Friendship, Service Burgeons at Camp Smiles

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Clad in blue face paint, junior Amanda Wolff and her camper show their team spirit for a kickball match at Camp Smiles. Overcoming disabilities, campers participated in various activities throughout the day, including rock climbing, archery, fishing and canoeing. (Courtesy Photo)

With junior Amanda Wolff steadying his hand, a six-year-old boy grins from ear to ear as he fires an arrow into a bullseye with a resounding thud.

This summer, Wolff headed out with a group of SJS students to volunteer at Camp Smiles, a week-long camp for children with cerebral palsy. The camp was held July 6-12 at Camp for All, a facility in Burton, Texas, designed to be completely barrier-free.

“It really allowed the kids to reach out of their comfort zone and be themselves because everyone has the same disability,” Wolff said.

Volunteers met their campers beforehand and worked with their buddies one-on-one throughout the week.

“They did a great job of accommodating everyone,” sophomore Isabelle Draper said. “As a first-time counselor, I was nervous about giving my camper his medicine, but the medical staff was so understanding and reassuring.”

Daily activities included rock climbing, archery, fishing and canoeing, while evening activities ranged from a pep rally and movie night to a carnival, complete with fireworks.

“Every camper could do any activity without being held back,” sophomore Sarah Bland said. “They would pull up the kids who used wheelchairs in a giant hammock, so they could go down the zip-line with the other kids.”

Students agree that fostering a close bond with their campers was the most important aspect of camp.

“They paired us so well,” Wolff said. “I had so much in common with my camper, so we always had something to talk about and looked forward to the same activities.”

Volunteers also took on the role of personal caregivers, assisting campers with tasks like eating and showering.

“If my camper woke up at night, I would climb into bed with him to help calm him down,” Draper said. “Even my little mistakes brought us closer to each other.”

Wolff’s sister Hana, a senior, admits that her duties were difficult at times.“It was definitely tiring and hard to stay enthusiastic sometimes.”

Despite the challenges, the counselors agree that the experience was definitely worth it.

“It was the biggest responsibility I’ve ever had, to take complete care of a kid,” Amanda said. “The kids just wanted to be treated normally, like anyone else would.”

“I learned how easy it is to think about another person before yourself. Camp was just a week, but I’d love to make that a habit,”  Bland said.

Megan Shen
Staff Writer

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