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Camp Royall: A Special Place Because of Special People

Christopher Pister

Christopher Pister

Each year, hundreds of individuals with autism experience the magic of summer camp at the Autism Society of North Carolina’s Camp Royall. At the end of the summer, we put together a magazine full of stories and photos of the life-changing experiences. Below, we share the story of a family that has made a difference in many people’s lives in return for Camp Royall making a difference in their lives. To read more of the stories and see the full Camp Chronicle, click here to read online or here for a copy you can download.

At Camp Royall, we know that when you make a difference in one person’s life, you often end up changing many people’s lives.

Take the Pister family of Pittsboro. Christopher Pister, who is 11, was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years old. His family has been able to provide all sorts of resources for him: various therapies, a research-based preschool, and social groups.

But it is Camp Royall and the people there who have made the biggest difference in Christopher’s life, said his mother, Krystal Pister. “It just brings out a person in him that we don’t get to see ever. When I call and talk to him when he’s at camp, he is so free and happy and engaged.”

This is Christopher’s second year of attending Summer Camp; he also attends the Afterschool Program during the school year. “He feels like a leader there,” Krystal said. “He just becomes this other person. That brings me great joy even though I miss him.”

Hailey Pister with Jasmine, a camper

Hailey Pister with Jasmine, a camper

Seeing the impact that the people at Camp Royall had on Christopher inspired his sister Hailey, who is attending Appalachian State University. She wanted to be able to do that for someone else, so she became a counselor in the overnight program this year. “It’s way more than I thought it would be,” Hailey said. “I knew it would be rewarding, but it’s really awesome to be surrounded by people who are so loving and accepting, and then having such great campers has been an incredible experience to say the least.”

Hailey said she really bonded with her first camper of the summer, who was 52. “I was really nervous at first, but it was really awesome. He taught me a lot. It helped me see all different types of autism…. It was really eye-opening.”

Krystal said that during Hailey’s first weeks at camp, she told her mother about some of the challenges with her campers. “She just looked at me and said, ‘I do it, and I do it because I would want someone to do that for Christopher.’

“It melts my heart. That was just a proud moment as a mom, to see my kids want to give back to their brother.”

Director Sara Gage said, “Hailey has been a great asset to our staff this summer. She is a natural with campers and has handled any challenge thrown her way with grace and ease. We are hoping she stays connected with us for a long time to come.”

Hailey plans a career in working with people with special needs. She is majoring in psychology with a minor in communication disorders and hopes to go to graduate school for occupational therapy.

The difference Camp Royall made in Christopher’s life also inspired his mother to action. She wanted a tangible way to show the love and gratitude she feels toward all the staffers. “When I drive onto that campus, I literally tear up because I have so much gratitude to the people who work there,” she said. “I know the schedule that they keep. I know the hours that they keep. These are college kids that come every year to spend their summer doing this.”

So this summer, Krystal has been a regular visitor to camp, bringing goodies to weekly staff meetings, gift cards, and small treats.

We are so grateful for all of Krystal’s love and support, and so grateful for Hailey’s work with our campers this summer. But most of all, we are grateful to know Christopher, who just by being himself is changing so many lives!

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