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I love Camp Sunnyside, I love the campers too, I love the cooks and I love the staff so true

I love Camp Sunnyside, I love the campers too, I love the cooks and I love the staff so true

Author -  Dani Cuff

My experience with the Camp America program was great, very supportive with all the help I could get online or with various Camp America Representatives along the way, it was very useful.

The lady who took me for my interview was full of energy and excitement for me and really motivated me to put in the best CV and Video possible which got me hired without any problems.

When creating my CV I was warned about ticking the box for special needs camps. I remember my interviewer saying "You have many high demand skills and will easily be hired at an camp, once you tick that box all the special needs camps will hone in on you and other camps won't get a chance".

At this point I didn't give it much thought and just went for it anyway, not realising what it would mean.

As soon as my application was dropped into the pool with the others it didn't take long before I was getting contacted by many special needs camps. Every three days I would get a new email and every three days I would google the camp and send a reply email with questions which were never answered. I was told that camps were only allowed to hold your application for a total of three days therefore by the time I replied to the emails my questions were never answered. That was until I got a very convincing email from a Camp in Iowa...


i-love-camp-sunnyside-i-love-the-campers-too-i-love-the-cooks-and-i-love-the-staff-so-true-3.jpg

The Camp was called Camp Sunnyside and was part of the Easter Seals organisation, which has many sections "Live Learn Work Play", encouraging those with disabilities to still be active in their communities. The email included the fact that ages ranged from 5-80 years and emphasised the need for personal care, hygiene and lifting.

This all got me nervous and my reply back to the boss went somewhere along the lines of "I have a million questions here they all are... blah blah blah", to that, despite my lack of professionalism, I got a swift reply with a Skype ID and times for a meeting.

Skyping my boss was a lot easier than I thought it would be.

She was really easy to talk to as I laid down all my questions. She explained that you get taught everything you need there as long as you stayed open minded and camper focused "Camp is for Campers". I asked about the range in ages and she explained that no one gets turned away from Camp Sunnyside and some of the campers have been coming for years.

The thing that really got my wanting to go was that over 60% of the staff hired at Camp were returners, as in they had come previous years and loved it enough to go back. This spoke volumes to me and next thing you know I was sorting it out into my travel plans.

When I arrived in Iowa it was the middle of the night but the American staff still came to get me from the airport.

They were exhausted but friendly as we chatted on the way to camp and they explained what I would need to buy from Wal-mart next chance I got.

 

i-love-camp-sunnyside-i-love-the-campers-too-i-love-the-cooks-and-i-love-the-staff-so-true-2.jpg



Arriving at camp was overwhelming, not gonna lie. I was introduced to at least 20 people on the way to the girls dorms and couldn't remember any names by the time I hit the door. Going inside the girls dorms was a bit of a shock too. Inside this small room was about 40-50 cramped up bunk beds, all of different heights and sizes, some with blankets hanging off the edge for privacy, some with shelves beside them already filled with clothes and most of them all full as I was one of the last to arrive.

My stomach settled when I found I was opposite the other New Zealander and we chatted a bit about her plane ride and how she found the first day of camp before going to sleep. I have to admit I may have shed a few tears that night, being home sick already and not fully prepared for how many people I was working with. But after that first night things got a ton better, to the point that now I am back at home, I really miss all the staff, I miss sleeping in that over crowded room and always having someone around.

After settling in the first week was orientation week.

This was the week we all got to know each other through various bonding activities. We also sat through a lot of lectures together. Being a special needs camp we learnt not only about the activities we were going to be doing such as horse ride, rock wall climbing, archery, boating, zip lining, we also learnt how these were to be modified for the campers with restricted movement.

Lectures on health concerns such as first aid and CPR also took some time as did the lectures on seizures, abuse, sign language, poor vision / blind campers and respect. The respect talk hit me most as we discussed the use of the word "brief" instead of "nappy" or "diaper", how we were to refer to the campers as "wheel chair users" rather than "the guy in the chair" also how to respectfully guide a blind camper around without grabbing or being impatient.

The session on blind campers was the most fun as we took turns being blindfolded and led around by either another counsellor or trying to go alone with a cane. We did a lot of simulation activities to understand what it felt like for campers and therefore how we were to deal with different situations and build our patience.

As well as the blind simulation we also put socks on our hands and had to pick up pennies to simulate having lack of movement, we put on leg braces and scratchy cloths down our tops whilst the group yelled at us and told us to walk faster as a way of showing how some campers feel being rushed (that one was horrible), we put marshmallows in our mouths and tried to speak to simulate speech impediments and one of the last ones we did was over stimulation.

We were shown a video clip of a transformer video, nothing different about it... until it was swapped to an over stimulation clip... It was the same piece of footage but shown through the eyes of a camper with over stimulation problems. It was loud, the cartoon itself was morphed and had other clips chopping and changing within it, there were so many different colours and noises it was stressful to sit through.

Through all of week one the importance of having patience was firmly drilled and understood by all and we were ready to go.

 

i-love-camp-sunnyside-i-love-the-campers-too-i-love-the-cooks-and-i-love-the-staff-so-true-1.jpg

The thing I was most nervous about as the first load of weekly campers came in was the personal hygiene segment. As mentioned before some of the campers wore briefs and were either changed standing or they had to be lifted from chairs and changed lying down.

Although we covered it in training I was nervous about my first experience because A.) I was still unsure about what to do and B.) I wanted to be respectful to the adults I was changing but was unsure of just how to do this. The first change I had I was paired with a returner and it was a lot easier than I thought.

The campers were used to it as it was just something that needed to be done and we continued to talk about what was on the schedule that day like nothing was happening. Changes and showering got easier as the weeks went on but of course there were some hilarious stories involving measuring tapes within the faeces, being personally selected to change a camper as the other counsellors laugh you out the room or ending the day unsure if that stain on your top is mud or bowel movement. In the end, a story is a story and these are usually the ones I repeat to family and friends.

Overall I really enjoyed my Camp America experience.

All the other counsellors were amazing and we bonded so quick, spending all our time off together pontooning or tubing or out on the town partying out our stresses. After camp we all went traveling to Las Vegas and had a group of about 70 staying in the same hotel, meeting up for dinner and hanging by the pool. The campers themselves however is what will bring me back next year. They are beyond words in terms of how amazing they are. They are funny, they lift you up when you are down, they are caring and loyal, they want to do whatever they can to help you, they all have their own unique story about why they keep coming, what they do for a job and what they hope to achieve with their lives.

Most of all the campers are inspiring! What I have learnt from these campers is beyond words and I only hope that if I continue to go to camp I can give back at least half of what they have given to me.

* I love Camp Sunnyside, I love the campers too, I love the cooks and I love the staff so true.

I love the fun we have when our hearts are gay. A boom de yahdah, boom de yahdah, boom de yahdah, boom de yahdah...*


Dani Cuff

I love Camp Sunnyside, I love the campers too, I love the cooks and I love the staff so true

"My experience with the Camp America program has been great, very supportive and all the help I can get online or with various Camp America Representatives along the way has been very useful."

My experience with the Camp America program was great, very supportive with all the help I could get online or with various Camp America Representatives along the way, it was very useful.

The lady who took me for my interview was full of energy and excitement for me and really motivated me to put in the best CV and Video possible which got me hired without any problems.

When creating my CV I was warned about ticking the box for special needs camps. I remember my interviewer saying "You have many high demand skills and will easily be hired at an camp, once you tick that box all the special needs camps will hone in on you and other camps won't get a chance".

At this point I didn't give it much thought and just went for it anyway, not realising what it would mean.

As soon as my application was dropped into the pool with the others it didn't take long before I was getting contacted by many special needs camps. Every three days I would get a new email and every three days I would google the camp and send a reply email with questions which were never answered. I was told that camps were only allowed to hold your application for a total of three days therefore by the time I replied to the emails my questions were never answered. That was until I got a very convincing email from a Camp in Iowa...


i-love-camp-sunnyside-i-love-the-campers-too-i-love-the-cooks-and-i-love-the-staff-so-true-3.jpg

The Camp was called Camp Sunnyside and was part of the Easter Seals organisation, which has many sections "Live Learn Work Play", encouraging those with disabilities to still be active in their communities. The email included the fact that ages ranged from 5-80 years and emphasised the need for personal care, hygiene and lifting.

This all got me nervous and my reply back to the boss went somewhere along the lines of "I have a million questions here they all are... blah blah blah", to that, despite my lack of professionalism, I got a swift reply with a Skype ID and times for a meeting.

Skyping my boss was a lot easier than I thought it would be.

She was really easy to talk to as I laid down all my questions. She explained that you get taught everything you need there as long as you stayed open minded and camper focused "Camp is for Campers". I asked about the range in ages and she explained that no one gets turned away from Camp Sunnyside and some of the campers have been coming for years.

The thing that really got my wanting to go was that over 60% of the staff hired at Camp were returners, as in they had come previous years and loved it enough to go back. This spoke volumes to me and next thing you know I was sorting it out into my travel plans.

When I arrived in Iowa it was the middle of the night but the American staff still came to get me from the airport.

They were exhausted but friendly as we chatted on the way to camp and they explained what I would need to buy from Wal-mart next chance I got.

 

i-love-camp-sunnyside-i-love-the-campers-too-i-love-the-cooks-and-i-love-the-staff-so-true-2.jpg



Arriving at camp was overwhelming, not gonna lie. I was introduced to at least 20 people on the way to the girls dorms and couldn't remember any names by the time I hit the door. Going inside the girls dorms was a bit of a shock too. Inside this small room was about 40-50 cramped up bunk beds, all of different heights and sizes, some with blankets hanging off the edge for privacy, some with shelves beside them already filled with clothes and most of them all full as I was one of the last to arrive.

My stomach settled when I found I was opposite the other New Zealander and we chatted a bit about her plane ride and how she found the first day of camp before going to sleep. I have to admit I may have shed a few tears that night, being home sick already and not fully prepared for how many people I was working with. But after that first night things got a ton better, to the point that now I am back at home, I really miss all the staff, I miss sleeping in that over crowded room and always having someone around.

After settling in the first week was orientation week.

This was the week we all got to know each other through various bonding activities. We also sat through a lot of lectures together. Being a special needs camp we learnt not only about the activities we were going to be doing such as horse ride, rock wall climbing, archery, boating, zip lining, we also learnt how these were to be modified for the campers with restricted movement.

Lectures on health concerns such as first aid and CPR also took some time as did the lectures on seizures, abuse, sign language, poor vision / blind campers and respect. The respect talk hit me most as we discussed the use of the word "brief" instead of "nappy" or "diaper", how we were to refer to the campers as "wheel chair users" rather than "the guy in the chair" also how to respectfully guide a blind camper around without grabbing or being impatient.

The session on blind campers was the most fun as we took turns being blindfolded and led around by either another counsellor or trying to go alone with a cane. We did a lot of simulation activities to understand what it felt like for campers and therefore how we were to deal with different situations and build our patience.

As well as the blind simulation we also put socks on our hands and had to pick up pennies to simulate having lack of movement, we put on leg braces and scratchy cloths down our tops whilst the group yelled at us and told us to walk faster as a way of showing how some campers feel being rushed (that one was horrible), we put marshmallows in our mouths and tried to speak to simulate speech impediments and one of the last ones we did was over stimulation.

We were shown a video clip of a transformer video, nothing different about it... until it was swapped to an over stimulation clip... It was the same piece of footage but shown through the eyes of a camper with over stimulation problems. It was loud, the cartoon itself was morphed and had other clips chopping and changing within it, there were so many different colours and noises it was stressful to sit through.

Through all of week one the importance of having patience was firmly drilled and understood by all and we were ready to go.

 

i-love-camp-sunnyside-i-love-the-campers-too-i-love-the-cooks-and-i-love-the-staff-so-true-1.jpg

The thing I was most nervous about as the first load of weekly campers came in was the personal hygiene segment. As mentioned before some of the campers wore briefs and were either changed standing or they had to be lifted from chairs and changed lying down.

Although we covered it in training I was nervous about my first experience because A.) I was still unsure about what to do and B.) I wanted to be respectful to the adults I was changing but was unsure of just how to do this. The first change I had I was paired with a returner and it was a lot easier than I thought.

The campers were used to it as it was just something that needed to be done and we continued to talk about what was on the schedule that day like nothing was happening. Changes and showering got easier as the weeks went on but of course there were some hilarious stories involving measuring tapes within the faeces, being personally selected to change a camper as the other counsellors laugh you out the room or ending the day unsure if that stain on your top is mud or bowel movement. In the end, a story is a story and these are usually the ones I repeat to family and friends.

Overall I really enjoyed my Camp America experience.

All the other counsellors were amazing and we bonded so quick, spending all our time off together pontooning or tubing or out on the town partying out our stresses. After camp we all went traveling to Las Vegas and had a group of about 70 staying in the same hotel, meeting up for dinner and hanging by the pool. The campers themselves however is what will bring me back next year. They are beyond words in terms of how amazing they are. They are funny, they lift you up when you are down, they are caring and loyal, they want to do whatever they can to help you, they all have their own unique story about why they keep coming, what they do for a job and what they hope to achieve with their lives.

Most of all the campers are inspiring! What I have learnt from these campers is beyond words and I only hope that if I continue to go to camp I can give back at least half of what they have given to me.

* I love Camp Sunnyside, I love the campers too, I love the cooks and I love the staff so true.

I love the fun we have when our hearts are gay. A boom de yahdah, boom de yahdah, boom de yahdah, boom de yahdah...*


Dani Cuff
I love Camp Sunnyside, I love the campers too, I love the cooks and I love the staff so true

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