Summer Camp, Special Needs, and a Reason to Return
If you’ve ever attended a summer camp, Easterseals Camp Merry Heart will be a familiar sight. You’ll find it has all the same amenities: cabins, a dining hall, forest trails, a lake… but if you take a closer look, you’ll spot some differences. There’s a ramp that leads into almost every building, unique lifts line the pool for taking campers in and out of the water, and the campers receive a bit of extra assistance from staff to participate in activities. That’s because Camp Merry Heart is designed to be fully accessible for campers with disabilities and special needs.
I spent my first summer at Camp Merry Heart in 2016 as a camp counselor. Out of all things I could do with my free time (vacation, party, etc.), I’m going back to camp this year. Why? I’ll tell you.
My name is Beth Sargeson, a 19-year-old from England, Derbyshire. When I first decided to apply for a position at camp, it was because I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. After reading up on the camp, I knew that this was my chance to help make this a summer the campers would always remember. Before I started, I’d had little to no experience, but the training I received was amazing, giving me everything I needed in order to be the best counselor possible.
Every day was a new adventure, filled with different obstacles and exciting new challenges to explore. Each day went by so fast it felt like, in a blink of an eye, my summer had ended. It was an experience I wouldn’t soon forget and I knew I’d be back. I HAD to go back.
Exploring Camp, Finding Myself
I’m going back to camp for my third year because camp is where I “found myself.” As cliché as it sounds, I didn’t know what it was like to truly care about or have such a strong desire to continue with something as much as I do camp. Working with such incredible people is where I belong, and where I aim to be in the future.
I will never forget Camp Merry Heart’s campers. I return year after year for the lessons they teach me, the uncontrollable laughter, and the endless amounts of love shared from those I now call friends. When the campers go home, the emotion builds, and tears are shed as you wave them off down the driveway. The tears are worth the memories that make the goodbyes so hard.
Camp is a place you can be yourself, no judgement, no discrimination, and equality for everyone in all the 123 acres of camp. Not one person at camp is the same, and that’s what makes it such an amazing place to spend 3 months of my summer.
The people I worked alongside became my backbone. You start at the beginning of summer not knowing anybody, but by the end; you’re a family. Veteran counselors will tell you, “Once you’ve done your first year at camp, you get ’hooked’” and from my experience, I can 100% agree.
Friends and family would ask, “You’ve done camp, why go back? Why not somewhere new?” It’s near impossible to put into one blog the reasons that I’m going into my third summer at the same camp, but if you round everything into one, it all comes down to love. I love camp, and I love the people I work with. Camp is now a part of me and I honestly don’t remember who I was before summer 2016, but all I can say is I love who camp made me.
I wish people could experience the summers I have and then maybe they’d understand why I love it so much. But for now, I’ll just keep telling my stories.
About the Author: Beth Sargeson is a 19-year-old university student studying sports coaching and performance. She has been a counselor at Camp Merry Heart for the past two years (2016 – 2017) and is looking forward to returning in 2018.