What Friends Do For Friends
WHAT FRIENDS DO FOR FRIENDS
By Jennifer Phillips
When I return back to the “real world” at the end of each camp season, I get the same question from everyone I know, “How was camp?” It’s an easy question for me to answer – I quickly respond with a huge smile on my face and say “AMAZING!” I love fully experiencing the pure happiness of the camp season.
Having grown up at the same camp where I know work, I remember having this feeling deep in my heart at the end of each summer. All these years later, this feeling hasn’t gone away, but the reason for it has changed. Now the feeling is more about the incredible memories and experiences campers have had instead of sadness about my own experience being over. Throughout the summer, every day there is another story of success, goals met, lives changed and incredible things that happened. Each summer there is a story that stands out above the rest.
Sometimes it involves a cheering crowd of kids or a camper achieving a goal or a small interaction between a counselor and camper. I know that these special moments happen for all kids at camp, but, for “my” campers – the inclusion campers – these events are even more meaningful because they often face challenges that many other kids don’t have to think about. These interactions, big and small, make me confident that we are seeing seamless inclusion at its best.
This year, that moment happened on a typical day at Camp Chi. The day was coming to an end, and a group of nine year-old girls were having a beach party and boat rides, which is a very special activity for our younger campers. This evening was no different. I heard lots of giggling and happy conversations going on. I quickly spotted a group of girls sitting near the ski docks all huddled together. As I approached them I saw that they were talking to Abby. Abby is sweet, funny and the ultimate “happy camper.” She also happens to be non-verbal and has one-on-one support at camp.
As I got closer to the group of girls around Abby, I heard them talking to her and among each other. I saw Abby looking at each of them and visually communicating with her cabin-mates. They knew that she was scared to move from her towel and walk to the dock. Abby was terrified to get on the boat and her friends knew it. They did not want her to miss out on the special evening activity and were determined to get Abby on the boat with them. They continued to talk to Abby and encourage her while the staff took a step back. The words coming out of their mouths were so calm and just perfect.
During this time, the counselor let the girls know that they needed to get on the boat before time ran out. The girls all answered that they were waiting for Abby to join them and that they had to wait. They said that they did not want to go without her. At that moment, one girl took Abby’s hand and said, “Abby, I got you, let’s go and have fun!” Abby got up and walked to the dock and was led by her friends to the boat. She held tightly to her friends’ hands as the boat headed out into the lake.
As the boat arrived back to the dock all you could hear was laughing from the girls. Abby was laughing and smiling and walked off the boat surrounded by her friends. To any other observer, it looked like any other moment at camp, but I could see the confidence in her walk, the pride of accomplishment and the glee in her face. It is something I will never forget, and puts a smile on my face to this day!
These young girls were not going on that boat ride without Abby. They did not care if they lost out on a few minutes of their boat ride; all they knew was that they did not want to leave their friend behind. No one had to tell them to encourage Abby. They all felt in their hearts they were going to do what they needed to for their friend, as they would do for any of their other friends.
Camp Chi is a place where you are accepted and embraced for who you are, where being who you are is encouraged and where there is no reason to pretend to be anything but yourself.
These girls are the epitome of inclusion and friendship. They reaffirmed for me that being the Inclusion Coordinator is not always about facilitation and making accommodations. If the community values are strong, friendship is cherished and the expectation is that we are all in this together, then, often, all you need to do is sit back and watch what happens. It’s amazing what you can see!
Jennifer Phillips has been part of the Keshet family for over 25 years and is currently the Director of Recreation. For the past 12 summers Jennifer has worked as Keshet’s Director at Camp Chi. As the the Year-Round Inclusion Coordinator, Camp Chi to become a leader in providing an inclusive camp community. From hiring staff to assisting a camper in adjusting to camp life, Jennifer is actively involved in every component of creating an inclusive experience for campers with disabilities. She lives in Highland Park, Illinois with her husband, Scott, and her two sons. She enjoys college basketball, hanging with friends and traveling.