****This essay was written by an OCCC counselor who started at age 14 as an intern and then went on to be an outstanding counselor for 3 years. His compassion and ability to connect with and calm down anxious children quickly became legendary amongst counselors and staff. This reminds us that OCCC has a significant impact on the counselors as well as the campers. *********
It’s my first morning at Our Community Cares Camp (OCCC). I am 14 years, old and am sitting outside of the middle school awaiting the kids. As I see the big yellow busses come into sight my stomach turns. I realize that I have no idea what to do next. Soon herds of kids will be swarming out, and I am responsible for them. Hayden, my group leader, tells me to go to Bus #2 and pick up Penny, Leo, and Sandy. As the doors hinge open the kids pile out. I don’t know which kids mine are, so I call each of their names, hoping they find me. Within a few seconds Penny and Sandy are at my side, but I can’t find Leo. After looking around for a while, a tiny boy who looks about four years old, walks down the steps of the bus, shoes on backwards, eyes full of tears, desperately looking for where to go. I walked over and said, “Hey there. Are you Leo?” He gave me a small nod, so I introduced myself and told him I was his camp counselor for the summer.
As we walked into the school, with Leo in tears, I tried unsuccessfully to make conversation. After he struggled putting his backpack in his cubby, I knew what he really needed was a solid breakfast. In the cafeteria I grabbed him some food, and we sat down at our own table. As he slowly ate, he got more and more comfortable with me, telling me about his favorite color, sports, and foods until we were having a full conversation.
As the days and weeks of camp went on, Leo became more and more attached to me. We had such a strong connection that by the second week he wouldn’t get off the bus unless I was picking him up. It was amazing to see how he grew and developed at camp and how I could be an important role model in his life.
When I look back on the last eighteen years of my life, my involvement with Our Community Cares Camp is the one thing that stands out above all others. This free camp supports kids from low-income families who, without our help, would not have adequate food throughout the summer or be able to go to summer camp. I volunteered as an intern the summer before my freshman year. To see kids like Leo, who could barely communicate with adults and are unable to make friends with other kids, be able to participate in activities like arts and crafts, rock climbing, and be willing to try new foods, was amazing. That summer set the stage for what has become much more than a job to me.
At the beginning, I was planning on interning for two weeks, but ended up staying the full four. At the end of the summer I was amazed by how much the kids had grown throughout the four weeks and the connection I had with each of them. Since that first summer with OCCC, my role at camp has changed and I have been given more responsibility. In addition to being a counselor, with my own campers, now I have the privilege of training the new interns. OCCC has been monumental in my life, not just because I am a counselor to kids like Leo. I have also gained valuable life skills and created connections that will last my whole life. OCCC has made me realize how important helping my community is to my identity. I really appreciate everything that Our Community Cares has done for me the last four years, it has brought me so many incredible experiences, and every summer I find that I am just as lucky as the campers to be there. I will try to continue to better my community, and no matter where I go spread the positive attitude and loving spirit that I have gained from OCCC