Working as a camp counselor has made me who I am today. Through volunteering at programs like Camp Laurel, I have gained confidence, found self-acceptance, and secured a happiness deep within myself that I would not have found otherwise. Although everyone has their own journey that brings them to camp, I wanted to share my personal story with you here.
It was on a dark and stormy day when I stumbled across Camp Laurel. Ok, so maybe not dark and stormy, but it was a memorable day in 2014 for sure! I was sittin’ on my fencepost, chewin my bubble gum (chew, chew, chew chew), playin with my yo yo (wee-oo wee-oh), when along came Caaaaaammmp Laurel. (Ah, couldn’t resist adding in a camp song!) Having a family member who passed away from AIDS, I felt an immediate personal connection to the non-profit and wanted more than anything to get involved.
I made it my mission as a newly adopted member of the Camp Laurel family to peal bananas, raise the roof, pop the corn, mash potatoes, and put a smile on all of my campers faces. I wanted to help them forget whatever troubles they may be grappling with, even if just for a while. I gave these kids a friend, someone judgement free who too wasted all of mom’s money on endless amounts of bazooka zooka bubble gum. But more importantly, I gave these kids someone who cared about them, because I know from personal experience how important having that caring person in your life can be.
For the majority of my young adult life my sexuality was a secret weighing heavily on my heart. Fear of losing friends, fear of disappointing parents, and fear of society were major factors that kept me from accepting this part of myself. With time this secret broke my spirits and the shame I felt for being gay made me incredibly unhappy.
Whenever I was upset growing up my mom would say “Laugh. It makes you feel good. And if you can make someone else laugh, that makes you feel even better. Go make someone laugh today.” It only took me what, 18 years? but I’d finally decided to heed her advice. Make someone laugh…
I thought back to the last time I had tons of fun and made some awesome folks laugh and immediately thought of camp.
About eight-some odd years ago I went to camp as a camper and the memories that experience gave me are some of the happiest memories I have to this day. At camp I got to develop my communication skills with others. I got to try new things I’d never done before like canoeing, horse-back riding, and hiking across large expanses of uneven terrain carrying half my body weight in a backpack on my back (fun stuff, really, that last one in particular). But what I enjoyed most about my experience as a camper was that I was able to make life-long friends, have fun, and let my worries fly out the window.
Seriously, my biggest worry as a camper was the bug issue. I hated bugs then, and I’m not PARTICULARLY fond of them now. But how awesome is it that I can say with complete honesty that THAT was my biggest worry!
So several years ago I decided to go back to camp, only this time I was going back as a counselor. Fortunately for me, my experiences as a counselor did not disappoint.
Volunteering at programs like Camp Laurel not only gave me a chance to get involved, but also offered me a judgement free environment where I could once again forget about the worries in my own life and just make a child laugh. In time I found myself tapping into these parts of myself that had been dormant for so long, waiting to break free. Acting silly, dressing in crazy costumes, singing and dancing to crazy songs; I felt happy and it felt amazing. The gratification I received over the years in return for all the silliness and hard work was far more than I’d expected. There’s no greater feeling in the world than watching a kid smile, and thinking “wow, I played a part in that.”
As someone who felt different and isolated in my younger years, I found it fascinating coming back as a counselor to see what diverse group camp brings together! The kids and many of my fellow counselors were a unique and awesome bunch from all walks across the globe, but at camp none of our differences mattered. What mattered at the end of the day wasn’t what made you different, it was what brought you together.
I made life long friends as a counselor, and without even realizing it, BOOM! (chicka boom), I’d grown into a more confident individual.
I’ve reached a place now where I’ve found confidence, self-acceptance, and happiness deep within myself and I know I couldn’t have done it without the self-esteem and confidence boost working as a camp counselor has given me. Laughter healed me just like my mom said it would and now, 5 years later, I am still bo diddly boppin’ back to my pizza shop and volunteering at summer camps across California, healing others, one laugh at a time.
-Dimples (aka Alishia)