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Jack

Northamptonshire

2014 - 2019

Camp Northwood

New York

Student

"For the past five years, I’ve spent my summers living and working as a counsellor at Camp Northwood, a special educational needs camp in the beautiful Adirondack Park in Upstate New York. The camp is co-ed with children aged from 8-18 and has all the fun land and water sports that can be found at most camps. It features specialised programming to aid the development of the social skills, self-esteem, and independence of the campers who typically have conditions such as; Higher Functioning Autism and attention deficits. Once the summer begins, all the disability labels cease to exclude the children and they become campers which thrive and enjoy themselves like children at any typical summer camp. Alongside getting to help the children develop their social skills, I also get to instruct fun activities like paddle boarding, archery and more! Seeing the campers progress over the summer is incredibly rewarding!

In all honesty, my experience of special needs camps is always a huge whirlwind of emotions. There’s times were everything can feel like a battle and a struggle but then the camper you are working with will go onto to achieve something incredible that you never thought possible at the start of the summer. Every day at camp is unique and mine have been filled with some of the highest highs and some of the lowest lows that I’ve ever experienced but we always make sure we finish every day on a high and ensure that every day is a fresh start. Every camper has their own unique challenges and by the end of the eight-week summer you know exactly what they need, what their behaviour means and how to best support them. 

I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as prepared, however I was exceedingly eager, excited and I dedicated myself to taking every opportunity I could during my camps orientation week to learn and prepare myself for the camper’s arrival. Orientation programmes occur at all camps and it is a time to familiarise yourself with camp life and learn about the campers. Special education camps have a much more extensive and engaging orientation to prepare counsellors and staff for the campers’ additional needs and I can honestly say I’ve learnt more about interacting with children and facilitating their needs during my camps orientation than I ever have in three years studying special education at university.

The sense of satisfaction is the best part of working at a special needs camp. I’ve seen so many campers who struggle to hold conversation at the beginning of the summer, but their confidence progresses so much they’ll end up performing in front of the whole camp at a talent show and it makes all the hard work so worthwhile.

Another of the best things about working at a special needs camp is that almost everyone on staff is very similar minded and this means that everyone always gets along really well. I often hear people talk about their camp friends being their best, but I know my camp friends are even better because we’ve supported each other through challenges and shared celebrations when we help a camper achieve something great.

Special eduation camps are safe and supportive environments in which you’ll never be forced to do anything you aren’t comfortable doing. Camp is such a great place to push yourself and find out your limits, before my first summer I hated public speaking but with the confidence I’ve developed from working at camp I’ve spoken on stage in front of 500 people. That being said, in order to overcome your apprehensions, I’d advise volunteering yourself for as much as possible, jump in and be the person who puts their hand up when someone asks for a volunteer! Not only will develop your confidence in doing so, other people will appreciate your willingness to help and you’ll also become a supportive role model to your fellow first time counsellors who might also be feeling anxious and being a role model is an essential part of being a camp counsellor. Remember that camps are full of people with years of experience and that you’re never going to be thrown in the metaphoric deep end and left alone – although if you participate in counsellor hunt and are caught by campers you could be thrown in the literal deep end of the lake!"

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