Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp: First Impressions

Hola!

Um, so tonight I am writing a post about my first week at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp and I'm not going to lie... I'm not really sure what to write.

And I know that sounds weird because there is definitely plenty of stuff to write about, but I can't write about all of it for confidentiality reasons and partly because it's kind of difficult to put into words.

Today is my only break in between camp sessions. I just relaxed all day, which is what I needed, so that was nice. I mostly hung outside in the hot tub and relaxed out in the sun and breeze with a book in my hand.

Also before I started camp I only had one day break between teaching Neuroscience to incoming freshman at Madison High School for three weeks to this, so not gonna lie, I'm a tad bit tired, but luckily not burnt out.

So, for those of you who don't know Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp is a camp for kids and adults with varying abilities and I say that instead of disabilities because camp is all about focusing on what people can do rather than what they can't do, which is really beautiful and inspiring.

Click here to watch a video about Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.

I will write more in depth about my experience after my second week of being a counselor because I'll have more to reflect on, but for now I'll share this: Camp has definitely changed me for the better; honestly, I don't think you can leave Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp as the same person. 



Above all else this camp has made me think.
I've thought a lot about God, Destiny, and what makes us human.
Yeah, it's been a really intense week.

The counselors were divided into several groups, listed off by letters of the alphabet. I was and am still in group E. Then paired with a camper, some campers had two counselors if more help was needed. I freaking love my group! We've really bonded and become a family over these past couple of days. It feels like we've been together for a year rather than a week.

Every night, before we go to bed, we have a little debriefing session and lots of tears were shed during these meetings, myself included.

The night I lost it was when I overheard one of our boys (we had a group of boy campers, next week we have girls) who is in a wheel chair, talks slowly but is super intelligent, and has a G-tube in his stomach sobbing, telling our CS (Counselor Supervisor) how frustrated he was. I just barely overheard it because I was bringing my camper to the bathroom at the time, but he said that he was mad that people only saw him for his disability, that they didn't treat him like an adult (he is 19), that they didn't know how smart he was, and was questioning why God made him that way.

Needless to say, I had a little meltdown that night. During our meeting I cried and told our group that I didn't get it. I just don't understand why we are dealt the cards we get in life. It kind of makes no sense to me. I didn't understand why after two major surgeries the doctors were able to fix me, but after tons and tons of surgeries this kid still doesn't have the life he so desperately wants. I just remember sitting in our group that night, totally drained, snot running down my nose, that camper's counselor sitting beside me, sobbing too, while I said, "It's just not fair" over and over again.
I really needed a hug that night, luckily I got one. 

Our CS told me: "I know this can be really difficult, but it's important to focus on the connections we make with our campers and how this positively influences their lives."

Actually, that night was just a bad night for all of us. We had this one camper who has Asperger Syndrome and Bipolar. Whenever something of his goes missing (like for example his flashlight, swim trunks, etc) he has a complete meltdown. Like crying, screaming, turning tables over, cussing, and sometimes getting physical. He called a couple of our counselor's the C-word, B-word, and was being kind of racist too.

At the meeting, one of the counselors said: "He called me the C-word, but it's ok. I know that's not him. It's his disability."

At that point our CS interrupted the conversation and said something I'll never forget (this isn't a direct quote btw): "It's easy to blame all the ugly stuff [the camper] does as being a part of his disability, but his disability is part of him and we have to accept him as a whole, not just the good parts of him."

I thought this was quite profound and came as a big wake up call to me. It made me think about whether or not I was accepting the people in my life for their entirety or if I was just compartmentalizing the things I liked about them and ignoring the aspects of them I wasn't too found about.

Um, yeah, so there were definitely some intense moments.

However, before I end this post I want to end it on a good note and tell you the beautiful things about camp.

In our Post-Camp Reflection we have to write about what we learned about people with disabilities.

We had two boys in our group who were non-verbal. One boys' eyes were crossed, he drooled, and he would kind of stalk around campus like a zombie. The other boy didn't have crossed eyes, but rarely looked you in the eyes; instead, he stared down at his twitchy fingers, and shook his head a lot. In the beginning, I'm not going to lie (and I sort of feel horrible for saying this), but I felt like they were lost causes. However, the more I hung out with these two young men the more I realized that, yes indeed, there is someone in there and while they can't communicate like the majority of us do doesn't mean that they are stupid or can't communicate at all. We just need to be more perceptive and accommodating of how their needs have to be met.

Both would light up to certain songs. The boy who kind of seemed like a zombie loved to be sung too, especially this lullaby called "Baby Moon" we sing before the campers go to bed. He'd smile and rock back and forth. Also, he had an iPad he loved to take selfies with. Haha! And when we went through the pictures he would laugh at the selfies.
The boy with the twitchy fingers loved the Aerosmith version of "Come Together." He also loved playing the piano! It actually gave us all chills when he played for us, knowing he has never had a lesson before. He played beautifully and it was fun to see him experiment.
Both boys also loved to swim and the pool at camp is really warm. You just have to get them in their element and they'll communicate with you, you just have to be willing to listen.
Truth. 

After hanging out with these two boys and getting to know them I kept thinking about this great quote from Jodi Picoult's book "Sing You Home" about music and the soul that goes: "Some cognitive scientists believe human response to music provides evidence that we are more than just flesh and blood--that we also have souls. Their thinking is as follows: 

All reactions to external stimuli can be traced back to evolutionary rationale. You pull your hand away from fire to avoid physical harm. You get butterflies before an important speech because the adrenaline running through your veins has caused a physiological fight-or-flight response. But there is no evolutionary context within which people's response to music makes sense--the tapping of a foot, the urge to sing along or get up and dance, there's just no survival benefit to these activities. For this reason, some believe that our response to music is proof that there's more to us than just biological and physiological mechanics--that the only way to be moved by the spirit, so to speak, is to have one in the first place."
Jiggly hair. 

The last thing I want to say about camp is how freeing and accepting it is. This is a safe place for these kids. Many of these kids have been bullied and excluded, but at camp everyone is super encouraging and loving. I love seeing kids take on new challenges like on the ropes course or riding a horse for the first time. It's very inspiring.
I think my favorite part about camp was the dance. We all just put on funky costumes and danced our hearts out. One of the counselors said, "This is the best dance I've ever been to," which is totally true because you don't have to worry if you're a great dancer or not or whether or not you look good. You're just there to love people for their entirety and to have fun because that's truly what life should be about: unconditional love and fun. 

While this week has been one of the most emotionally, mentally, and physically draining experiences of my life since my back surgeries Camp Kiwanis has definitely changed me for the better. I've met many new challenges and faced my fears. I'm so thankful for my team and how well we get along! I've made so many great new friends who I'll never forget for we've shared a very unique experience together. Something I'm proud about this week is that no matter the challenges I kept positive. This one lady I see  every morning in the locker rooms and who passes by my tent while I do yoga said: "Thank you for your light Amanda!" I really appreciated this!

Well, wish me luck on my second week!

What's the hardest thing you've ever done?

Here are some pics I took.

2AM and was finally packed for camp! 
Where I have been living for the past week. 
Hiking up in Mt. Hood. 

I'm known for horsing around at camp. 

Winging it at skit night with my partner in crime Se-Ra! 

My wood-cookie got a little smeared so now Manders looks suspiciously like Murders. That's camp appropriate, right?

A shot of the deliciously healthy meal of salmon, asparagus, quinoa, and mint water my momma made me for the weekend back from camp. 
Blog to you later!

Love,
Manders

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