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"This one time at camp" by Liverpool Brand Managers

01.12.15

I found myself dressed as Rapunzel being serenaded by Flynn Ryder at lunch.

I ended up in a canoe with two only chinese speaking campers.

I found myself sat inside a giant whale.
But which one is true?

Wait, what?
No, I’m not joking. These all happened.

This is my personal experience of camp, as a special needs counsellor on a Christian camp. Summer 2014 was my first summer at camp. I was hired by an inclusive camp in Ocean Park, MA at the London recruitment fair; after deciding I only wanted to go to camp as a special needs counsellor. It’s safe to say I loved my camp experience, and returned to the same camp in Summer 2015. Special Needs camps have the highest returner rate, fact. And I can tell you why I love camp and continue to return. On camp, I made some awesome friendships, people I text daily and facetime every week. I made friends that I am sure will be at my wedding  and friends that I would now be lost without.

But I didn’t just return to camp for the friends, the crazy songs and skits. I made connections with campers and people that I wouldn’t have made anywhere else. Campers slowly become your world over summer, and my experience as a special needs counsellor meant that we were caring for other people like most of us never had before. I have never met so many people that I have so much love and respect for, being a disability counsellor for two summers has encouraged and inspired me to continue in my career choice and studying disability.

Life as a counsellor can be tough, you’re always busy, things can get crazy at times; but there is no other job I’d want. I was singing songs about worms, smashing a banana on my head, and wearing a giant pink coat with four other people; and I couldn’t of been happier. Camp is the only time I found I could really let go and be my completely crazy self. The role of a counsellor is special, and I have campers who facetime me still from my first year! Being a camp counsellor is far more rewarding than any other job you’ll find, and for me was an experience that left me counting down the days until the next summer.
One day that truly hit home for me, was during my first week as a disability counsellor. I was pretty tired, running low on energy, and still had the evening activity and then bedtime to get through. Our evening activity was the beach; now if you’ve ever tried to get a wheelchair on the beach- good luck. The sight of the whole camp staff coming together to get 15 wheelchair users on the sand made me realise just how special camp is. Using boards to guide wheels across the sand, and lifting wheelchairs between five of us found some energy in me and made this one of the best days of summer.

Being asked to prom by a camper, and being told just how much I mean to a camper as I read them a bedtime story. ‘Hey Rachel, thanks. I love you.’ Never did I think i’d become so emotional about someone i’d known five days. And I think that was when I really began to learn what it was like to truly care for someone. For someone you’ve known for only a number of days to tell you just how important you are, you realise how much of an impact one act can have in someone’s life. Just because I wanted to give someone my time at the end of the night, read them a bible verse or story; I was loved. Working with adult campers was such a daunting but amazing experience that I couldn’t wait to do again!

Never did I think i’d be going a day without my makeup, I never thought I’d go a day without straightening my fringe! But I did it all. I found myself covered in dirt, mud, sea salt and paint. I dove through mud and dressed as a princess, I ran through the dining hall during meal times, I sat in a giant whale, I ‘twinned’ with children and staff: but on camp you do anything to get a laugh or a smile from your campers.

It’s not just about working a job, as a counsellor you live for ‘seeing the smiles on their faces’- Tarah, a friend and fellow counsellor. It’s about seeing how happy they are, and how much they admire and appreciate the little things you do for them. It’s special because you see ‘all sides to people,’ friends and campers. – Molly, a friend and fellow counsellor.

After bursting into tears multiple times over summer, during campers home times and the end of the season – I learnt the value of other people, and the value we have on others. I learnt all about true friendship, and I learnt a LOT about myself.

I’ve eaten more smores than i’ve ever had hot lunches, I’ve climbed through windows, dove across a water logged field, danced like a monkey, and been involved in some of the craziest skits, ideas and memories. But I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

So, I guess i’m saying; if you’re thinking camp- totally consider working on a special needs camp. It is one of the most rewarding and amazing experiences of my life. Camp taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to, it taught me that I can’t do an American accent, that I can pretend I’m sat on the toilet on a roller coaster, and I’ve learnt patience, care, and true kindness. Feel free to ask me anything you want to know!

I just want to thank the staff at Oceanwood who have since become my family, for putting up with me and for welcoming me.

Rachel Appleton,
CA Brand Manager team Liverpool.
@rachelsylviee