where the Department of Speech Pathology & Audiology at the Ƶ School of Medicine (UNR Med) held its first annual Nevada Aphasia Camp in September 2023.  

A wooden tower obstacle course.The wooden tower ropes course at Sierra Nevada Journeys.

Interim Chair of Speech Pathology & Audiology Tami Urbani Brancamp, Ph.D., remembers watching as every person in their group made it to the top of that tower.

“They all climbed it,” Brancamp said. “It didn't matter if they had aphasia because language didn't matter, right? They're still out there doing it. Everybody supported each other. People were challenging themselves to do things that they had never done. With and without aphasia.” 

The annual Nevada Aphasia Camp brings people from diverse backgrounds together for a weekend of camping filled with activities, good food and great conversation.  

An Aphasia Community 

Aphasia, a disorder that interferes with a person’s ability to understand and produce language, affects approximately two million people in the United States. It can impact speech, reading, writing and even the ability to do mathematics. Aphasia is usually but not always associated with a stroke or traumatic head injury and can have varying degrees of severity. 

Brancamp and the Department of Speech Pathology & Audiology run the Aphasia Center of Nevada, offering free psychosocial programming, conversation groups and an aphasia book club. These groups and activities have created a vibrant community that might not otherwise exist. 

“Aphasia is incredibly isolating,” Brancamp said. “Often, they lose their ability to go to work. They lose friendships and connections. So, the goal of our aphasia work is to support that human connection. Connect with other people who have aphasia or who understand it so that we can maximize their independence as much as possible.” 

During one of the aphasia group meetings, the idea for the camp came up. Brancamp excitedly posted about the concept on the Aphasia Center of Nevada Facebook page in October 2022. 

“Fun time getting together for pizza, wings and conversation,” Brancamp wrote. “We think Aphasia Camp at Lake Tahoe, summer 2023, was born tonight! What do you think? Want to join us?” 

Making Camp 

The camp happened on schedule in September of 2023. A total of 21 participants journeyed from Reno to Grizzly Creek Ranch, where they engaged in several traditional camp activities like archery, hiking, a ropes course and many others. The camp allowed Zack Holm and others to return to activities they have more difficulty with now. 

Two people kayaking in a river.Campers participate in multiple camp activities, including kayaking.

“I camped a lot. We did Vermont for like years and years,” said Holm, who has aphasia as the result of a stroke. “And then, actually, we did it [camped] here.”  

His speech is deliberate but clear and is often punctuated by pauses and hand gestures that help convey a deeper meaning.  

“I thought it was a nice compromise to do something that was not super rustic but with cabins that have bathrooms and bunk beds and mattresses,” Brancamp laughed. “I am not a camper, I am a glamper or a hotel person.” 

The camp’s amenities allow for a wide range of individuals to attend the Nevada Aphasia Camp. People with partial weakness brought on by a stroke, other mobility issues and even low vision have all been able to participate. The camp facilities are entirely ADA compliant, and the staff are well trained and eager to help. 

“We invite all people who have aphasia and their families, their care partners, caregivers, and then we also have graduate students come and support,” said Maralaya Cuba, a Speech Pathology & Audiology graduate student. 

The idea is to help people get back to doing things that are meaningful to them as independently as possible, Brancamp said. 

“Aphasia, every day, is hard,” Holm said. “Sierra Nevada Journeys is beautiful, and it's just beautiful. It's really nice. Everything. Nice.” 

“For a whole weekend,” his wife Sara Holm continued, picking up on his conversation and gestures to help him through the rest of his sentence, “everybody gets it.” 

Campers sitting at a table working on crafts like painting rocks.Aphasia Camp campers participate in arts and crafts, like coloring mandalas and painting rocks.

Continuing to Climb 

The first weekend was so successful that Brancamp and her team have added an extra day to this year’s Nevada Aphasia Camp. From September 12 through 15, a diverse group of people will meet in Reno and head off to camp.  

“One of the things I learned is it takes time to grow a camp,” Brancamp said. “To get people to trust us, to know that it's okay to come, to know that they're safe and that it'll be alright. And it's okay if you're not a big camper. The camp is very comfortable. I mean, if I can handle it, y'all can handle it.” 

Learn more about Nevada Aphasia Camp 2024 on the . 

“I would encourage anybody who knows a person who is a stroke survivor or has other forms of aphasia to contact me if they have the slightest interest,” Brancamp said. “It's one of my most favorite things that I get to do. Sometimes it's hard to put into words how beautiful the experience can be.” 

Brancamp sees a bright future for the program but wants to maintain a balance that stays true to the vision they dreamed up in a pizza restaurant in 2022. 

“My goal is that the camp will continue annually, for as many years as people want to participate,” she said. “We would like to increase enrollment in the camp up to 20-30 people with aphasia. We want the camp to be intimate enough so participants can get to know each other and make lasting connections.” 

Holm agrees and would love to see more people join this year, too. 

“It's fun, really fun,” Zack Holm said with a broad smile. 

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