Razz Features Editor, Jess, had the opportunity to travel to America this summer to work at a summer camp. This is her story…
I was lucky enough this past summer to work at a sleep away camp for children
and adults with disabilities. My trip across seas took me to Camp Oakhurst, New Jersey. The staff and campers alike were among some of the friendliest, kindest and most upbeat people I’ve ever had the privilege to be around.
I always grew up with my impression of American summer camps entirely
stereotypical, being formed from ‘The Parent Trap’ and ‘Beaver Falls’, and whilst not entirely false, my summer camp experience was slightly different than I could ever have imagined from Lindsay Lohan’s portrayal of twins Hallie and Annie.
The clichés that most camps advertise with; “Have the summer of your life…”, “Sit around the campfire, singing songs and roasting marshmallows…”, “Enjoy swimming in our endless, clearwater lake…” blah, blah, blah…seem endless, yet in most cases they are probably true. Whilst Oakhurst sported no lake, it had the incredible feature of being wheelchair accessible in every sense and we did swim, just in an open topped pool, there were smores a plenty, so many songs and it really was the summer of my life and I’m pretty sure that was the case for the campers too!
It’s difficult to imagine, until you are in their presence, just how different
children’s lives with disabilities can be, compared to others. Yet, although Camp Oakhurst included more rest and personal care time than many other camps, the days were still packed full of activities, time for socialising and playing practical jokes on one another. The campers that attended had often been doing so for years, with camp feeling like a second home for them.
As a member of staff, I felt truly appreciated and the long days (and occasional
sleepless night) all seemed worthwhile when I knew I’d helped the campers to
have fun and, as some of them put it, to feel ‘normal’ for a few weeks. Nobody
was judged at Camp Oakhurst, not for their height, their weight, their hair colour or even for their disability. For some, it is a retreat which they spend the entire year looking forward to, a chance to meet up with friends and enjoy the summer.
All of the campers had a story, some would share this with you, whilst others
wouldn’t want to speak of it. I feel it would be unfair to disclose in too much
detail some of the campers stories as I understand these were told to me in
confidence, but, let me tell you, they were all amazing and often heart wrenching at the same time. One aspect of these stories that would come up time and time again was independence. A quality in all of us that we probably take for granted each day, the campers at Oakhurst frequently strived to be independent in whatever way they could – this could be choosing their own clothes in the morning, cutting up their own food at lunchtime, or brushing their own teeth at bedtime. Whatever the task, big or small, becoming more independent was of vital importance to almost all the campers I met. This was their story…
Are you interested in spending your summer working at an American summer camp?
Make My Summer is currently recruiting for a wide range of vacancies at the Long Range Performing Arts camp in New York. The camp delivers a program of theatre, music, circus, rock, film and fine arts.
Students would be required between June 17th and August 26th 2013.
It will be an opportunity to gain valuable experience, build employability skills, make lots of friends, travel and make a difference to a child’s summer.