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Tom - Humans of Camp America

30.08.16

NJY Round Lake camp was for 6-24 year olds with disabilities including autism. I had no prior knowledge of Autism and hadn't even worked with children before. My Camp Director told me to give it another week and gave me a few hints and tips.

It helped. I stayed and the summer was amazing. I learnt a lot, about myself, others, relationships and most importantly the people I was there for… the campers. 

At the end of the summer the director asked me if she would be seeing me the following year. I politely declined but told her how much I’d appreciated our chat and that I’d really enjoyed my time at Round Lake.  

After returning to England from travelling the East Coast of the US in September 2009, we had our first Camp Reunion in October (yes we were that keen!). By November I had booked to return to Camp the following summer. It suddenly had hit me that I missed every aspect of Camp and knew I’d regret not going back. Everything about it, from doughnuts at breakfast to being on duty, I missed it all. 

That summer couldn't come quick enough. I was in final year of my Graphic Design degree and I’d managed to persuade a best friend, Joe, that he should join me at Camp. 

My second summer at Round Lake in 2010 was even better than the first. Lots of my friends also returned and I was in the same bunk with the same campers. I was made 'Colour War' captain, which was one of the greatest days of my life. It felt good having the self confidence and knowledge to support the young adults at camp. This made our time at camp a lot more fun. I realised how much I genuinely enjoyed working with people with special educational needs (SEN). 

6 years on, I am the co-founder of ‘How Do I?’, an app which supports people with additional needs to live and learn as independently as possible. I’ve spent the past 6 years working in schools for children with SEN, and while Round Lake is an inclusive and accessible setting, the rest of the world isn't and hopefully my app will change that. 

Camp America has not only shaped my career and personality it has also had a huge impact on my social circle. Not only my friends from Round Lake but a lot of my other close friends did Camp at other settings. 

On the plane back to London in 2010, Joe gave me a note. This is a classic male move, we want to express our emotions but don't know how. The note thanked me for making him do camp. But there's a quote in it that I think sums Camp America up completely: “you have helped me come out of my shell and be myself and challenge me to do new things and I have loved doing them.

So thank you Camp America. 

Tom - Round Lake Camp (2008-2009)

Check out Tom's app and the work he is doing now at www.nfchelpsme.com or follow them on social media @nfchelpsme