Month: March 2012 (page 1 of 4)

Camp Baker Changed my Life

I hate to say such a banal term, but it is the only way to express my life, more so my thinking, post Camp Baker. I went to Camp Baker with only one expectation: to learn. WIth such a broad and general expectation, it was impossible to be disappointed.

My week at Camp Baker eliminated fears that I didn’t even realize I possessed. The night before we started service, I called my mom terrified about the events that would follow. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing nor say nothing at all. My mom gently reassured me that everything would be okay if my heart was in the right place. These words flowed so compassionately and genuinely because my mom  works in a home for individuals diagnosed with AIDS/HIV and once also had these same fears. I trusted her and she was right.

I went in and saw each individual as simply a person with a disability, but a person nonetheless. From the start I felt comfortable and wanted. Feeling wanted was the fuel that kept me going each day. Smiles, high-fives,pounds, half hugs and just interactions ( verbal or non-verbal) honestly made my day. Not only did this trip help me make strides with familiarity and  comfortability (is that a word?)  with humans with mental disabilities, but alos it taught me a lot about myself and how decisions should be made and who should make them.

Should majority always win? Or does democracy only ostracize the minority? What does that say about the minority? Are they wrong? Unwanted? Not important? Negligible even? Maybe this idea of “majority rules” is a coward way approaching dilemmas and ideas. Over the week in various areas of my trip, I found myself asking these questions. These questions stemmed from pondering about group dynamics, but one could also think of retarded individuals as a minority. If we always use this concept of “majority rules”, important individuals apart of the minority get left behind, simply for being part of the minority. I never thought about minority in the sense of ability. But to think that the individuals that I made a connection with at Camp Baker are part of this forgotten and ridiculed minority, truly makes me sad. I thank places like Camp Baker and students on various ASB trips around the nation for taking the time to reiterate and reinforce the notion that minorities should not be forgotten and tossed aside.

 

Oh nooo, ASB trip over

Just like everyone else on the team, I can’t believe our week in Camp Baker is over and that we’ve now been back on College Hill for over a week. How can I properly sum up such a great week (if that’s even possible)?

 

Working at Camp Baker was definitely challenging at times, especially in the beginning when we didn’t have any guidelines about how to best structure the wellness and arts and crafts activities. Luckily, we were able to learn from our mistakes during the beginning of the week to make the activities better structured for the campers. The changes made a difference and everyone really benefited!

 

One of the highlights of my week was getting to know one of the weekend respite and afternoon campers named Ian. We arrived at Camp Baker on Saturday night and Sunday morning we were told to interact with the campers the next morning. I met Ian by chance. With him he had his sleep away duffel all packed and his favorite Disney toys. When I met him, he continually mumbled the same few lines over and over. I recognized that he was repeating a movie trailer because I picked up the words “coming to DVD and VHS soon.” Over the next hour or so I sat with him as he kept repeating the same few lines. Eventually, we walked to the basketball court and then to the sidewalk chalk. He set his stuff done, picked up a piece of chalk, handed it to me, pointed at the ground, and started talking. I started writing what he said and would have him repeat it until I could understand it. The first part he said was “Walt Disney Pictures presents feature.” Then came a breakthrough in a sense. I was able to finally understand that Walt Disney Pictures presents feature…Lilo and Stitch 2. Now on DVD and VHS”

 

I was overjoyed when I figured out he was talking about the movie trailer for Lilo and Stitch. I had spent the entire morning with him, and finally understood what he was saying, which was a minor step to better understanding what he was thinking.

 

The next day, when Ian came to Camp Baker for afternoon care, I saw him again. I don’t remember how it came about, but when I saw him I pulled up Lilo and Stitch Youtube video clips on my phone, which he loved. He would sit in the swing and watch the video clips every afternoon. At first he didn’t know how to use an iPhone—the correct pressure to apply to the touch screen, how to navigate, etc.—but by the end of the week he had figured it out all on his own. He would also interact more with me while using my iPhone. He asked for help when he needed it and responded to my questions more. When my iPhone died, it was harder to communicate with him because he returned to his continued mumbling.

 

Ian is such a cool kid. He loved Disney and everyone could tell that he was very smart and creative. I feel so lucky to have met him.  The Zac Brown lyrics still stick in my head when I think of spring break in Virginia: “It’s funny how it’s the little things in life/That mean the most/Not where you live or what you drive/Or the price tag on your clothes/There’s no dollar sign on a piece of mind/This I’ve come to know.”

It really is the little things, like meeting Ian and figuring out how he loves Lilo and Stich, that I have come to realize mean so much. I feel so fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to go to Camp Baker and meet the ASB Virginia team. Thanks for everything!

First Post–ASB Aftermath

I’M NOT BANNED FROM ASB POSTING ANYMORE!

After many weeks of being unable to make any ASB posts, I have finally gained access!…Just in time to write a post-trip blog post…

Well, better late than never. I’ve described this trip as the most simultaneously rewarding and frustrating experience of my entire life, and, one week later, that’s still how I perceive it.

We experienced a good deal of difficulty, for sure, more than we expected. I personally expected there to be difficulties being patient with the individuals with retardation, but I did not anticipate struggles with the administration, or organizational issues for that matter. We arrived at Camp Baker only to find out that the woman who had initially invited us to Camp Baker was no longer with the company–therefore, the structure of the week was turned topsy-turvy.

We had no idea what to expect going in. Our first day, we were told basically to keep the kids occupied for a couple hours, with no other instructions. As such, we would try and do whatever the kids wanted to do, which mainly meant keeping them company as they wandered around the camp. Unfortunately, it became apparent on the Tuesday of the trip through a meeting with the new administrator, Emily, that this would not fly. The staff were irritated that we would take the kids here and there, often taking them out of eyesight of the staffers.

We had no idea this was an issue, and to be chastised for ignorance of the law was grating to many individuals. Later attempts to co-ordinate with the staffers were met with indignation from Emily, scolding us for going “over her head”, and stating that we were “lucky to be allowed to come after [the previous administrator left]”. It was nothing short of infuriating listening to this woman claim that we were the source of these problems, when our attempts to contribute more to the volunteer effort were treated as an annoyance.

However, the actual interactions with the campers was remarkable. Working hard each and every day to get smiles on their faces was a struggle in some cases, but ultimately rewarding as all hell. We had many strong individual bonds with many campers…I personally became very close with individuals named Buddy, Jamil, Ritchie, and Kimberly. Working with them each and every day was something I looked forward to immensely.

Plus, I got to sign autographs as a “real-life leprechaun” for our St. Patrick’s Day carnival.

I have to hand it to the staffers working at the camp every day. While it was amazing working with the individuals, it was very frustrating in some cases. As I learned through many encounters as well as watching the staffers, coddling those individuals was usually not the best way. Like any kid, a stern hand (and voice) is usually the best way to get them to obey, and that’s what I discovered working with these individuals. It changed a lot of perceptions.

One last thing that I will conclude with is the extraordinary ability of these individuals to still express feelings like joy and love. It was apparent that despite having disabilities, each an every individual was still capable of experiencing those things. I always wondered what the point of allowing individuals to live in a handicapped state was…being fully capable of my own abilities, I can’t imagine being forced to live in a body which restricted my thoughts and movements. But isn’t the point of life experiencing those amazing emotions? Isn’t that in and of itself justification to live? This trip certainly settled one moral dilemma that I struggled with in the past.

Home from Virginia and missing it a lot!

It’s hard to think about everything of our week in Chesterfield and not want to go back. By the end of just seven days, so much had changed for the better, and I’m really proud of everyone on the team for helping that happen. The thing I think that stood out most was how well our team interacted with and handled situations with the kids and adults, all with various developmental disabilities. The eleven on our team ranged widely in terms of level of prior experience working with this population, but after even just a few days at Camp Baker, those who’d previously had no experience were indistinguishable from those who’d had years.

Just looking around at a teammate pushing a camper laughing uncontrollably on a swing, another teammate sitting on the ground next to a camper lying eyes closed on a slide, three more busying a picnic table full of campers with pipe-cleaner crafts and even more standing in a circle, reaching for the sky in the first of many warm-up stretches—and seeing how everyone (team mates and campers alike) truly wanted to be there, and was so good at truly being there—was a truly inspiring sight (and reoccurred plenty of times every day). The way that the members of our team spoke so fondly about campers and formed such solid friendships, and spoke to and played with them with so much warmth, and the way that many of the campers spoke with and about our team, was a rare and awesome thing–heartwarming even.

Names and faces will be in our heads forever: Ian, who loved Disney; Tyler, who liked to dig holes in gardens, and sometimes sprinkle those around him with the dirt;  Jorge, who loved to dance; Kimberly and Victoria, two sisters who were so cheerful and fun even though they dealt with a lot at home; Brett, who loved to duet with anyone; Brittany, who had the greatest laugh; Sharon, the cutest middle-aged person in the world; Buddy, the most helpful 70-something-year-old leaf-raking enthusiast ever; so many others too.

Other favorite points include how well our team talked and reflected about the day, about serious and lighthearted, positive and negative experiences, about widely-agreed-upon ideas or controversial ones, and during delegated Reflection time and whenever it came up throughout the day. Our collective ready-to-go attitude we usually had even after a long tiring day meant we could make the most out of our time there. This led to unexpected activities like walking around Richmond to visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts; finding a little hole-in-the-wall place to eat traditional Southern food; watching “I Am Sam,” a movie based on a true story of an autistic man whose sole custody of his beloved 7-year-old daughter is discovered by the state, and the legal journey that ensues; planning a St. Patrick’s Day gold hunt for the campers and dressing a team-member up as a leprechaun (green top hat, sunglasses, and tie) to announce the game in an Irish accent.

I’m really excited to see what our now more open-minded, tolerant, patient, creative, flexible team can do with what we’ve learned now that we’re back. I don’t think it will end after our required reorientation is officially completed—we’ll continue to be involved and share our experiences for years to come. Hopefully there’s a way we’ll be able to stay in contact with the kids and adults we met at Camp Baker, or even just check in every once in a while to see how they’re doing. We’ll absolutely all stay in touch and never forget that single week. Thanks again team for making it such an amazing week :)

And we’re back.

Wow. The whole trip feels surreal– like a dream.

It’s hard to put my feelings about this trip into coherent sentences. What I do know is that it was life-changing. Before Camp Baker, I felt awkward and uncomfortable around people with developmental disabilities. To be honest, I simply didn’t know what to do. But I have seen a 180 degree change since then. I now feel more than just passing pity and compassion for these people. I realized they are just like us: capable of loving, laughing, crying. They have needs, wants, dislikes. Perhaps what separates them from us is that they lack the filter that most of us are used to having. Their idiosyncrasies are more apparent, whereas we carefully hide them because society tells us that they are not appropriate behaviors.

I also cannot have asked for a better team. At all of our pre-trip meetings, I saw a random group of people thrown together for a common cause. But as the trip progressed, I realized we all fit together so well into one cohesive, amazing team. I got the chance to meet and become close to people that I probably would otherwise never have spoken to. And even though we spent a week straight with each other, somehow we were mainly drama free, and I think that speaks well for the nature and strength of our relationships with each other. When we returned to Lafayette and parted at March Field, I think we were all left with a sense of emptiness. What do we do now? Why aren’t we still in Virginia? These are surely signs of a successful trip.

Now we have to look to the future. How can we bring back what we learned and apply it to the Lafayette community? This is a difficult question for us to solve, since disabilities are a delicate issue. I hope that whatever we do, it can bring about change, even if that change is small and gradual.

Post-Trip Reflection

I cannot believe that this ASB trip is over, it felt like it just started. I had such a blast working with people with special needs again while getting close with an awesome group of people. Though I had previously worked with only kids with special needs, I learned that many of the methods that have helped me with them worked with older people with special needs, and that both experiences were equally rewarding. One of the best parts of the experience in Camp Baker was the connections I made with both the group of children we worked with in the afternoons and the group of adults we worked with in the mornings, and how each day I worked to make the connections stronger. The initial connections that I made with many of the campers, or clients, at Camp Baker were great, but seeing the connections deepen each day I worked with them was remarkable.

I think the strongest connections I made were with the children. One example was with a non-verbal child. Since in my program back home I worked with lower-functioning kids, most of whom were non-verbal, I felt drawn to this one non-verbal child who was running around the playground by himself (he was also adorable). He was so content running around with the same happy, playful expression on his face, but I really wanted to work with him and try and make a connection. By the end of the day, I had got him to give me a lot of hi-fives and one big goodbye hi-five before he left. But the next day when I saw him, his face lit up and he ran over to me and gave me a hug. Besides the fact that I made my strongest connection with him, the best part about the connection we had was that it was not the only one I made, but seeing his face light up when he remembered me the next day was one of the best parts of the trip.

Not only did I make some great connections with the clients, both children and adults, but I also made some great friendships with my teammates. The people whom I was already friendly with before the trip became closer friends with me, and the people who I knew less or not at all are now some of my close friends. And that is part of what ASB is about. It is not just about giving up a vacation of partying with your friends or hanging out with your family to participate in meaningful and rewarding community service opportunities in places that you may have never been before, but it is also about making friends with other individuals who made the same choice. I love ASB and I am so happy to have the opportunity to participate in one of the best service experiences of my life with a great group of students who are not just my classmates, but my friends.

VA Post-Trip

It’s been 5 days since we left Camp Baker. It’s really hard to believe that it was only 5 days ago, for some reason it seems so long ago yet like it happened yesterday. This I know for sure: it was one of the most rewarding and amazing trips I’ve ever been on in my life. This past week I’ve literally been telling everyone about my experience and trying to educate them on the difficulties of being someone with a disability. While at Camp Baker one counselor said ” we are all just people, and we all have disabilities but some just hide them better than others”. I try to tell everyone about this and make them really think what that means. It’s really changed how I think of everything- how truly lucky we all are to be able to express how we feel and people can understand us without effort most of the time. I also miss my team- you guys are the BEST and I’m so happy we all ended up going to Virginia because the experience definitely would not have been the same without you guys. This trip has motivated me to change my own habits and forced me to step out of my comfort zone. I had not previously worked with anyone with disabilities and I really thought it’d be awkward and I’d be awkward but in the end it’s really not at all. Going to VA has motivated me to step up and speak up if anyone says anything poorly or negatively about people with disabilities- something I may not have been so inclined to do previously. In conclusion, it has been one of the best trips and most rewarding and educational experience I will ever have and I truly miss Camp Baker and all the people there.

There’s nothing like the sound of Bluegrass in the morning

I’ve been back on campus for about 3 days and all I want to do is go back to Tennessee. This trip really opened my eyes and exposed me to so many things I would never have seen or done. Our direct service consisted of removing invasive plant species, building 2/7th of a deck, burning dead wood, stripping bark and litter cleanup in a national forest. However, I learnt much more from all of the educational programs we were a part of in TN. Having the opportunity to talk to members of the Snowbird Cherokee community, I realized just how lucky I am to never have been taken advantage of. Most of the stories we heard from Ed and Arleen Decker (our hosts for the week), Shorty (our direct contact with the Snowbird Cherokee community and the coordinator of the fish game) and Archie (a military veteran and member of the Cherokee warrior tribe) mentioned the intolerance the Cherokee have had to face in the past and how the community is still struggling to recover from all those years of hardship and pain. What struck me most during these conversations was that in spite of everything they have been through, members of the Cherokee community have an extremely positive attitude about life. As Shorty mentioned to us on numerous occasions, “You kids need to enjoy and live life every day.”

I don’t this trip would have been so successful if it weren’t for the wonderful team that I worked with. Jason, Joss, Andrew, Jen, Liana, Dena, Kara, Caroline, Ryan C, Megan and Mary…you guys were amazing. I’m a little bummed because I will no longer be going on any more service trips but the lessons I have learnt in my week in TN and over the past 4 years at Lafayette have really prepared to take an active role in changing the world for the better.

I have been back from Knoxville, Tennessee for 3 days now and all I want is to go back! I honestly was a bit hesitant about the trip as all of my friends were going on extravagant vacations to the Bahamas and Cancun; however, after this experience I would never trade this trip for the world! I’m almost at a loss of words because throughout the trip I learned and experienced so much. After the first day I felt extremely comfortable with everyone in the group. Creating this strong bond made it easy for the group to work very well together and learn from one another. Although I got tired while clearing out all of the honeysuckle on the first day, we all kept each other excited, motivated, and enthusiastic. I then knew this trip was going to be amazing.

I loved all of the service projects, from building trails to debarking wood. But what I loved most was talking and learning from the people. While at the senior center, I talked with a woman named Laura. She really put everything we were doing into perspective from her personal stories and knowledge of the Cherokee Community. The one thing I really took away from talking to all the Cherokees was that you need to ‘enjoy and live life’ as one man, Shorty, told us. All of the people we spoke to were always so happy and positive. At times it’s hard to live like this, but I realized sometimes I need to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and appreciate all I have.

Y.O.L.O….So Volunteer and Make it Count For Something!

It has been nearly two months since my ASB: NY experience and now that I reflect back on the experience, I am able to pinpoint lessons that I initially did not even consider. Through ASB: NY, I was made aware of a population that is often forgotten. Our group worked with individuals, left in the shadows because obstacles exist in their lives, which inhibits their ability to stand up for themselves.  They do not have anyone in their corner who can speak on their behalf.   The Bowery Mission and God’s Love We Deliver gave the eleven ladies of ASB: NY (Caitlin, Anda, Maeve, Jenn, Laura, Renee, Stephanie, Hannah, Jess, Sarah, Gabby) and myself an opportunity to represent these individuals for a week.  As a group, we learned that true volunteerism is not often glamorous, and sometimes comes with little or no reward, not even a “Thank You.”  However, it is not about the glamour or the “Thank You.”  It is about the people that we are helping.  It is about the human beings, who are overcoming hurdles every single day just to stay alive. The clients, who benefit from the services of God’s Love We Deliver and The Bowery Mission, overcome personal, health, financial and social barriers that many of us could not even fathom. Thus, it is our duty as fellow members of society to do our part to help them because society cannot just relegate them to the fringes of our community. Throughout the week, each member of our group had an opportunity to reflect on their preconceived perspectives on New York City, its homeless population, and the people that benefit from social programs that operate within the city’s limits. Some learned that a “homeless” person is not necessarily what you see on TV. Others were able to step outside their comfort zone in order to learn the truth about the world. Some even learned how strange it felt to be an outsider in a different community.

We did have moments of fun and hilarity.  These moments came about during the daily recaps when everyone shared stories about their journeys throughout the boroughs of New York City.  I learned that “pesto sauce” and “fish” do work well together.  We all learned that there is a technique when chopping up potatoes and cauliflowers.  Everyone had the technique down by the 4th or 5th bag of 50lbs of potatoes.

Simply put, ASB: NY was a great experience. It was not easy, but at the end of each day, we all played a part in providing a necessity someone else. I hope that through our service, the eleven ladies and I were able to increase awareness about homelessness and terminal illnesses, and continue the great work done by ASB and non-profits like The Bowery Mission and God’s Love We Deliver!

– Kester.

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