Muscular Dystrophy Camp This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Three years ago I stepped foot into the Massachusetts Hospital School, having no idea what it would entail. At my mother's suggestion, I had volunteered for a week at MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association) camp. Knowing my love for children, she felt I would enjoy working with "special needs" children.

After orientation, we met the staff and volunteers. Everyone chatted cheerfully, looking forward to the week and reminiscing about years past. I felt as though I was the only person experiencing any apprehension. My stomach was in knots, and my palms were moist. I had never been exposed to anyone with a handicap and I was now about to spend a week with children ages 5 to 13, suffering from muscular dystrophy. From that day on my outlook on life changed.

Volunteers were assigned to groups where we got to know each other. The leader made me very comfortable. He explained what to expect and assured me that there was nothing to be nervous about.

The children were divided into age groups: my group contained of six- and seven-year-old boys. Their handicaps varied. There were a couple who walked with ease, some who walked with an unsteady gait, some in wheelchairs and those whose illness had progressed farther. I was afraid that my anxiety would be obvious. I also expected the children to be depressed and full of self-pity.

But all my expectations were wrong. The kids were extremely enthusiastic and vivacious, their outlook upbeat, and not at all self-absorbed. They were happy and well-adjusted, and I was pleasantly surprised to find how easy they were to work with. To me they were normal children who simply had more to deal with on a day-to-day basis. They loved camp and soon relaxed around me.

The school has a lot to offer with many activities and fun events. There is a barn where kids can ride a horse, walk a goat, or help care for the animals, which gives them a sense of responsibility and control. There is an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool with supervised games and where many are able to forget their disability and float freely. For many, the warm water is relaxing. It was a wonderful week and the children left having one of the most exciting, wonderful times of their lives.

When the week ended, I decided to spend the rest of my summer volunteering there. Now every summer I return to visit my friends, and each year they are noticeably more frail. Despite this, their hearts grow stronger and their smiles wider. They are thankful for everything they have.

Spending time there has had a profound effect on me. I quickly learned to see them as not disabled, but as regular kids. I walked into the Hospital School hoping to help the children feel like they were more normal, but to my surprise they already were. They gave me much more than I could have ever given them.

I learned that if you can give a small portion of yourself, in time you are bound to take away lessons and experiences that will guide you for a lifetime. fl


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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