Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Sam Martine | Contributing Writer
Summer is my favorite season of the year. From the warm weather and outdoor activities to the fun nights running around catching fireflies, there isn’t anything I don’t like about the season.
I loved the season so much that I worked as a summer camp counselor at Camp O’Bannon for multiple years to try to spread my joy for the season to the children in my community.
Camp O’Bannon was not a traditional summer camp. Sure, it had a pool, funky camp songs and a funny camp director, but the camp I worked at was a non-profit organization that was free of charge to attend.
We would send letters to families below the poverty line in the surrounding area to have their children come to summer camp for a week. With the correlation between disability and poverty being so strong, we would accept many children with a disability or impairment, ranging from mild cases of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism to physical disabilities.
During my first week there, I was overwhelmed. At our staff meeting before the session, I received the first of many counselor packets in preparation for the session. Inside, there was a list of all the campers and next to their names had everything that we should know about the kid that did not need to be broadcasted to everyone. This could be something as simple as a food allergy to something out of pocket like a kid having third-degree burns from surviving a house fire.
We would take this information, along with the other materials provided, and try to devise a plan for the week. The first few times I saw this list, it was like a wave of shock hit me. Nearly two-thirds of the kids had something next to their name, and there were disorders that I had never even heard of before, like Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Pica.
Unsurprisingly, I struggled for the first few weeks. One of my first memories was getting upset at a child for eating his milk carton during lunch, especially because there was still food on his tray. It had not even occurred to me that the child had Autism and Pica, which is a disorder where the person eats things that are not considered food.
When I remembered to check the list, I thought back to the discussion I had with the kid at the lunch table and realized that I may have been too harsh on him. Although I didn’t yell and wasn’t argumentative, I was too abrasive given the circumstances, especially when other children were around. This moment stuck with me because I made sure to keep in mind the disabilities and impairments that the children had when interacting with them.
Although it was a struggle at first, I became better at my job as time wore on. I would come up with new, attention-getting games for those with ADHD, modifications for the traditional games for those with physical or intellectual disabilities and was better served to interact with all the children.
I found myself gravitating to the children that had disabilities because they were often excited to get the opportunity to go to summer camp, which was not something that was done before. I look back at my time as a camp counselor fondly, knowing that the experiences I had and lessons I learned were valuable to me in the future. Most importantly, I had fun playing Ga-Ga Ball and Capture the Flag with the campers, and hopefully helped make an impact in the community by doing so.