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New Jersey Summer Camp Experience Part 2

29th February 2012

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Our summer began with a training week. Up at 8am, finish about 8pm. This is the
time that we spent learning the basics of caring for disabilities, and what to
do in crisis situations. However, we also spent the time getting to know each
other, playing games and doing “team bonding” activities. We used to complain
at a 12 hour shift – how naïve we were…


Camp SessionsThe increasingly popular Camp America
The camp runs either six or twelve day programmes, and as counsellors, it was our job to provide care and provision for two or three campers. This could be increased to one on one supervision if the camper’s needs were highly intense. We spent all of our time with our campers; from waking up to going to bed. The age range at
Merry Heart is 5-90, but it is mainly adult sessions that are run.

The counsellors were organised into cabins, with campers being attached to
their personal counsellor for the session. The campers, with their counsellors’
help, would take part in activities like arts and crafts; sports and games; and dance and
drama. There was also a swimming pool and a lake, and camp-wide activities
every night. Unless on duty at the cabin, then we had just over an hour for
personal time after lunch, then some free time around 10pm until 12pm at night. But if we were on duty, then we were in the cabins, supervising the campers.


At the beginning of camp, I was averaging about six, disrupted, uncomfortable hours of sleep a night. As camp went on, however, and our cabin began to run more smoothly as a team, my sleeping gradually got deeper and longer.

The food at camp was very poor. It was repetitive and of poor quality. Although the chef did his best to make exciting food, most of us resorted to Domino’s Pizza at the end of the night.

Time Off
There was a laundry run each weekday to the Laundromat in the local town. Even though this doesn’t sound like time off, it was a huge relief to have some time away from camp. The Laundromat had a shop next door, and Wi-Fi access inside.  For every six day session we would get a night and a full day off, and a night and two full days off for each twelve day session. It was up to us what we did with our time off, but most people chose to go into town to fill up on snacks, eat at the local restaurants, or take a trip to the cinema.

The lead staff at our camp used one of the weekends off to organise a camp trip to New York City. Whilst most people stayed in the cheapest option, Hotel Carter – voted the worst hotel in the city four years running - Elys and I decided to stay in a nice hotel across Manhattan. What ensued was exactly what would expect from a large group of 18-26 year olds, in NYC, with copious amounts of alcohol - a Skins style part-ay, with sex, fights, police and fire engines. Nice
weekend break in New York then…

Working with people with disabilities is very hard work. You have to get used to dealing with all kinds of bodily fluids, coping with being physically and verbally attacked, and handling the constant stress and strain of having your full attention on someone at all times.

To be honest, when CA representatives and the Merry Heart staff, told me that most people come back for the campers, and that it’s a very fulfilling and rewarding job, I didn’t believe them. But at Merry Heart, we were taught not to see beyond the campers' disabilities, and it is a good lesson to learn.

Just because someone is disabled, doesn’t mean that they can’t be an ass. There are some campers that you simply won’t get on with; but as long as you are doing your job, then it's ok. And then, when you get that camper that you really love, it’s just such an amazing feeling. You know that you’re helping someone, and actually making a difference. Cheesey, I know, but it really is.

I had never worked in disabilities - and never really planned to - but it is such
an eye-opening experience. It helps you understand people in a more emotional way.

Camp is a strange environment. At the beginning, everyone likes each
other, and really gets on. However, just like Big Brother, as the weeks go on then cracks begin to show, cliques begin to form, and the claws come out. This, for me, was one of the hardest things to deal with at camp. It all becomes so childish and bitchy. It felt like being back at school, if not worse- the smallest of things became such a big deal, and your business instantly becomes everyone’s business.

It is not difficult to understand why. When you are at camp, it is your life, your bubble. There’s very, very limited internet, no news and very little outside entertainment.  At the beginning of camp, you can talk about what you know back home, and get to know each other, but that only lasts so long, and eventually you are left with only each other to talk about.

However, through all of this chaos of personal relationships, we did manage to form friendships. You make friends with people from all over the world, and likely, make a friend or two who lives a lot closer to you than you ever would have expected. For me, I made very few real friends - but they are proper, loyal and truthful ones. And other than that, a Facebook comment every now and then
will likely be the most communication I have with the others I met at summer camp.

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