I did not grow up having a family member with special needs nor did I have many opportunities to interact with my peers impacted by special needs. The only person I know with special needs is our family friend, Boe. Boe is fifty-two years old and living with down syndrome. His down syndrome contributed to his personality as much as his brown hair; that is to say, none. Boe was my friend who loved to watch high school baseball as much as myself and insisted that diet coke and french fries made them better. When I was a child, the line between disabled and abled was quickly dissolved.
Freshmen year of high school I became involved with a club that worked with children and adults with special needs–Junior Civitan. Junior Civitan allowed me to become plugged into an even larger opportunity called Coastal Civitan Camp. I had many fears and doubts about participating in Coastal Civitan Camp: will I be able to properly take care of a child with special needs for a whole week? Will I make any friends? This is not a camp for me, what if I fail my camper? My first camp was in July of 2016 and I had no idea what I was doing and I also had no one there I knew. The one steadfast thing for me: their diagnosis is as relevant as their hair color.
Stepping out of my comfort zone led me to the passion I have for loving and helping children with special needs and lasting friendships with people who feel the exact same way. Something everyone quickly learns at camp is "this week is not about you." Yes, what you get out of spending a week with some of the most loving children in the world is profound and entirely your own. However, your job is to ensure these children have a safe and enjoyable week. Requiring a few personal sacrifices: sleep, cellular freedom, and some free time. Coastal Civitan Camp is a loving environment where everyone is welcome. Much like my peers, I left with wholesome stories to reminisce about for years to come.
Counselors come to know this phenomenon called the "camp bubble." Being at camp is an entirely different world. You're separated from nearly everyone and you forget you're just twenty-minutes from home. I often live in this camp bubble every day. A place where disability is an ability and where people with special needs are people first. You can understand my surprise when people think and feel differently. The reality is, most people do not live in my camp bubble-- something now difficult to grasp. Nevertheless, I am not shy about educating others on the importance of inclusivity and equality concerning adults and children with special needs. They love as we love, they hurt as we hurt, and there is no "us" or "them." We can all learn a thing or two on how to be more gentle and loving from our fellow beautiful humans.
Play a game of "where's Lakelyn?" :)Lakelyn Tinsley