Volunteer shares her experiences while counseling at Camp CAMP


(Left to right) Counselor Patricia Flores, camper Carrie Pyka, counselor Margaret Norman, counselor Olivia Norman, camper Lindsey Pyka and (bottom) camper Zelina Escobedo stand together in the dining hall on the last day of camp.

Everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joys of summer camp. Being in a wheelchair shouldn’t prevent someone from swimming with their friends, and mental disabilities shouldn’t stop someone from riding a horse. This is why I will be spending a portion of my summer volunteering at the Children’s Association for Maximum Potential, otherwise known as Camp CAMP. Camp CAMP is a summer camp for children and adults who have severe physical and mental disabilities. The camp is offered almost every week of the summer from May through August and is located in Center Point, Texas in the Hill Country.

I had my first Camp CAMP experience last summer, and it is something I will never forget. The food was bland, the days were long and the Texas heat was almost unbearable, but the relationship I made with my camper made all of these struggles seem trivial. My sister and I coincidentally ended up being counselors of campers who were also sisters, and the four of us had such a great time dancing together at “Pawnee Prom” and singing together around the campfire. My camper was 27 and was always talking and telling me stories. She spent the entire week looking out for her non-verbal best friend who sat in a wheelchair. The two of them could not be separated, and I was informed multiple times that they had been attending camp together for more than 10 years. Over the course of the week, the two of them rode in a canoe, swam in a lazy river, and participated in archery, arts and crafts and other typical summer camp activities.

Getting to know not only my camper but all the other campers as well was an amazing experience for me. When I heard that one of the campers who I had become great friends with won Homecoming queen at Fredericksburg High School earlier this year, the genuine happiness I felt for her was overwhelming.  By the end of the week, I had made such strong friendships with all of campers as well as my own. I wasn’t just my camper’s counselor anymore, I was her friend. I hope my camper enjoyed spending the week with me as much as I did with her.

Another goal of Camp CAMP is to give the parents of campers the opportunity to rest for one week out of the entire year. At pick-up time, my camper’s parents constantly thanked me for taking care of their daughter for the week, and that feeling of satisfaction is indescribable. My camper gave me a beanie baby elephant and a plastic flower and we exchanged emails to keep in touch. I still email her frequently and she absolutely cannot wait to see me again at Session 7 this summer. Not volunteering at Camp CAMP this year wasn’t even an option for me because I made a life-long friend that I will only get to see once a year. I’m sure that this year at camp I will get a new camper to hang out with for the week, and I will make another Camp CAMP friend as well as keeping the old ones. These campers go to Camp CAMP to forget that they’re “different” than other people and to finally feel like they belong somewhere. What Camp CAMP does is absolutely amazing, and I am so proud to say that I am a part of it. The days are long and exhausting and the food is mediocre at best, but seeing the look of excitement when you wake up your camper every morning makes it all worth it.  I encourage anybody who thinks they might enjoy volunteering to go to their website, campcamp.org, and fill out the volunteer application. And if you need further incentive, each volunteer gets 99 service hours per week. Volunteering at Camp CAMP will change your life and give you the opportunity to affect someone else’s, even if it is just for a week.