For the longest time I never really thought of myself beyond just another person floating around on this planet just living life. I never really went out of my way to make a difference in anyone’s life. I woke up, played video games, watched tv, watched movies, occasionally went out and when the summer came, I worked as a camp counselor at Easter Seals Explorers Camp. I never went above and beyond, I just did what was expected so you would understand why I was so baffled to find out recently that I was the reason one of our former campers decided to become a counselor or that I’m the reason why a camper I had from the previous year wanted to come back and even went as far as telling his mother and our ABA therapist that as long as I was there then everything would be fine.Now don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely humbled to know that I made such an impact on the lives of many. Hearing that sometimes throws me off a bit because I never realized that something as simple as being there was a enough to make a difference. I didn’t pull any magic tricks or chant any Harry Potter style incantations, I just applied for the head counselor position out of love for that work and did what ever was necessary to make sure that these campers had the best week of their lives. It turns out that what was simply necessary for us to give them such an epic week was everything the campers and their parents ever wanted and even more.
For those who know me, I’ve been working Explorers Camp for four years but I never found out about the impact I had on some of the campers until recently. Since Easter Seals is a company that caters to those with various disabilities, I figured that some of my co workers would have various disabilities. I didn’t factor in however was that prior to me working at camp, there had been no other counselors on the spectrum. That first year I was just another guy with an intellectual disability who would do his job and move on. That first year we had a really phenomenal week. What I though would be a really tough task considering it was my first time doing it felt so natural. The campers I was assigned were really easy to work with and were very eager to break out of their comfort zones. There was one decision I made the final night of camp and another decision we as a cabin with approval from our superiors to bribe one of our campers to climb to the top of a ropes course and in order to overcome their fear of heights. They were two decisions I never thought much of at the time but they were decisions that would set into motion a chain reaction that we couldn’t stop but it was one that would begin a a new trend at Explorer’s Camp.
We’ll start with the camper we bribed. Now for the longest time there was a camper who was notorious for never wanting to do what was the Leap of Faith (You’re holstered to ropes as you climb a tree and then you jump and with the support of people at the bottom who are latched to your rope, you swing around suspended in mid air and then your are slowly brought down). Fun right? not for someone who’s afraid of heights. No one and I mean NO ONE could get this guy to step anywhere near that tree. Now our philosophy at camp is to try new things and it’s a philosophy we run to the ground all week long. Of course you can’t force the campers out of their comfort zones, you have to slowly encourage them to leave it themsleves. There is a sense of defeat I do feel at times when a camper decides they don’t want to climb the tree or get into the lake or canoe or jump off of a platoon boat into 12 feet of water.
Now for the longest time this camper wanted two things, an official Easter Seals shirt that is usually worn by staff and the opportunity to be a counselor or be in any other position of authority at camp. Now this camper was just as determined to get his wish we were to get him to climb that tree and we realized we could use that to our advantage. With the blessings of our superiors and with the help of the President of Easter Seals we were able to broker a deal that would live on in the history of the camp. Conveniently our ropes course activity fell during the latter half of the week when all the suits from Easter Seals came to check out the fruits of their gracious donations and grants. It was during this time where we would bring the President of Easter Seals, our awesome photographer, and several other visitors and staff members to watch our wonderful camper fulfill his end of the bargain and climb the tree. Now it should be noted that he only made it halfway up before he started screaming all sorts of obscenities with my favorite one being “SOMEONE CALL THE GODDAMN FIRE DEPARTMENT!!!!!!!!!”. However just that fact that he committed to climbing was a pretty big deal for Easter Seals considering that no one ever got him to step anywhere near that tree.
Next decision that was made that week was one I did with no hesitation but never knew it would also be a big deal. Towards the end of the week one of my co counselors decided to sit the campers in our cabin down and emphasize to them the importance of embracing your disability and that everyone is unique and special no matter how different they are. It was in that moment that I explained to my campers that just like them, I had Autism and knew where they were coming from and that they should never be ashamed of it. In the moment I was just simply trying to connect with my campers and let them know that they weren’t alone and that I wasn’t just another person attempting to empathize with a condition that was far too complex to understand. It would take three years for me to realize that I did more than just connect with my campers that night. I inspired them to shoot for the stars and even inspired one to follow in my footsteps and become a counselor. I was extremely surprised to see him getting on that bus with us to go to staff training but by then I had completely forgotten about that night and never truly put my finger on the fact that it was because of me that he wanted to take life several steps further. In the past few years I have seen many former campers become either counselors or activity leads and to think it started with me simply giving the campers someone like them to look up to. On the surface it seems really simple and even to me it seems really simple because as I said earlier, I used no magic tricks, I just did what I was supposed to. I never realized that just doing simply what you were meant to do was enough to make a difference that would be ingrained in the memories of many for years to come.
The point of this post is to spread a simple message, never and I mean NEVER underestimate yourself and the impact you have in the lives of another. If you take time to process your situation you’ll realize that you’re meant to help someone more than you could ever dream of. This has been another rambling by yours truly, stay classy.