My enriching and amaaaaazing experience at Camp Allen!

Some people might be unaware that the reason why I went to the States last year was not just for vacation or to see my family, the main reason was to participate at US Summer Camp Cultural Exchange Program. It's a long story and process how I got there. But after series of steps, I was placed at Camp Allen in New Hampshire. It is a camp catering for people with disabilities.

Few weeks before the last session of camp, counselors were tasked to write a letter for camp. I am sharing this letter I wrote for camp which I edited and modified because some ideas popped while doing this blog post.

It seemed just a while ago when I arrived at camp without a clue about how my life would be for the rest of the summer in the US. My heart was filled with fear, doubts and anxiety. Now it came to an end and this letter is one of the proofs.

So here I am going on a short trip back to memory lane on an experience that was. While writing this letter, it gives me mixed emotions. 

First, I felt frustrated.

Life at camp was frustrating for me at first because there was no sense of familiarity. I was the only Filipino and only Asian there and the rest were Westerners. And people know that there are a number of disparities between Asians and Westerners when it comes to culture so it was a bit challenging for me to adjust and adapt. 

When it comes to being a counselor per se, as I look back at my performance as a counselor, there were instances when I couldn't help but tell myself "I could've given more and done better for my camper". But it was a learning experience though and this helped me point at my weakness and work on it to further improve myself not just camp-related but life in general.

Second, I was down at some point.

I want to be as honest as I can be so here goes this part. I can't say I was happy all the time. Please don't get me wrong (wait until the end of this letter). The campers are great. It's just that there were times when there are people who try to make you feel stupid and wait for you to make a mistake. However, on a more considerate note, I guess that's how people are. We have our own differences. And partly, I could also be at fault here because I have my own paranoid moments because I am an over-thinker (which I explained to my supervisors anyway during the evaluation).

You might be wondering why am I saying such things? Why am I starting on a negative note? Basically, I do not want to sugarcoat my experience and ironically, it was also in these feelings and situations where I found my silver lining, where I found my strength and determination to pursue and finish what I started. Bottom line: life at camp wasn't perfect. I had my fair share of ups and downs, joys and struggles. It was not all about fun which by the way was my initial idea whenever I hear "summer camp". Yes it may not be a perfect one but it was enriching and fulfilling. It was in this place where I learned and realized a lot of things. I came to know that there is more to camp than just having fun. And I am talking about the values and ideas cultivated in me as the summer went by. Let me enumerate some of them.

1. Respect 
I respect people around me no matter who they are and where they come from. That was how I was raised and taught. But, my experience at camp deepened my value for respect. It is not the person's fault why he or she had a disability. People would call them as "disabled person" or they would say "That child is autistic". Now let me also use this opportunity to correct those because the politically correct and proper words to use should be "person with disability" or "child with autism". Why? Because they are a person first before they had a disability or a certain condition.

2. Perspective 
Camp life broadened my knowledge and perspectives. Before, I only have few and broad knowledge about the different disabilities like the wide spectrum of autism, being physically-challenged and mentally-challenged. But throughout the summer, I came to know and understand people and their situations more than what I thought of. I learned more things like brain injury and its effects to those affected, the Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS)* which was totally new to me. In layman's term, a person with PWS never feels full. He/she has a constant sense for hunger.

* According to the US National Library of Medicine, "Prader-Willi syndrome is a complex genetic condition that affects many parts of the body. In infancy, this condition is characterized by weak muscle tone (hypotonia), feeding difficulties, poor growth, and delayed development. Beginning in childhood, affected individuals develop an insatiable appetite, which leads to chronic overeating (hyperphagia) and obesity. Some people with Prader-Willi syndrome, particularly those with obesity, also develop type 2 diabetes (the most common form of diabetes)." (https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/prader-willi-syndrome)

3. Inspiration 
Every camper has a unique story. They've got incredible stories more than what meets the eye. I must say with conviction that they are truly inspiring.

My campers from Session 1 to 8 played an important role in shaping the better version of me after summer camp. I feel like I have to say their names because they deserve the credit. So here they are:
Session 1: Lisa Ares
Session 2: Cassandra Reese, Millicent Ellis, Tia Hoyt
Session 3: Tory Hatfield
Session 4: Anthony Whitfield
Session 5: Bonnie Mccloskey
Session 6: Aja Huckins
Session 7: Julia Wise
Session 8: Richard Meserve and Matthew Pinard

All of them made an impact in my life but there's one who really brought out the best in me. She is Tory Hatfield from Session 3. I got hurt. I cried. I lost some of my sleeping and rest time.I don't know how it all happened but my struggles at the beginning turned into fulfillment and joy as I spent time with her.  Also, I never realized my patience's threshold was that far . I am usually an impatient person but with Tory, I was a different person. I was full of energy and enthusiasm even during her not so good days. I also had my AHA moment when I finally figured out how to make her smile, laugh and follow me around. It was such a very fulfilling and satisfying moment.

On one hand, I also want to extend my gratitude to a camper who wasn't my camper but I was with him in the same cabin. He is the nicest and most appreciative man I've ever known - Mr. Jim Tobin. Thank you, Mr. Jim Tobin for making Session 4 extra memorable. Just a side story to prove how close he is to my heart: when it was time for him to leave camp, I was crying in one corner.

And last but definitely not the least, to the institution that made all these experiences possible and worthwhile, dearest Camp Allen, Thank you for being a way for me to meet amazing people. "Amazing" would probably be the most used adjective at camp to describe the campers but cliché it may be, I couldn't think any more word to describe them because they are indeed amazing! All these memories and experiences I will bring home with me and I will surely share different stories to my students as a way to inspire them just like how the campers inspired me in ways I have never imagined.

I can't get any more grateful too because I met people form different parts of the world like Spain, Finland, England, Ireland, Poland, Mexico, etc. We may be diverse as we can be but camp experience brought us together. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't get to know more about various cultures and gain wonderful friends. Again, so much gratitude for you Camp Allen. :)

Now, it's time for me to bombard you with pictures (Session 1 to 8 and everything in between) from my summer camp experience at Camp Allen! (The photos of campers you'll see below are allowed to be posted based on the info in their personal files. In short, there's permission to post.)



Session 1 cabinmates from IDA cabin

My first camper: Lisa Ares


Session 2 cabinmates from DARBY'S DEN

Session 2 campers: Cassie, Millie and Tia


My camper: Tory Hatfield

Tory and Queenie <3 They look like sister but they're actually not.

Ohh that smile. My heart. <3


With Mr. Jim Tobin


My camper: Tony Whitfield

Lunch time with Riverstone cabin

Preparing our banner for the Awards Night

Riverstone cabin pic



IDA cabinmates

With Aja Huckins, my Session 6 camper

Julia Wise, my camper for Session 7


Darby's Den cabinmates. Finally cabinmates with my camp bff - Ruslana :)

My campers: Matt Pinard and Richard Meserve

Playing dress up!

With Den and Lodge cabin

Whooo best cabin and session ever!


During check-in day..

my camp bff


Messy activity: water fight and paint war.. (one of the funnest activities at camp)

 I can't help but feel nostalgic while writing this post. It's sad I can't return to camp this year because I got back at work and I need to start working on my Master's thesis. But, who knows I might be able to go back some other summer and my employer will allow me to file a leave again. ;)

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