Blog posts from Michael Constance and Friends about Camp Allen
My posts tend to be personal in nature and this is certainly one of those. Its purpose is not to offend anyone, and is purely my thoughts and opinions.
If you have ever been to Camp Allen, you know we have unique international staff that have made huge impacts on our camper’s lives every summer. The J1 visa program that our staff come through via agencies like Camp Leaders or Camp America is billed as a cultural exchange between nations. For parents and caregivers, I think it is thought of as something neat. For our campers they get to have friends from all over the world. For our staff they get to share their culture, language, food, and accents with campers and staff. But for me the staff share something far greater. I am going to share my thoughts on two of these individuals and how they were able to give me and Camp Allen something more.
Before my first campers arrived in 2008, I was a nervous wreck. Ann Marie made me the cabin leader of Den and Lodge which I thought at the time I deserved, but a more mature Michael recognizes that that was probably not the best of ideas. I slept in Den with Gus from Brazil, with my campers Michael, Robert, John, Jeff, and Jason. I thought Gus was literally the coolest person I had ever met in my life. He was an incredible skateboarder and looked the part as well. He had this way about him that instantly made you want to be his friend. As someone who had no idea what I was doing, I watched Gus with the campers. All he did was be a friend to the camper, and for Gus, he would do anything for a friend. To this day, when I talk to the new staff every year I say be yourself and treat your campers as a friend, because that is what they are, friends. I tell them, “I thought of this myself”, but Gus truly deserves the credit.
The next summer we had another person, who would have a profound impact on me, literally show up out of nowhere. Alex’s dad literally dropped him off during the second session of the summer. Alex was from France, and at the time his English was not great, but I have never in my time at Camp seen anyone take to the job like Alex. He was an absolute natural, but unlike others he never settled for being good, he wanted to be great at everything he did, whether it be soccer or more importantly to me, a wonderful leader. Over the next few weeks his English improved greatly, and he was one of the best counselors at camp. For the next two summers he returned and was to me, the epitome of what a leader should be. A true leader brings out the best in everyone. I can tell you with confidence that when Alex was the cabin leader, every single one of the counselors who worked with him were better at their job in less than a week. Alex, without ever being my cabin leader taught me how to be a better leader, which is something I will always cherish.
Gus and Alex are both now immigrants to the United States. Gus lives in New York City and is still as cool as ever. Alex lives in Boston and still visits Camp Allen from time to time. Stephen and I parade him around to new staff, and say “this guy is a legend!” Both of these men make our country better and we are lucky to have their skills and their passion.
I try as hard as I can not to be political or too idealistic in these posts, but sometimes I wish that more people would spend time with our campers and staff during the summer. Diversity only makes us better. The skills I learned from Gus and Alex probably would not have happened if we did not have our cultural exchange. We learn from those who are different, and I think Camp Allen is one of the best places to learn out there. I know the world is a complicated place but in my mind Camp Allen is a microcosm of what the world should be. We will not judge you based on your religion, race, sexual preference, or disability. All that matters is your character. I would hope that everyone who comes up that hill to Camp Allen is judged based on their character, to which the most important feature is your capacity for love and kindness.
As always, thank you for reading and please let me know your thoughts.
In our lives we have numerous “light bulbs” that go off in various moments. For us at Camp Allen that light bulb moment is when staff finally “get it.” For as long as I have been at Camp Allen the term “getting it” has been used as a term to describe the moment when staff realize that what they are doing here is not simply a job, but something far more important. “Getting it” has never really been properly defined, to most who have had that moment it is seen as just a light bulb. I think that term can now be described as a moment of exceptional empathy.
My favorite word and least favorite word are often mistaken for one another. To me, sympathy is the worst word in the dictionary. The definition of sympathy is as follows, “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” When working with people with disabilities, feeling sympathetic will force you to focus on one’s disability, blinding you to one’s ability. In contrast, empathy, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” is incredibly important in working with people with disabilities. Empathy will allow you to understand the daily struggles and then focus on how exceptional a person really is for who they are. What people can do is far more important than what they cannot do.
When we train staff to review a camper’s application, we often say that the least important information is their diagnosis. When we talk about campers before they arrive at Camp that rarely comes into account. We are more interested in what makes them exceptional. Clyde’s exceptional sense of humor makes us laugh. Jackie’s kindness makes even the most nervous of her fellow campers to feel comfortable. This information is far more important than their disability. The disability is certainly a part of who they are but it is not who they are.
We all should have known this all along. We love our campers because of their exceptionalities. “Getting it” is just loving how awesome someone is for being themselves. Being incredibly idealistic, I believe that the more people that are able to think this way, the better the outcome for people with disabilities is in the future. With this train of thought, no one would be excluded from school, employment, and in social activities. You cannot train someone to have this moment of exceptional empathy, they have to have it for themselves, but it is my hope that we certainly can lead them in that direction.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this, and if you have any questions or comments please let me know. Hope all is well,
I have not done a blogpost in awhile and today I am hoping to start off by doing one a week until September. I am applying for an opportunity that I think will help me professionally and help Camp Allen at the same time. One of the questions asked was about what “my vision was for my leadership in the field of disability.” Today I am going to write about part of my answer to that question.
Inclusion is a word that we hear a lot about in this field. For kids, a lot of individualized education plans will focus on how to include the child into either mainstream classrooms or the community as a whole. It is my opinion that every person regardless of ability should be in the least restrictive learning environment. Without inclusion we restrict an individuals growth, and we also restrict the understanding of those outside the community. My question to the reader is this, “do you think we put so much focus into including people with disabilities that we lose sight of recruiting open minded people without personal experience into our community?
At Camp Allen it has been a personal policy of mine to hire staff that have limited experience working in the field of disability. There are three main reasons I do this. The first is people with limited experience are easier to train. They come to camp with no preconceived notion on what the work entails and I have found they ask better questions and fully immerse themselves into training. Secondly is they bring a certain creativity to the role, based on their life experiences. When I was a counselor I had no experience and to communicate and build a bond with my camper I had to use the skills I had. After a few nervous days, I looked at the top of my bunk and said to myself, “I can talk to my friends, and these campers are my friends. So I will talk to them like I would anyone else.” And like that it clicked. I am no better than anyone else in this field, I know how to talk to my friends, and that has helped me all these years. Lastly and most importantly, I hire people with limited experience because it grows our community just a little bit larger with each new counselor at Camp Allen. So many of our former counselors have gone on to be direct care professionals, case managers, nurses, and doctors because of their experience at Camp Allen. Whether they work directly with people with disabilities or not, their initial experience allows them to be more open minded about giving opportunities to others. Is this not essential to inclusion, to have people willing to provide opportunities to people with disabilities? To me, inclusion is a two way street. I have heard from people that work in the field with other agencies that it is so hard to find good people. Maybe it is the case that we are not including open minded people to be a part of this community. Experience is not a bad thing and I do not want people to finish reading this thinking that is my assumption. Experience is wonderful and we rely on our returning counselors to pass on their knowledge to new staff, but what I do believe is that it should not be the determining factor when hiring in this field. We have had wonderful people work at Camp Allen and I believe it is because we focus on what you can do, not what you have done.
Thank you for taking the time to read this! As always I welcome discussion! Hope all is well,
Every year we have each staff member write a letter to the group talking about their experience at Camp Allen. This is my letter I wrote to our wonderful group this year. I cannot thank them enough for all the work they put in. I know that our campers were safe, and had the best time of their lives. I hope to see as many as possible next year!
Dear Camp Allen 2015 Staff,
One of the first things I told you was that you will not be the same person in August. When I look at you now it is hard to imagine what you were before. You have grown from being timid and nervous to become caring, loving, and fun individuals. I want to share a story that is quite poignant at this time about our friend and Camp Allen family member George.
George Elliott was once like you all. For the first week he was here we did not know if he was going to make it. He was sure of himself, and he let you know it. That was until he made wonderful connection with Jeff M. Jeff brought George down a peg or two, but it was for the better. From that moment George grew into a wonderful counselor, and later into the best lifeguard we have ever had. George’s life may have been short but the impact he had was monumental. When I asked how many of your campers asked for George, so many of you raised your hand. I only wish George could have seen that.
You all have made that same impact that George made. Long after you leave there will be campers that ask for you, because you made a difference in their life. I cannot express how proud I am of you. It does not matter what position you hold here at camp, you made it possible this summer. Campower, I constantly hear that camp looks better than it ever has and that is down to you. Admin team, you make my life easy knowing that you will work hard to keep campers and staff safe. Day camp staff, as I told you time and time again this summer to me is the best we have ever had in day camp. Campers were safe, engaged, and had the best time of their lives! Counselors, I could not ask for a better group. There were bumps along the road, as there are in any journey, but I can honestly say collectively this is the best group we have ever had. If any of you want to come back you are more than welcome. You have made a huge difference in our campers lives and I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.
I will end with this. Use the skills you learned here to change more peoples lives. What people with disabilities need more than anything is a friend, and a friend is all anyone needs.
Thank you for believing in what we do.
This week’s post is written by Elliott Massingham. This summer is Elliott’s third year at Camp Allen and his impact has been monumental. We talk about campers making an impact on our lives a lot, but Elliott is someone who has made a huge impact on his camper’s lives. He is certainly irreplaceable, and we are honored to have him at Camp Allen! Please read and enjoy.
This is a post that comes directly from a counsellor. A first hand blog, full of first hand thoughts and feelings about the job, the experiences, the challenges and rewards and finally a description of how our days are filled throughout the summer.
So firstly I will begin with the summer so far. One thing I never expected when I first applied for this position was to be coming back for a third year but here I am 3 years in, still loving every second and still so passionate about what we do here, but every year is different, so different in fact that it can feel like a totally different place at times. So it was no surprise that my experiences this year would be different to the last two. It has been a very interesting summer so far, we are almost half way through already and time is flying. I have seen old faces and met new ones and each individual I meet changes my life in their own special way. Session 1 went very well with some incredible individuals walking up that hill! Session 2 threw new challenges my way with an old face, which I relished. Session 3 saw the return of some old friends and I was entrusted to spend time with a man called Clyde who is one of the most amazing men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Now we are half way through session 4, and another new experience has arisen with a new camper coming to Camp Allen. Basically what I am trying to reiterate is that sometimes you can see old faces in the same environment, but nothing should be taken for granted or as a given as new challenges can, and will arise
Which leads me onto talking about challenges and rewards. I don’t really feel like I need to write paragraph after paragraph about the rewards of this job. I think from mentioning that there are some individuals who don’t get love and attention at any other time of the year other than at Camp Allen. There are those who talk about returning for another summer the day they return home and do not stop talking about camp until they return. There are those who will literally change your life in one week and have a more profound effect on you that some people will in a decade. We have a camper who is in his 41st year here so that just speaks volumes about how much our campers love it here. So I think the rewards speak for themselves. I have been given and entrusted with the opportunity to change someone’s life. Someone who maybe doesn’t get the care and attention they deserve until they walk up that hill and that to me is the greatest gift of all. I have always said that it is the hardest however most rewarding thing I have ever done and probably will ever do in my life. There are challenges, obviously, some campers can be very challenging in many ways, for example, someone could have a lot of personal care and be challenging in that respect and someone could be quite independent with daily living like bathing, eating etc. however have very challenging behaviors. So challenges can come from all sorts of places and in all sorts of forms but it is a part of the role we have here and it wouldn’t be the same without those challenges and I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today without those and coming out of the other side a better and stronger person for it.
Now I have talked about camp and how special it is, plus all of the challenges and rewards that come with the role it is time to talk about how our days are filled here at Camp Allen.
Firstly the day begins in the cabin with everyone waking up at roughly 7am! Breakfast is at 8:30am and that first period of getting everyone ready for the day can be extremely hands on deck but also extremely fun! Our first activity of the day comes at 9am with an activity that includes the whole of camp, residential and day camp. We come together to take part in what could be a number of activities like scavenger hunts, karaoke, bingo, parachute games etc. At 10am we then start individual cabin activities for example, swimming, arts and crafts, sports, fancy dress, if you can think of it, we will try our best to make it happen for our campers, we move around camp in periods. With two periods before lunch which is at 12:30pm and two after lunch which start again at 2:45pm, following a rest period after lunch. This takes us up until dinner at 5:30pm and then an evening activity at 6pm. Which is one of the highlights of the day and what the day has been tailored towards. It can be anything from jeopardy, name that tune, talent shows and Chinese auction. Again, you name it, we have probably done it or at the very least tried our best to make it happen for our campers.
So that is a little insight into what we do here and a little bit of background about Camp Allen! It truly is a gem of a place and holds a very special place in my heart. I owe so much to Camp Allen and will make sure what I have learned here lives with me for the rest of my life.
For the next few posts I am going to have some guest stars! Today’s post features Abby one of our Program Coordinators. She is going to tell you about her experience as a Camp Allen staff member so far! Please give a read and enjoy!
While at Camp Allen, I feel like I have been here forever, but at the same time, like time has passed by in a flash. Working at Camp Allen is one of the most unique experiences a person can have. Each day seems so long in the moment, but before you know it, sessions come to an end, campers come and go, and more and more special memories are made in a matter of weeks. Each day is a chance to make new memories and experience different things. These few days that campers are able to have at Camp Allen can make memories that last a lifetime. As an employee of Camp Allen, you want nothing more but to guarantee the experience of a lifetime. While this is hard work, it can be the most rewarding thing to know a camper had a good time. Whether their feelings are expressed through words, emotions, or body language, to know that campers had a good time is our mission at Camp Allen.
From my own experiences, I have learned so much about how much work goes into making Camp possible for so many different kinds of people. I was a past camper from 2011-2013, coming each year for MDA week. When at camp, I had never felt so welcomed to place of strangers. Each staff member you would pass would give you a smile. Anyone was willing to help with your needs. It was the efforts of all the counselors that made Camp Allen such a unique place. When I had aged out of the session, I wanted to find a way to return that same companionship to other campers who would attend camp for future sessions to come. I applied as a Program Coordinator, not exactly sure what to expect. I had my heart set on making a difference in other people’s lives. What I didn’t expect was the amount of work, dedication, and heart it takes to keep Camp Allen going strong.
One a day-to-day basis, my tasks includes planning and preparation of daily activities, morning group activities, and evening activities. Day activities include a variety of things, including crafts, sports, and anything cabins might wish to do during the day. During morning and evening activities, all the campers come together to either compete or work together in a variety of games or themed activities, but most importantly, to have fun. The amount of thought and creativity that goes into each day can be exhausting. To think of activities that most campers could enjoy while also making them adaptable can be challenging. While having a job in Programs can be overwhelming at times, none of it would be able to come to life without the teamwork of all counselors and Camp Allen staff working together. With the help of counselors’ enthusiasm and cooperation, any activity is doable in one-way or another. Making Camp Allen possible truly relies on the cooperation between staff members, each giving a helping hand to the other when we need it most.
Through the ups and downs of the previous session, we as a whole have learned valuable skills of cooperation, dedication, and qualities of friendship. To be a friend to another is sometimes the most important thing to have in one’s life. We at Camp Allen make everyone feel welcomed to our home, as we should do on a day to day basis. Letting go of judgment against something we don’t understand and accepting things for how they are is an important lesson in life. Once you can let go of your own perceptions of the world and open your heart to others, you can make incredible relationships with people and learn things you’d never imagine. At Camp Allen, we try our best to open our hearts and come together as one, making this place a bigger part in somebody’s life.
Every time I meet a group at camp or go to speak to various groups in the area, the first thing I start my talk with is the history of Camp Allen. If you have heard it before you know the drill, Edward Allen, Lions, Kiwanians, 1949 fire, and mission change. The next time I speak to a group about Camp Allen it is going to be different. I am very biased, but you are not going to change my opinion. The newest change to my speech will be that Mary Constance former executive director is the most important person in Camp Allen’s history. When Mary took over Camp Allen in 2004, there were 200 campers for a seven week summer. The buildings were in rough shape and camp was not completely accessible. Through years of hard work and far more than 40 hours a week Mary was able to build Camp Allen into a premier camp for people with disabilities. Since 2004 here is a small portion of Mary has accomplished.
- Camp now runs a 12 week summer with over 700 campers coming each year.
- A safe and accessible camp
- Day Camp
- Countless jobs for people with disabilities
- Financial stability
- American Camp Association certification
- Successful fundraisers
The most important accomplishment cannot be listed in a bullet. And that is the relationships that Mary has formed with families over the years. Campers want to come to Camp Allen because of the relationships that are formed with the staff. Families wanted to send their campers to Camp Allen because they knew there was someone there that they could trust with what means most, a child, brother, sister, or friend. That is something I am proud to say that Mary has instilled in all of us working at Camp Allen today.
This Sunday is going to be very different. For the first time since in twelve summers Mary will not be at check in. But know that the people who run camp now, myself included were trained by the best out there in working with people with disabilities, Mary Constance. I am honored to continue the work Mary has done for Camp Allen. And if I need advice, which of course I will, she is my mother! Enjoy your retirement ma, you deserve it.
See you all Sunday for Session 3!
Far more importantly, proud son of Mary!
Today I thought I would share a letter I received from Richard from England/Australia. Richard was a counselor at Camp Allen for 4 years and made an incredible impact on many campers lives throughout his time here. Richard wrote me this letter to encourage the staff for summer 2015 to get the most out of their campers and to learn from them! It is such a wonderful feeling to know that our staff past and present always have our campers in their thoughts!
Camp Allen 2015,
On behalf of myself and the admin team at Camp Allen I would like to welcome you all back to the blog! Through this blog we will update you every few days on the happenings at camp as well as some opinion columns by myself, Stephen, Erin, Lucy, and Hayley. We look forward to our 84th summer as well as comments from all you readers! I hope all is well and that everyone is looking forward to the summer of lifetime!