Friday, March 14, 2014

MHKC: All of a Sudden, You Get It

Daniel Angle is like a lot of seventeen year-old boys: he likes basketball, has just picked up snowboarding, loves practical jokes, and wants to fit in with his peers. Daniel is also, as of last year, a camper at Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.

His mother, Judy England, says Daniel was initially hesitant about going camp. He had been away from home before, but never for such a long time and with people he didn't know.

“That's usually his style. He's the kind of kid who decides to stand and watch for a while before he jumps in,” Judy explains. “It's like dipping your toe in before you jump in, but once he watches, he's pretty good.”

Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp turned out to be a wonderful experience for Daniel in terms of growing his sense of self and his self esteem. Not only did he enjoy the feeling of independence from his family, but he also came home with a great sense of what he could do. He went swimming, played basketball and volleyball, and he even tried zip lining.

“I imagine he said 'No' several times before he went and did it but walked away going 'Woohoo!' It was really awesome.”

Equally important to Daniel's experience was the interactions he had with the counselors at MHKC. Like most, Daniel loves being around people who show they care about him, and that's what he got from his counselors. They were funny, which is exactly the kind of person Daniel likes to be around. He is a practical joker, a fun-loving high schooler who dances to his own tune, so interacting with his counselors in a playful, goofy way helped ensure that he would come back to camp this summer.

"Are you ready for the summer of your life?!"
Answer: YES.

“He likes older kids, so he just loves the counselors,” says Judy. “He could sense that they were really there for him, and he likes that. He's a goofball. He likes to play tricks and he likes to sneak up on people, and everyone played with him. Everyone fell for it, you know. He was having fun.”

Interacting with his counselors was probably the easiest part for Daniel. At school, he gets assistance from resource centers and a life skills counselor, but he is in regular ed classes. Sometimes being with kids who have more serious issues can be challenging for him because he wants to be the opposite. He wants be just like everybody else who, in his mind, is 'normal'. He wants to be like the people in his classes.

“In the big world where people move as at a high rate of speed, Daniel can get along and fit in, but he's not like everybody else,” says Judy. “You know, the world keeps moving and he has to navigate at that high rate of speed. But at camp, it's like, 'We're all good.'”

This, according to Judy, is one of the beauties of Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp.

“There is just a wide range of kids and needs and all that kind of stuff, and Daniel feels as normal as normal can be. And that's pretty impressive for a group of people to have created an environment like that.”

Judy says that her and Daniel's first experience with MHKC was pure pleasure. Not only did Daniel have fun and gain a stronger sense of independence and self-esteem, he also got to interact with different types of people and learn from those interactions. The same can be said for counselors at MHKC.

“If you want to have fun, this is a great place to be,” Judy tells future counselors. “Open your heart and go have some fun. It's a cool group of people.”


Judy's concluding remarks were, I found, particularly poignant, because I've heard something very similar from former counselors said about their campers:

“To know that these people are doing something that they love and giving back and being there for kids just makes my heart burst. It's like, until you know, you don't know, and then all of a sudden you get it, that this is an incredible group of people who really put their hearts out, and as a parent, you couldn't ask for more when you have a kids with differences.”

Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp is just one of those things you have to experience in order to understand the impact it makes one everyone involved, from staff to camper to counselor to parent. You don't know, and then all of a sudden you get it.

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