Wednesday, November 25, 2009

We Love you Campers Oh Yes We Do!

“Beep, beep, beep, beep”, “smack” goes my hand on the snooze button. I shoot out of bed and shout, “Hillary, time to wake up it’s the last day!” Today was the last day of camp for the summer. “Can you believe we have been here for three months?” Hilary commented. “Well , working 40 hours a week as well as volunteering 35 hours a week makes time go by real fast” I replied.

The last day of camp was always hectic. The day before the campers leave, counsellors are required to pack between two and three camper’s bags. Before coming to camp, I viewed packing and unpacking in a completely different way . “Camp: MDYA (mentally disabled young adults) Name: Mark Cabin: 4” I read as I began packing one of my campers.

It was my job to make sure that everything that was sent to camp, left camp. Packing campers was fairly easy as long as when you unpacked them you took your time to write a solid description of every article and label each item with a permanent marker. “Red, American eagle T-shirt. Ugggh, where are you?” I mumbled as I crawled on my hands and knees looking under the surrounding beds.

“How many items can’t you find” Luc cattily asked. “One! how about you?” I asked hoping that he couldn’t find more than me. It was always a good week when you could send your camper home with every item they came with. This sounds easy enough but some how in the middle of the night the clothes monster comes around to every cabin and removes items.

The last morning we finished our packing, adding in last minute items. “Mark where is your towel?” I yell to him across the cabin; “you lost my towel” he responds, extremely distraught. “No Mark, we just need to find where you last had it, I had it lying out on your dresser last night. You showered this morning so go check the shower room.” I explained as I tried to calm Mark down. “Found it!” Mark brags as he trots over to me with his bright yellow towel in hand.

“BUSES ARE HERE!” yells Emily, one of the other counsellors in cabin four. The noise in the cabin doubles in volume. “Alright, Mark, Nick, Bradley, Jason, Troy, Cole, you guys all need to come line up at the door, leave your luggage where it is and we will make sure it gets on the bus”. “No! I want to carry my own bag to the bus” argues Jason. “Fine, quickly grab your bag” I give in; it’s the last day.
Emily and I bring our six campers to meet the bus, while the four other counsellors stay with the campers who aren’t taking the bus, as well as help bring the bags to the bus for the campers who are on the bus.

“Cabin four, you are on bus one!” yells Matt, the assistant camp coordinator. It’s time to say our final goodbyes. I go to give Mark a hug and say goodbye, his eyes begin filling with tears. I look around, almost everyone is crying. Counsellors can’t hold it together. “Smack”. “Ouch Emily! What was that for”, I snap. “Why are you so cold hearted, you’re not even crying” she teases, her eyes puffy and glossed with tear remnants. “I’m not a crier!” I respond. The other counsellors join us to say good bye.

“Why am I not crying?” I ponder. There are only a handful of us that aren’t shedding tears, and I’m the only girl. Clearly something is wrong with me, I jokingly think to myself. Our campers loaded the bus and I begin tapping on the bus window where Mark is sitting; he can’t stop crying and it breaks my heart. He looks over to where I place my hand on the window. He holds his hand up to match my hand. A tear almost forms but banishes as I hear the other counsellors begin to sing our goodbye song.
“We love you campers, oh yes we do, we love you campers, our love is true, when you’re not with us, we’re blue, SO BLUE! Oh campers we love you!” the entire staff joins in song. Everyone is clapping along to the song, making a final attempt to let our campers know how much they mean to us. As we finish our song the buses pull away. This is our cue. All thirty-five staff members begin running to the exit. The buses must drive the loop around the camp so we have time to beat the buses to the exit.

Waiting for the buses to finish the loop we come together and form a wall. "The buses will stop", I keep reassuring myself as the large yellow school bus emerges from around the corner. The buses come to a halt just meters in front of us. “Phew” I exhale in relief. “Beep, beep” the driver honks, signaling to us that its time to go. We move out of the way. The bus drives on.

We begin to run after the bus waving and yelling goodbye. I don’t make it far. I’m exhausted. I have no energy left. 60 days, 640 work hours and 598 volunteer hours, was finished. It was over, it really was over.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How Sweet the Taste

“Five more minutes”, I sigh in relief as I look down at my pink digital watch. My stomach is starting to eat my insides I’m so hungry. It’s past the growling stage. I need to eat. It has been two hours since my buzzing phone alarm went off. The recreation hall is full with over eighty people waiting to get in.
I can smell breakfast; the chatter in the recreation hall lets me know I’m not the only one wanting the bright red door leading to the dining hall to open. “Creak”, Margaret the head cook opens the doors. “Cabin one!” I scream out over the crowd trying to get things moving. It feels like forever before my cabin, number four is called. “Get into a straight line!” I yell to my campers before we head in.
Meal time was an art form, a theatrical production. Every meal was a different production. Meal times were carefully strategized. As soon as the doors were opened one counselor from each cabin would rush a head to turn over one plate at every table. “Do not sit at the chair with a turned over plate, those seats are for counselors”, Luc, a fellow councillor yelled. Each cabin was designated four tables and a side food table.
“Alright who is on diabetic snack? And who is doing special diets? And who is thickening liquids?” we asked each other as we gathered around our cabins food table. Once we figured out who was doing what, we checked our cheat sheets for our campers’ restrictions, and then dispersed. Some counsellors went to get the food for the campers with dietary restrictions, and the rest of us grabbed a food item and started making our rounds serving each camper. Once the food was handed out we would serve drinks and make sure that the campers that required their food diced, minced, or pureed were taken care of.
It was finally our turn to get our food. By this time most of the food was cold. This never really mattered because we were all so hungry. The only time you got a hot meal was when you were on dorm duty the night before. If you had the dorm the night before you get a three hour break in the morning to catch up on sleep. When on break you get to sit at the back table with our two bosses and the other counsellors who were on dorm duty the night before. Sitting at the back you were a part of the audience rather than the performance.
The breakfast that was always the biggest hit with the counselors, was the baked oatmeal. As you walked into the dining hall the sweet smell surrounded your body. The fluffy oat and sugar mixture bounced with perfection as it was placed on each bowl. The oatmeal was the consistency of a warm, spongy pancake, which warmed you as soon as the spoon went in your mouth. The baked oatmeal wasn’t complete without creamy milk to transform the loaf into a moist, master piece. The sugar from the loaf turns the milk into liquid candy. With each bit making you crave more. By the end of the meal you are so full your stomach has expanded to double the size.
“Cassie, Cassie strong and able get your elbows off the table, this is not a horses stable but a first class dining table,” the dining hall begins to chant. “What, my elbows weren’t on the table! Who did this?” I bitterly think in my head. I have no choice but to stand up and start skipping around the room. “It must have been Luc,” I decide. “Round the table you must go, you must go; round the table you must go my fair Cassie. Back around the other way, other way, other way, back around the other way my fair Cassie. You must do a SONG, DANCE, SONG, DANCE, my fair Cassie,” the dining hall continues to sing.
Everything is now silent, all eyes are on me. “What am I going to sing and dance to?” I ponder and I begin to get anxious. “Whhhhyyyy are we waiting, whhhhyyyy are we waiting?” the dining hall begins to chant.
“In Western Philadelphia born and raised on the play ground is where I spent most of my days ...” I begin to rap. “Dance,” Luc yells from his seat. I start leaping and spinning around the dining hall as I continued with my rap. I finally finish. “Phew,” I close my eyes and take a big breath in and exhale. It’s amazing how stressful mealtime can be.
Mealtime is only getting started. I take my seat; all my campers are full of smiles as they laugh at my performance. “Can we have some more oatmeal?” my campers ask. “Sure,” I say as I begin to stand up and walk over to our food table. “I have only had two bites, and they want seconds,” I complain in my head. After serving my table I quickly rush back to my seat. Alright I mean business.
Remember that rule your mother always told you, “Cassie, don’t talk with your mouth full!”My mom would always remind me as a child. This rule no longer applied to me. Our bosses sat at the back table watching to make sure that you were always talking and engaging all your campers. This meant learning to talk with your mouth full or else the campers would finish their seconds before you began your first.
Once the campers had finished their meals it was time to leave. Everyone knew that making your campers wait only lead to major problems. “Can we go back now?” my campers began to ask. Scooping two large spoonfuls of oatmeal into my mouth, I jumped up and started to clear the table. Breakfast was finally finished, overall everything had gone smoothly. This is not normal, but for now I’m not going to question it. It’s only 9am.