As a Creative Writing major, I live my life engrossed in all things literature, all things diction, and all things written in ink. I grew up with a book in my hand and large words on my lips, forever overtaken with the adventures I discovered between the pages of my favorite books. My life has rarely taken a great turn from this world of imagination and fiction, and I would have never had it any other way. That is, until August of 2018.
After a 1-week journey into the world of camp counseling at a small special needs camp in New Jersey only a month prior, I knew that working with the special needs population was something that I enjoyed far more than I ever thought possible. Looking for another adventure similar to that of which I'd only recently departed from, I discovered a camp in a somewhat unknown town in Texas of all places, advertising that they were looking for a cabin counselor for their camp for individuals with various forms of physical and intellectual disabilities. I applied to this camp without much thought, needing another job and looking for another awesome experience. What I didn't know was how much that experience would change my life so drastically in the best possible way.
Flash forward to me getting the job of my dreams that I hadn't even known I'd dreamt about. I walked onto the grounds so different from the camp that I'd been to before, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I nervously made my way through orientation, making a lifelong friend in the process, and towards the end of our training, I began to wonder just how qualified I would be to work with this demographic of people. Unlike working at a summer camp for kids, if these campers were to fall, it may not be so easy for them to jump back up and brush off the dust. If these campers get hurt or scared, it may not be as easy for them to bounce back with a bribe or a hug. Before I ever met a single soul who would be under my care and supervision for the next week, I'd already concluded that I was in over my head.
The day our campers arrived onsite, I felt my heart beating in my chest a thousand beats per minute, and I thought to myself, "I still have five more minutes to back out of this." But I'm stubborn by nature, and I don't give up that easily. The moment the first camper stepped through the door of our cabin, her parents in tow, I smiled a nervous smile, I shook hands with the parents and chatted with my camper about everything she liked and loved and hated in this world. We laughed about things I don't quite recall now, and we bonded over the sole fact that we were simply in the same room at the same time in the same place, looking for the adventure of a lifetime. And it was then that I felt my heart thaw, melt and spill into a puddle on the floor, forever lost on those magical camp grounds.
Over the course of the next nine weeks, I spent my time living life as a character in an epic tale. We dodged fireballs in our sports course and hopped over jump ropes that turned into slinking, slithering snakes. We painted giant murals like Michelangelo and rode horseback through a field of wild sunflowers. We swung on giant swings tied to the clouds like Tarzan swinging from his vines. We shot arrows with a bow at giant man-eating mosquitos and crocodiles. We sang siren songs to sailors drifting in boats we'd crafted from popsicle sticks. And the greatest part about it all? I was never the protagonist of these amazing, outlandish adventures. My campers were the ones slaying the man-eating crocodiles and hopping over the slinking, slithering snakes that looked like jump ropes. They were the ones who'd always been told they could never be the heroes in their own epic tales, yet I was blessed enough to witness with my own eyes, from the sidelines, these so-called underdogs rise from their proverbial ashes and become the heroes of not just their own stories, but of my story as well.Going into this as a writer, I had no clue what I would gain from my experience as a camp counselor with individuals with special needs. But on the very last day of camp, when I said goodbye to all of my campers and friends alike, I realized that I was coming out of there as more than just a writer. Now, I was a writer with a real story to tell.