Last week, I had an incredible opportunity to go to Camp Bighorn in Montana to be with teens and adults with special needs. Over the course of the four-day camp, we took them through a ropes course, rock climbing, zip-lining, rafting, horse-back-riding, and swimming! We played games, made some crafts, and created lifetime memories. This special camp, called Achieve, has been running for nearly a decade and allows these amazing people to conqueror these adventures in their own unique ways. At the same time, it gives the full-time caregivers/parents a mini vacation and allows young teens real life experience in the world of special needs. I felt so privileged to be a part of it!
We had 40 campers attending, making it a record-breaking week for Achieve Camp. Originally, I went up expecting to be paired with a one-on-one buddy, and I would become her caretaker for the week. In fact, the campers outnumbered the staff so that, other than a few more high maintenance campers that needed personalized levels of attention and care, the staff was looking after multiple people at a time. I was in a cabin with 4 other staff and 6 girls, which meant we got to trade around throughout the day. We dubbed ourselves the Party Cabin because all of our girls were independent young women who liked to have a good time!
It was amazing to see the variety of diagnoses, even just in our group! We had one girl with ADHD, one with Down Syndrome, one with Cerebral Palsy, one with moderate autism, and all with varying mental delays. For the most part, they just seemed younger than they actually were physically (our age range was 16-27ish, but I've forgotten specifically), but all of them were fairly high functioning and independent. Still, some of them got distracted and liked to wander, so we definitely had our hands full some days!
I loved having multiple buddies. It meant that over the short time we were together, I was able to know 4 out of the 6 girls on a personal level. In addition, I was able to hang out with some of the other campers, like Justin (featured below) and some of the other guys, without having to worry about my own buddies on a constant basis. Everyone took care of each other, even among campers! There were no differences or diagnoses among them, we were all just people, here to have a good time together.
This week really pushed me physically in more ways than I thought. One time, one of my campers asked me to go with her on the ropes course, which I had never done before. Not only did I have to conquer my own fear of heights, I also had to help her in the places she struggled physically. Another day, I helped three campers who had difficulty walking reach the swimming hole by pushing their raft upstream over slippery rocks and through cold mountain water. It was also mentally challenging. I had to learn a lot very quickly, like how to keep my campers involved and happy, what upset them off and what calmed them down. There were definitely some difficult, learning moments for sure. But once it clicked I was able to help them have a great time! This has been one of the most rewarding experiences and my favorite memory of the summer so far (not counting my homecoming)!
Now that camp is over, college is up next! I'll move into the dorms on August 24th, and official classes start on the 29th. I'm sure you'll hear more from me soon as I start that great adventure in three weeks!