Around my wrist hangs a clear pink plastic bracelet. It holds a mix of glitter and tap water, a simple and unremarkable combination that, typically, would never have been something that I would remember or treasure. This bracelet, however, is different.
It was given to me by a friend of mine, a friend with short blonde hair and bright blue eyes, a friend whose shirt is usually on backwards or inside out, a friend with a contagious laugh, a mischievous smile and a tendency to charm every person he encounters. My friend who I met when I was given the incredible opportunity to work at a summer camp for kids with behavioral, emotional and learning challenges.
When I first accepted a job at Camp Starfish, a 1:1 residential summer camp in Rindge, New Hampshire, I was absolutely terrified. Not only did I not know what to expect in terms of the day to day experience of working at a summer camp for kids with behavioral needs, I also was unsure if I had made the right decision in terms of my career and future. I was going into the summer before my junior year at a competitive liberal arts college and it seemed to me that everyone around me was accepting internships at companies with names that evoked awe and respect from the people around them. I was concerned that I was somehow failing myself by choosing a job at a summer camp, worried that by working in the woods for three months, I would be giving up any chance of progress or growth.
I could not have been more wrong.
Almost immediately, opportunities for progress and growth presented themselves to me. Whether figuring out how to explain directions to a camper in a way they could understand, inventing a new game on the spot to keep a group of 8 year olds engaged and entertained or having a difficult conversation with someone who was struggling, I was constantly being pushed and stretched. Learning happened consistently and in ways I never expected. My ability to communicate began to change. Working with people of all ages with a wide variety of learning styles and skills, I found I had to become more observant and self-aware. I had to see others perspectives and learn to pay attention to things I never would have noticed otherwise. A camper that appeared upset without reason often was simply unable to explain to me that he did not like the way the tag on the back of his shirt felt on his neck. A counselor who approached a problem a different way than me might simply have information that I didn't have. It was my job to pay attention, to ask the questions and to stay open and flexible to the idea that what worked for me might be different than the thing that could help someone else.