From Differences to Connection
My many years at Olympia Sports Camp has taught me everything to make me the person I am today. I have learned how to overcome, accept, and appreciate the things that could make life difficult. My first year on-staff as a councelor opened my eyes to just how powerful children are. One specific camper allowed me to connect not only to others more deeply, but with myself. As a former foster kid, my experiences with connection had been rocky. Recently moving to Canada from Mexico (with little English knowledge), I met her when a Senior Staff member was running around the female cabins asking if anyone knew even a bit of Spanish. I had taken courses and had Latinx friends. Even though I hadn’t been practicing my Spanish, I volunteered to help out. I communicated easily with her almost instantly. I saw a lot of myself in her within an hour. She was supposed to stay in a different cabin but she asked me if she could stay with me. I had 8 amazing girls as a solo councelor that week. She was initially enrolled in a different session than me but begged to switch to be with me since she felt like we had created a mutual trusting relationship. My camper had been terrified to try new things, to talk to people, to basically engage. Canada had been a huge newness to her, let alone summer camp so I couldn't blame her for being hesitant. On staff, we had a few Latinx councelors. Me, not being perfect with Spanish, introduced her to them slowly but she had been attached to the hip with me. I sat down with her one night and asked her what her fears were and how I could help her. She told me everything that was on her mind and I simply took her hand and told her my story with foster care and how she could be so much better after she beats her inner ogres. I also asked her why she had a huge amount of trust for me. She said that I had shown that I wanted to know and “hang out” with her the most out of everyone she knew. She had never had that connection with anyone. Fighting back tears, I told her that I may feel like the first one, but I certainly won’t be the last, trying to give her optimism for connection. I realized that my talk with her could turn a full 360 so I could apply it to my life. I helped her overcome her fears of the Giant Swing, the Double Zip, and the lake. I gave my girls 110% of who I wanted to be that week. All of the Canadian campers asked me why we had a girl from foster care in our cabin. I told them that she is just like them, but with different challenges to face like many other people. I made it clear that she had a place. She could belong. She could be loved. My one girl asked me if I could teach her a few Spanish words so that she could make a more genuine friendship. I made it an optional thing to do during free time, to sit with our cabin as a whole to go over English and Spanish vocabulary and basic sentences. All of the girls embraced and loved the process of seeing someone from a different perspective and with no judgement, like Olympia teaches us to do. Our cabin had become very close, we all had great laughs. At the end of the week, my camper embraced me and looked at me with a face I could never get out of my head. Her eyes had lit up, she had smiled more, and she asked me to never forget about her. I couldn’t help but allow the water works to come flooding in and explained to her that she is a very special person who had made an amazing impact on a lot of people in camp that week. As I saw her leave, I told myself that she had taught me just as much as I attempted to teach her, to remain Amable, Magnífica, Original, Ridícula, A Spanish acronym for “amor”. I thank Olympia every day for the inspiration to lead, accept, and value others for who they are.
Ella Cummings - OSC counselor, camper, supporter.