Camp Fatima by J. F., Dorchester, MA
The pattering of footsteps echoed on the wooden floor of Cabin 12. She walked in carrying her bags with a big smile on her face. This special, little camper looked around the cabin to choose the perfect bunk which would become her home for the next week at Camp Fatima. She ran over to me and hugged me fiercely, saying, "I'm so happy." She threw down her bags and quickly shoved her parents aside, saying her good-bye. I glanced at her name tag to learn her name before she ran out of the cabin. Leeane was wasting no time to find her friends from the previous year. This was the start of what turned out to be the most memorable experience of my life.
Nothing had prepared me for what would happen that week. At orientation, the other counselors told me it would be a challenge, but I still had many questions floating around in my mind. Would I be able to handle it? What if I did or said something wrong? Would the children like me? Would I like them? These questions soon diminished as the rest of my eight campers eagerly arrived one by one. Each so different, each with his or her own needs ... so much for me to learn.
Working with children with a physical and/or mental handicap has altered my views on the meaning of life. Getting to know them and seeing how happy they were made me realize how precious life is. Even though they were born with a disability they seemed to be the happiest people I had ever known. I was astonished to see how much unconditional love, patience and understanding they displayed. Watching Leeane and the rest of the campers progress through the week was incredible. Whether it was catching a ball or trying to win a race, they showed a willingness to do their best that was witnessed by all.
Would I like them? I not only liked them, I fell in love with them. Like me? Words cannot describe how it felt to see the joy I brought to their lives and the pleasure they brought to mine. Going to bed each night after listening to the good nights they shouted through the Camp Fatima radio station: "To Jean: my best friend, my buddy" were very heart-warming. I went to camp thinking that I was the counselor, here to help them; instead I felt like I was the one being taught a lesson.
I learned a very important lesson that week at Camp Fatima, one that I hope I can look back and remember in years to come. Value life! They taught me how rewarding it is to put others' needs before my own. Sometimes when I start to complain about something or want more than what I need, I think of them. What started out to be just a summer job ended in being an experience which has had a major impact on my life.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.