Dear Post-Camp Self,

Last week I was a volunteer camp counselor at Easter Seals Explorers Camp, before I left I had written myself a pre-camp letter. This morning I am following-up with a post-camp letter. Note: Pics will be posted later on!

First off I was amazed by the accessibility of the camp site, Agassiz Village. Smooth dirt paths all around, ramps leading into cabins and activity cabins, even a smooth path down to the water front! But the more I threw myself into the daily routine with all of its challenges, ups and downs, small joys and victories - I came to understand that the biggest asset to accessibility wasn't the infrastructure. What made the camp experience so worth it and what helped me get so much out of it were the 50 camp counselors and staff who were there with me, about half of whom had some type of disability.
But wait for it............... the coolest part, of course, were the 5 OI'ers who were either camp counselors or program staff. The 2 'bosses' of the camp were OI'ers themselves! (And people I am very lucky to call friends). They zoomed around on their scooters and power wheelchairs making sure that every cabin was at their activity, saying the magic words that ceased any tantrums our campers were throwing, and raced to the site of any emergency even when it was late at night.

Our days were busy from 7:30AM to 8 in the evening with arts & crafts, nature/fishing, island explorations & canoe trips, camp fires, ropes course, and sports. Every day we took the campers swimming on the lake, there was rest hour to hang out in the cabin with your bunk mates, and the greatest part was that it didn't matter if you had autism or were in a wheelchair, or had some other disability - every camper was held to the same expectations: to learn new things, make new friends, participate in activities, and listen to camp counselors. Campers were awarded stickers at every meal as counselors announced who was the Friendly Camper of the day from each cabin, and those cabins who cheered the most and were most amicable got a spirit stick for the day!
As I had said before, Explorers Camp is geared towards kids who are on the spectrum of autism or who just would not have been able to participate in a 'normal' sleep away camp or even a day camp. With that in mind you can imagine all the challenges that may come with throwing a bunch of kids into a new environment and expect them to be fully engaged in the day's activities. But it was through the incredibly patience of the camp staff, our willingness to help one another, and endless words of encouragement that got us through all the tough times and allowed us to celebrate the victories and joys.

One morning was particularly tough, for whatever reason the campers in my cabin were all a bit 'off.' No one was listening, it was a struggle to get even the most compliant camper to follow directions, and everyone seemed to be deep in their own world - literally. We headed towards our morning activity, music, and two of my campers decided to have a melt down "I don't like loud noises, music isn't my thing, I won't do this..I just want to be left alone.." eventually one of them sat outside the whole time, and the other sat herself in the bathroom and refused to budge. I decided to focus my attention on the campers who were more willing to participate in the fashion show that they were supposed to be putting on, and helped the other girls choose costumes and cheered them on. We had twins, M & K in my cabin:
"Hey K look at how much fun your sister is having dancing to the music, why don't you dance with her?"
"No. I don't want to." She said in her monotone. Then looked down at the floor and curled up in a ball. 
"What if I danced with you?" I asked her - determined to get her going.
There was no response, only a blunt silence and she continued to stare off into space. 
After some amount of pleading and encouraging, during the last 5 minutes of the activity period I was finally able to get K up and dancing with her sister, she even tried the hula hoop and I felt like I had just coached someone through a marathon!

Though all of the campers in my cabin were teenage girls and towered over me, none of them questioned my authority as a camp counselor or doubted that I was able to help them. Even the most stubborn of them! I was never asked why I was in a wheelchair, why I couldn't walk, or why I was so small. Not only was I not questioned by any of my cabin but not even by any of the other 40 some odd campers in the rest of the camp. I will honestly say that this past week was the first time in my life that I did not feel the need to explain my presence, differences, abilities, or inabilities. The nonjudgmental environment of the entire camp was such a relief and though the kids may not have been aware of it - this aspect of Explorers Camp was definitely a huge component of the overall accessibility to our day-to-day lives.

Overall I had a lot of fun, got so much out of the past week, and my boundaries have been pushed in ways I didn't think I would ever be comfortable with. But not only am I glad that I was thrown into this new experience but look forward to participating in future Easter Seals programs as well.

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