As a teenager, I remember wanting to get a job for the summer to keep me occupied. My mother helped me apply to several and one day I was called to set an interview up. It was to be a counselor for physically and mentally challenged. At 15 I did not imagine myself doing this but I managed to ace the interview and off I went to spend 2 months in northern Arizona as a counselor.
The first two weeks I went through much training where I learned the procedures, programs, emergency response, etc. When the training was over I was prepared to embrace the campers that were scheduled to arrive the next day. In our cabin, the other counselors that had worked there for many summers were excited about reuniting with the participants from previous years. I enjoyed their stories and was excited to meet my assigned camper for the week and give them a good time.(We would have a new camper every week)
The next morning I helped set up the gym with various fun things and eagerly waited for the them to join us. The door opens and a camper burst in with excitement as he saw his counselor friend from last summer. At 15 and with no experience it was a bit of a shock to see a mentally challenged person. The initial reaction was one of feeling bad, as I think many would initially do. After the shock dissipated I began to interact with the campers as they came in and I started feeling a sense of peace watching how much joy was in that gym.
My first camper had Down Syndrome and was such an amazing experience! Alongside him every day I would ensure he was enjoying his stay. Then the next week I had another camper that always had a way to make me laugh! He would at times say an inappropriate joke about a female counselor that would leave me a bit embarrassed but nevertheless was an amazing time.
One camper experience I would never forget. He was a bit shy and seemed to be very attached to his caretakers. I made it my mission that his stay, which happened to be his first, would be the best one ever!
In the male cabins the counselors would sleep in our quarters and the campers would sleep in one large room. Everyday there would be a designated counselor that would sleep in a bed in the large room where the campers slept to monitor them and make sure they were ok.
One night it was my turn. The rule was that you had to stay up until 12am and then you can fall asleep. After a long day I stayed up staring at the clock and when it hit 12 o’clock I began to doze off. The campers we sound asleep and was a very quiet evening.
As I closed my eyes and began to doze in to subconsciousness a bright light emerged and when I opened my eyes the light fixture right above my bed turned bright on and then turned off! My heart raced as it was very odd that one light turned on as the switch turns all of them on at the same time. There was not switch that would turn on just one light.
I rushed to the senior counselor and woke him. After explaining what I just experience he walked with me to my bed with the same puzzled look I had. Then as we stared at the fixture we hear a moan…. “You hear that” I told him and he noded.. Not a moan but more of a sobb. We fast walked to the other side of the room and there was my camper sitting on the side of his bed crying… When I asked him what was wrong and he said he missed his parents… A heartbreaking moment for sure.. I walked him to the restroom as he needed to use it and then walked him to his bed giving him comfort that he is not alone and that I would take care of him. I sat by his side as he dozed off to sleep.
Walking to my bed I couldn’t help but be amazed at what just took place. I have yet to find a reasonable explanation, but the experience was one that will never leave me. That day a 15 year old kid that wanted a job to not spend it at home with mom over the summer developed a strong sense of care for people. Thank you camper…
Wherever you are…