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The Purpose of Service
What's your disability? Everyone has at least one. Do you suffer from a mental illness? Are you bad at math? Do you have an irrational fear? Or are you like me, the word's worst at almost every sport known to man? And trust me, I would know, I have done everything from ballet to basketball, and the only thing I am any good at is ultimate frisbee.
Well, whatever your disability, I have good news for you. Our disabilities are what make us human, but they are also only a fraction of who we are as a whole. Our disabilities connect us to others and show us that as a body of people, we are not that different after all. This is the greatest lesson I have learned from my service at Camp Able.
My time at Camp Able started in the summer of 2014. I had heard about it from some friends at my favorite place on Earth, my sleep-away church camp. After learning that I could get service hours for school while hangin' out with my camp squad, I was sold. I was nervous, but also excited that I could spend an extra week playing fun games and making new friends. But Camp Able turned out to be so much more than just another week at camp -- it changed my life forever.
Camp Able is a week-long summer camp session for people with "diverse abilities" that is focused on dignity and honest friendship. Because of the equality and relationships that develop between guests and their counselors, Camp Able changes the lives of everyone involved.
Before my week of counseling began, staff training was held. At first we played some easy "ice-breaker" games, but then it got serious. All of a sudden they were discussing getting people with wheelchairs into showers and bathing them, changing diapers, inappropriate behavior, and how to care for someone who has problems communicating clearly. I was so overwhelmed. How was I, just barely a sophomore, supposed to totally care for and look after people with disabilities who were several years older than me? I did not think I could do it.
But soon the day came for the guests to arrive. Every volunteer anxiously waited in their cabin for their guest -- some got here when we started registration, and some got here the next day. But when they did get here, we made their beds and spent the rest of the day getting to know them, taking them to dinner, and finally bathing them and getting them ready for sleep. I survived, but as I settled into bed for the night, I can remember just looking at the cabin ceiling and thinking, "What if I mess up? What if I hurt my guest's feelings? What am I going to do? What have I gotten myself into?"
It turns out I had gotten myself into what I would soon look forward to every summer.
As the week progressed, I got to learn more and more about my cabin mates, as well as my friends' cabin mates. Many of them were funny and quirky, or really liked a certain thing, like dancing or rapping or even Kung Fu. I had never realized that people with disabilities were just people -- people with likes and dislikes and independent personalities. I did not think I would have anything in common with them, and I also did not realize that I would still be in touch with some of them to this day.
There was one guest in particular, my friend's cabin mate, who I took a special interest in. We can call him "Frank". Frank had problems communicating clearly and physical and mental disabilities. I got to know him as the week went on because we ate at the same table and sometimes we would be at the same Free Choice station. I soon found out the hard way that his favorite things to do are fishing and playing Pie-In-The-Face Bingo. By the end of the week, we had actually became good friends, and he started speaking to me in full sentences.
On the last night there is always the legendary Camp Able talent show. Some guests start planning their talent for the next Camp Able as soon as they get home from the last one. Needless to say, this is the largest event of the week. Every guest participates in showcasing their talent with their counselor. "Frank" had told his counselor that he wanted to dance with me for the talent show, so of course I said yes. We slow danced ballroom-style to "Can't Help Falling in Love", and as we were up there, in front of everyone, softly and slowly swaying, I noticed Frank was smiling. Smiling! Just the sight of his wide grin, his complete and total happiness, brought me to tears. I knew at that moment that I had done something, I had changed someone's life, just by simply dancing. I have never been so touched by the beauty of a moment before, a moment full of pure, honest, friendship and love. I believe it was then that I truly captured the purpose of Camp Able, the purpose of my life.
Today I have counseled three Camp Able sessions and am still in touch with a few of the guests I became friends with that summer in 2014. I have many, many stories and memories to share because of Camp Able, and I feel like I am a better person because of it. Frank still comes every year, and he can now hold a conversation with anyone he meets. He still calls me every now and then.
Family and friends will speak with a mix of pride and disbelief about how "brave" I am for spending two weeks of my summer changing diapers, bathing people, and pushing around wheelchairs, but that is not what it is about. It is about the look on a guest's face when they swim for the first time, or catch their first fish, or make a new friend. It is about the genuine excitement, happiness, and uproarious applause that come from the talent show. It is about loving your neighbor as yourself, and how that can change your life. It is about knowing you have impacted another person's life in a positive way, a way they will never forget. It is about feeling like you have a purpose. It is about service.