It is somewhat difficult to convey the spirit of Camp PARC to someone unfamiliar with it. When describing the communal shower house and lack of air conditioning, the squeaky beds and sharing a cabin with up to 35 other people, plus whatever wildlife critters invite themselves in for the night, most people don't match my enthusiasm. It’s hard to put into words an experience so fulfilling, self-validating, yet humbling. A person so innocent, one who is open to your kindness, seeks nothing, yet is overwhelmed by your compassion and companionship, is someone truly worth meeting and making smile. Through Camp PARC we have 100+ of those people.
One of the core values of CANA Advisors is to balance work and life through flexible working hours, encouraging each of us to pursue passions and focus on our personal goals. In July I chose to invest my time at Laurel Hill State Park in Somerset, Pennsylvania and volunteer for a local non-profit organization - Camp PARC. 2016 was my tenth year of service with the organization.
Camp PARC is a privately funded service organization "[that] creates recreational and social opportunities for children and adults with mental and developmental disabilities (Down Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, severe autism, etc.) through its residential summer camp." With a mission to provide summer camp experiences to these special needs "campers," Camp PARC hosts three (3) unique weeks of camp:
7-day Main Camp is for anyone over 18 and has been the traditional format of the camp for over 50 years.
5-day Adult Mini Camp for those over 18 who cannot, or may not want to, keep up with the faster paced week-long camp
4-day Youth Mini Week for the younger crowd to experience their first time away from home overnight and start building new relationships.
This year, a total of 130 campers attended our camp season.
To add additional awe to the very special mission of Camp PARC, the camp is run ENTIRELY by volunteers and donations. From the cooks to the Directors, dishwashers to the very important nurses, and everyone in between, hundreds of people flock to this camp annually to lend a hand. The most important people, though, are the junior staff. These positions are filled by local young adults (ages 13-21) who volunteer a week (or three!!) of their summer to be paired with 1 - 2 campers. They provide 24-hour care for the duration of the camp session. Junior staff are responsible for serving campers food, keeping them safe, and ensuring all their needs are met, while also encouraging them to participate in activities, go outside of their comfort zone, and have fun. For a teenager who is just coming into their own as well, the interactions between junior counselor and camper is something very special.
Day-to-day camp activities are organized and executed by the Senior Staff (this where I fit in!). We are adults over 21 and most of us have previously served as a junior counselor during our high school years. Even as jobs and families force us away from Western PA, several of our staff make the journey annually, traveling from Texas, Missouri, Alabama, Virginia, and all across Pennsylvania. In 2014 & 2015, I traveled in from Afghanistan because this camp is that special.
Koa Beam, another CANA Advisors team member, was gracious enough to volunteer one morning and experienced first-hand the spirit of Camp PARC.
"I just thought it was a great thing and seeing the kids you guys help out with is a daunting task, but so needed. My hat goes off to the people who volunteer a portion of their summer to go help-out. I just hope that my small contribution of time put a smile on at least one or two kids' faces and that they enjoyed my time there as well. It couldn't have been a nicer day."
How many of us miss out on these kinds of people, opportunities, and smiles? It is amazing what happens when we put down our phones, walk away from our computers, and live in life’s beautiful and inspiring moments. Somehow, our ships sail straighter when we invest in others and balance ourselves.
For more information about Camp PARC, please visit their website: http://campparc.org/