It’s a common coming-of-age trip: a group of college-aged kids on a road trip across the country. Five young men from Coronado are doing just that, but with a purpose.
Joe Wampler, Elliot MacAdam, Lance Mann, Sean O’Connor and Jonathan Mehki are touring America in an RV, to celebrate disability and spread awareness about Camp Wamp, a summer program for people with disabilities. The camp has been operated by Joe’s parents—Stephen and Elizabeth Wampler since 2004.
“We kind of knew that we wouldn’t be able to have Camp Wamp this summer, and we weren’t able to last summer as well, and so we thought it would be a shame if we couldn’t have it two years in a row,” Joe said.
After some brainstorming, they decided to take Camp Wamp on the road. The group has been friends for years and now go to different schools across the country, so they jumped at the chance to reunite for a good cause.
“When this opportunity came up I really didn’t have a choice, I had to seize this beautiful opportunity,” Jonathan said.
They left San Diego at the beginning of June, making several stops along the way. Now they are in New York, about halfway through their two-month trip.
“It’s been a really great experience, interacting with different kids, giving these kids some fun activities that they don’t get to do every day,” Joe said.
In December, Joe started a TikTok account as a surprise for his parents, and it took off. He’s continued to have success with the account, growing his following to more than 246,000 followers.
“TikTok has been a phenomenal way to spread our message,” Joe said. “The second we put out our first video, people have been onboard and so willing to help and because of those people it spread like wildfire.”
They’re using the power of social media on this trip as well, with the help of a Wampler foundation employee, Ale Bruyere, who helps coordinate meet-ups with kids at each stop.
“A few days ago we were in Chicago and we got to go behind the scenes with some of the kids at the aquarium,” Elliot said. “You could just really see the kids’ faces light up…and that was a really beautiful thing to see.”
It’s also been an opportunity to learn more about the rest of the country.
“It showed me that there’s so much more to the US than the California bubble,” Lance said. “Everybody has their own different views on something like disability and we all vary in this really diverse country.”
Although they set out on the trip to spread awareness about disability, their travels have also changed the way they themselves understand the topic.
“When it comes to nonverbal people specifically, it’s so important to still see them as a person, and treat them as you would normally,” Lance said.
“In Denver one of the parents said, it’s not that they can’t hear you, it’s just that you have to listen differently. And that completely changed how I view this entire situation, and how I view disabilities as a whole.”
At the end of the day, Joe says he hopes people will learn to treat people with disabilities as they would anyone else.
“It’s just so important to get to know people past their disability, because so many people think it’s a huge defining factor but I would argue that it’s not.”
Although Camp Wamp won’t be held in-person this year, there will be a virtual camp experience starting on July 5th. To follow along with their journey, follow @the.wampler.way on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.
Camp Wamp Across America is sponsored by ESET.