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!

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 :)

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.

Threats to Funding for People with Disabilities in PA

 

Funding fight threatens way of life for \’Phoenixville Five\’

Learn about a group of adults living independent lives, and how their future is in jeopardy.

Governor Tom Corbett and the Department of Public Welfare Face Lawsuit Over Cuts to Services for Pennsylvanians with Disabilities

Visit the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania here:  http://drnpa.org/.

Our first couple of days…

    So, we’ve settled in nicely here at Camp Baker. It’s just beautiful, with lots of land to play on with the campers. All of the staff members have been incredibly kind and helpful, especially in letting us raid their pantry for food to make.

    On Sunday we had the pleasure of hanging out with the kids who were spending a weekend respit at Camp Baker. These weekends away allow their caretakers some much-needed free time, as one can imagine how hard it is to take care of someone with developmental disabilities every day. It was really rewarding to be able to connect with these kids. At first, many of them were difficult to understand because of their disabilities. You could tell they were trying to express themselves, so we tried really hard to figure out what they were saying. When we finally did, it was an amazing feeling for us and the kids.

    I think one of the more difficult aspects we faced was dealing with the non-verbal kids and adults. They’re mostly unable to speak, but they’re still very much cognitivelyt aware of their surroundings. It’s like their stuck in their own minds. However, when we were able to communicate through hand motions and visual cues, it was incredible. Suddenly it became obvious as to what they wanted, and we were usually happy to oblige.

    Today, we worked with the adult day support program. We were all apprehensive because none of us had much experience with adults with disabilities. It ended up being a really great time, making crafts and doing aerobic stretches with them. I look forward to working with them again throughout the week and getting to know them better. I feel like we can develop great relationships with them, and they will open up and let us make even more developmetal advances with them. Even if they’re small victories, it will still be great for all involved.

    We spent the evening in beautiful Richmond, walking around and eating some authentic southern food. It gave us a chance to bond as a team and learn some new things about each other. We also saw other ARC (the parent organization of Camp Baker) facilities, and saw disabled individuals preparing to live in the community, which was fantastic to see. They have the opportunity to work for wage, something many disabled people have not been afforded in the past.

    We’re all incredibly excited for the coming week! We’ll continue to interact with both the kids and the adults, and at the end we get to organize a carnival. I personally cannot wait, and I know my team feels the same way.

Virginia here we come!

I applied for this trip in the middle of September. I had been on College Hill for less than a month and had begun to realize that while you may know someone on the surface, but until you know their past, you might not fully understand their present. When asked about my trip preference (there is another ASB trip going to Tennessee over spring break), this is what I responded:

 

During a diversity workshop during Orientation, one classmate responded that while many Lafayette students might wear Sperry Topsiders, JCrew, and North Face, there is no typical Lafayette student—everyone has a unique story. Furthermore, these unique stories often time include hardships unknown to most people. What I did not know at the time is that this classmate, now one of my closest friends at Lafayette, struggles with ADD.  After having reflected on the different excerpts from the diversity presentation and having spoken with this friend, I realize that there is so much more to each person than that is seen on the surface. I particularly want to work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities so that I cannot only show compassion, but also so that I can learn how the disabilities affect their lives. With this new knowledge, I would like to help educate the Lafayette community about people living with disabilities so that they, too, have a better understanding of these daily struggles. It is my hope that with this knowledge, both students at Lafayette and I think twice about how we judge people—that we get to know each individual thoroughly before making assumptions about why they act the way they do.  

 

Now fast forward to this past week. By the time Sunday, March 4th came around, I had been at Lafayette for almost a semester and a half. Everything had been going smoothly all year: classes, soccer, friendships, etc. Every once and a while, I would learn something about one of my friend’s past hardships, which briefly reminded me how easy my childhood was in comparison. Anyhoo, everyone had warned me that I would inevitably hit a freshman wall, and this past week definitely was my freshman wall.

 

Sunday night, my freshman wall began to form when I went to the McKelvy dinner discussion (everyone should go to at least one during their 4 years!) and loved it. Immediately following the discussion, I had to go to the freshman housing discussion. Long story short, everything started being turned upside down in regards my perspective on housing for next year. Ultimately, by the end of the discussion, I had realized that I wanted to apply to McKelvy, and I had my teammates’ support. The two-hour discussion between the eight of us had been somewhat long and awkward and it was inevitable that feelings would be hurt. It was slightly draining emotionally, but this little bump in the road was a good test for everyone’s friendships because as the saying goes, “true friendship isn’t about being there when it’s convenient; it’s about being there when it’s not.

The next day I was able to begin my application to the McKelvy. Mid-morning there was a bit of a health scare in my family. Unable to get a hold of my parents to find out what was going on, I was stressed out and scared. Throughout the day, friends, faculty, and staff at Lafayette continually supported me when I needed help. By the end of the day, I had learned that my sister was sick, but was going to be okay. Tuesday went well, although I was tired from everything. That night, however, I could not fall asleep. With two hours of sleep and having gone through a tough few days (respectively speaking), I finally left my own pity party Wednesday morning when I realized how truly great and blessed my life is. It took me until I wrote down all the good things in my life to fully realize how ridiculous I was behaving given the circumstances. I was worried about housing at that point. My sister was going to be okay, so I didn’t need to worry about that. Here’s an excerpt:

 

What is good in my life right now:

-I’m at the school I love.

-The people at Lafayette are great.

-Some important people in my life have stepped up and been there for me.

-My parents are healthy, supportive, and love me.

-My family is healthy (for the most part).

-The housing issue is trivial. Worst case? In a shitty dorm at the school I love.

-Cosmic Cup is always open when I need it.

There were many more bullet points on the list to remind me how great my life is. On the other side of the list, I put a poem that kept popping up in my mind this week. I had read it in Honors American Literature in high school, but found that it is applicable in college.

 

Richard Cory

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean-favoured and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good Morning!” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich, yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine — we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked and waited for the light,
And went without the meat and cursed the bread,
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet in his head.

At the bottom of the poem, I wrote, “You don’t know everyone’s story. People definitely have it worse. Pull it together because you are only dealing with trivial issues in the grand scheme of things. What does not kill you makes you stronger. #firstworldproblems. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Essentially, I had come to the same conclusion that I wrote about in my ASB application. I had once again realized that I don’t know everyone’s story, but I know my own and I have been so lucky.

This week I have become more grateful, become closer friends with people because we faced adversity together, and got to enjoy one of the prettiest 70 degree winter March days Easton, PA has ever seen. All and all, I’d say that it was the perfect week to lead up to ASB Virginia.

In September, I had answer why I wanted to participate in ASB and what I hoped to gain. Here is my response:

First and foremost, I want to help people. I do not have as much time as I would like to volunteer during school because of the time commitment required of being a Division 1 soccer player. I have, however, a break from soccer during spring break. Secondly, after having spent a week in New Orleans for a service trip during my junior year of high school, I learned the importance of showing solidarity with those in need. Prior to the trip, I had pictured myself building houses; instead I was assigned to assist with much smaller projects such as helping seventh graders learn about the bayou and doing yard work at a house abandoned after the hurricane. I felt that I was not really doing much until I met Miss Madeline, an older woman whose house was destroyed by Katrina. When she returned to New Orleans, Miss Madeline sought volunteers to help rebuild her house and community. She was proactive and full of hope, even after all of the devastation. She taught me that even the smallest acts count to others and that just by being in New Orleans, I was helping the people’s hope and spirit. This message carries over to all acts of service. Thus I want to participate in Alternative School Break to not only help improve people’s physical environments, but also show solidarity. Ultimately, I hope to gain a better understanding about living life with a disability or living in rural Appalachia. 

 

My response still remains the same. I want to help people, show solidarity, but also see how people who face real adversity respond and keep such a positive outlook on life. As the Zac Brown Band sings it, “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.”

So with that, I’m off to Cosmic so I can start the trip with a tall Mexican hot chocolate with a shot of espresso and a bialy with strawberry jam! I hope everyone has a wonderful spring break!

Abby Williams, Class of 2015

Day before going to Virginia!

So I can’t believe that it’s the day before our ASB trip, we’ve been planning and waiting for it for what seems like FOREVER. I am beyond excited and can’t wait to get to Camp Baker. I want to see what it looks like and what exactly we’re going to be doing- no matter what we end up doing I’m sure it’s going to be an absolutely amazing experience. It’ll also be fun tomorrow to stop at some cool places on the way while on the 6 hour and 5 minute drive. My expectations for this trip are to have memories that I will never forget, make connections with every person that I meet, and learn a lot. I’m so excited!! :)

T – SO FEW HOURS

I can’t believe we’re so close to driving down the College Hill and being on our way to Virginia!! I know it’s going to be such an incredible week and can’t wait for it to start. Especially after a long midterms week, the whole team has been really enthusiastic about everything, which is really great. Everyone being hyped up starts an endless chain of hyping everyone else up too, which just makes the trip even more eagerly anticipated! I can’t wait for our group to move into our little cabin, for us to meet the kids we’re going to be working with, for us to start planning the camp carnival, for us to learn more about rural Virginia and explore it, for us to get even closer as a group, and for things that I don’t even know will happen yet. We’ll be taking millions of photos and blogging every night, so feel free to keep checking in! :)