Anywho, summer... PART THREE!
Around August, I had the opportunity to volunteer for Camp Jotoni, a camp for people that have developmental and intellectual disabilities. I was averse to volunteering at this camp because I didn't think I was capable of being so helpful and patient. However, as the first day of volunteering approached, I began to develop a more positive outlook on this activity.
I remember my dad driving me there, and me hoping that I could handle what was thrown at me. Anything could have happened. Honestly, I was pretty nervous. Who was I going to meet? Would I be able to handle situations that may arise? How was I going to make it through the weather (it was really hot outside)? These questions sat in my mind as I walked up this steep hill near the parking lot with my dad to find the people who were going to assign me to a group.
At first, I was placed in a group with adult men, but when another volunteer (whose name I will not disclose) came, my assignment changed to a group of adult women. It's actually pretty cool how I'm now friends with this other volunteer; all because we helped out at Camp Jotoni in the same week.
Like with the DC Summit, I felt like an outsider. These campers had known each other for a long time, and there I was, intruding on their friendship. There were so many new names and new faces that I had to learn to recognize. There were five people in my group, the Frogs, and two counselors who helped with the group. I introduced myself, awkwardly, of course, being who I am, and I tried to become engaged with the campers. The first thing I learned about them was that they were avid colorers. They LOVED to color. One of the campers even brought her coloring books and markers with her to every station that we went to. I watched as the campers carefully filled in little spaces. It was a beautiful thing. Throughout the week that I was at the camp, I saw the pictures slowly take shape; every day, there were new blotches of color on the pages they were diligently working on.
I learned my group's schedule by Wednesday. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we went to music, PE, nature, dance, games, and arts and crafts in the morning. Then we had lunch and lingered around a bit (and colored a lot) until the lifeguard at the pool told us that we were allowed to go down to the pool. On Tuesday and Thursday, we switched the morning and afternoon activities, so we'd have pool time in the morning and all of the other stations in the afternoon.
There's this hill that I had to walk down to get down to the pool. It was a nice stroll, but when I had to push someone in a wheelchair up and down the hill, haha, well, that wasn't fun. But I would have done anything for the campers, you know? As long as they were happy, everything was all good. The pool was outdoors, and it was actually surprisingly clean, especially because it was right under a grove of trees. I mean, there was the occasional leaf and bug, but for a pool with that area and placement, it was practically spotless. There was this daily struggle to get everyone to at least dip their toes in the pool. The campers would always complain that the water was too cold, but the other counselors and I would just say right back that it was too hot outside. They would eventually give in and dip their feet in the water or play around in the pool.
There were other times when the campers weren't motivated, didn't like the activity, or just wanted to color instead of participate. I remember how annoyed they became when the other two counselors and I tried encouraging them to participate in the activity. It was a wonderful feeling to finally convince them to try the activity, and it was even better when they ENJOYED doing it. There was something about the way they smiled and laughed too. They always brought a wave of joy within me when they were having fun. I think it was because of how pure and genuine the happiness was instead of superficial smiles that I'm usually surrounded with.
Although I only knew them for a week, I had developed strong friendships with the campers I was grouped with. Going to Camp Jotoni was a valuable experience, and I loved it albeit the sweat, the bugs, and the hills. Not only did I get the hours for volunteering, but I also learned something about myself and about those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. I learned that those with such disabilities are absolutely capable people. Nothing can hold them back if they were set on a goal. They're caring, loving, and hilarious people. I don't know why I felt so... Superior, I guess, before the camp. Like I was somehow better because I was "normal" and how "smart" I was. It's kind of embarrassing to admit that. But I'm glad I did. And I'm also glad that I don't think like that anymore. On another note, I had learned how to be patient and gently persistent from working with the campers. I usually come on strong and shove instead of nudge, so I was surprised at the amount of patience I was able to exercise during that week. The weather was hot, the air was humid, and bugs were swarming me, but never once did I hit my breaking point, and never once did I shove instead of nudge.
All the small moments are slowly fading from my memory, but I still remember the campers' names, faces, and their smiles. I may never see these wonderful people again, but I was lucky to have met them in the first place.