How Working at a Special Needs Camp Changed My Life Forever
By Alexandra Stromer
In the Summer of 2010 and 2011 I worked as a counselor in a place called Camp HASC. Camp HASC, to many, is known as “Heaven on Earth.” Why you may ask? This place is not your average summer camp, but one that provides over 300 individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities the opportunity to enjoy a seven week sleep-away camp experience, just like many of their siblings and friends. Can you imagine? A place where those who were in essence “different” were able to experience everything under the sun from playing sports, swimming, field trips, night activities, concerts and more. Some campers had visible disabilities, others were more hidden. Nevertheless the campers never wavered from how much fun they were having.
I saw campers in wheelchairs experience swimming in a pool wheelchair-free for the first time (of course, with the proper equipment) and have permanent smiles on their faces for the rest of the day. Bicycle riding was exactly the same way. Those who have autism had a blast digging their hands into cookie dough at cooking class for the sensory aspect and of course, sneaking chocolate chips every now and then. The therapy department works tirelessly creating daily miracles for campers by teaching them to walk or even being able to feed themselves with a fork and knife with no additional help. This place is more magical than I can ever put into words (or a post for that matter) and I fell in love with it from the first moment my bus pulled up to the gate.
Many people ask with a certain tone “How did you do it?” or “How can you spend an entire summer helping someone else?” My experience was not as easy as I thought it would be but it enabled me to wake up every morning with a lot of love in my heart because I was devoting my summer to doing just that — helping someone else. I had sacrificed two summers to give someone else a chance to have a blast. Don’t take that last sentence as a brag — I am incredibly grateful for my summer experiences and it came to a point in my life where I just wanted to give back. Something inside me screamed I need something different for my summer, and this place must be it. Although I went into it hoping for my campers to have an incredible summer, I too had one that I will never forget. So much so that I returned the following year to a gang similar to the one I had my previous summer. A group of 5 women just looking to have a rocking summer. And a rocking summer we had.