College student counselor at special-needs camp
When University of West Georgia student Lindsey Crook volunteered to spend a week as a camp counselor for special needs youth, she had no idea what impact it would have on her own life.
“I had heard that volunteering at a special needs camp would look good on a graduate school resume,” the college senior admitted, “so I searched online for camps where I could use my training as a speech pathology major.”
She happened upon a camp in north Georgia called Camp Hawkins.
The camp is one of the outreach ministries of the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home located in Mount Airy. She called the director and volunteered for a week.
“At first, I was thinking it would be a fun and laid-back time at camp,” Crook said.
“I was wrong. It was time-consuming and exhausting. You spend one-on-one time with an individual camper from the time you wake up until you go to sleep at night,” she said.
“You have to get them ready for the day, get them to and from places, and participate with them in the day’s activities,” Crook added.
Crook was assigned to a camper who didn’t express himself verbally. The task required much patience and understanding as she had to find other ways to communicate with him.
She was amazed at how much these children do not get to routinely experience, and was in awe of the excitement they showed when getting to do things others take for granted.
Helping these special needs campers get used to being in public without negative stigma was one of Crook’s challenging tasks. “It changed how I looked at people, and at the special needs labels I had learned about in school,” she said. “All are completely different.”
Although she had always had a heart for special needs children, Crook marveled at the positive personalities she encountered with these campers.
“They have such a positive outlook on life when they have so much they could complain about. They are almost always smiling. It makes you not want to complain about anything,” she said.
Being homesick is common while at summer camp, but it is usually the camper who experiences this. Crook admitted she found herself in tears when she returned home because she missed the experience and the children.
Crook, who lives near Sharpsburg, said she will be returning next year for the full six weeks. Camp Hawkins is offered five days a week for six weeks in the summer for up to 20 campers ranging from ages 8-21.
“Matthew’s Time” is offered as a family respite one weekend a month during the school year for those with more profound disabilities.
Crook encouraged encourages others to volunteer.
“It is a good experience, even if you are not trained to work with special needs children,” she advised. “People should experience something like it, and then they will know how lucky and blessed they are.”
Contemplating how volunteering at Camp Hawkins impacted her life, Crook said, “Before camp, I had very little patience. I was a perfectionist. I learned how to deal with unstructured time and how to go with the flow.”
In retrospect, she excitedly said, “It was a blast!”
Lindsey’s mother, Lisa Crook, commented, “Lindsey has always been one who puts others before herself. She is a hard working college student and also works at a job. She took time out of her busy schedule to sign up as a camp leader at Camp Hawkins. This has been life changing for her. I am very proud of her.”
For more information on Camp Hawkins or Matthew’s Time or to learn more about the ministries of The Georgia Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries Inc., search www.gbchfm.org or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.