A Place to Share: Feeling the Music of Camp

by Sunnie Kaufmann

When I was twenty-five years old, I was working for a Girl Scout Council in northern Minnesota as the outdoor program manager. I was driving home from camp one afternoon, and the radio went out. I fiddled with it, trying different stations, nothing. It wasn't until I rolled the window down and realized that I couldn't hear the wind as I drove along, that I understood something was wrong. I couldn't stop and ask for help, and I couldn't call someone on my cell phone—I couldn't hear.

I drove another hour and a half, straight to the hospital, where I discovered that I had lost my hearing due to Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear. The cause is unknown. Amazingly enough, I worked for the Colorado School for the Deaf prior to my gig with the Girl Scouts, and I am fluent in American Sign Language. If it had to happen to anyone, I am glad it was me.

Here I am, five years later. I wear a hearing aid in my right ear and have moderate hearing in my left ear. I can read lips very well and can hear in quiet environments. I am the camp director for the Girl Scouts of the Sierra Nevada (GSSN) Camp Wasiu II, which is a camp accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA). I joined GSSN in May 2006 and experienced my very first ACA visit that summer. I wanted to learn more about ACA, so I decided to go to the Camp West conference held in Las Vegas last March.

I have to be honest with you, I was scared. I e-mailed ACA and explained that I was in need of an interpreter for the large events. They set everything up for me, and I was ready to go.

The first time everyone saw me that weekend, I had an interpreter. I felt incredibly overwhelmed and scared that I would spend the weekend in silence because no one knew me or understood that I am Hard of Hearing and not Deaf.

The opening session began, much to my horror, with music. The theme was how music brings us all together. The interpreter did her best to try to interpret the funny songs and camp quirks, but the meaning got lost in the languages. What had I gotten myself in to? After the opening session, there was a jam session for everyone to get to know each other, by the pool, in the dark, with guitars. As I turned to go to my room, feeling a bit defeated, a man from another camp approached me and made a very valiant attempt to communicate through sign.

When I responded to his question by speaking, he was surprised. He introduced me to his fellow camp mates from the Visalia YMCA camps in California. This group of people showed me the meaning of caring and acceptance. As my comfort grew, surrounded by caring camp folk, I grew in confidence. I allowed myself to enjoy the conference and not worry if I missed something. That's life; I don't always hear things. But if I don't, I speak up about it. The rest of the conference was amazing, and I learned many things to bring back and apply at my camp.

The conference was near its end, and we had one last event, the closing session. The closing session was all about drum circles and how they can bring a camp community together. I watched with a bit of frustration and lack of interest when the speaker began. The speaker encouraged everyone to take a drum, and I chose not to. Everyone began to drum and I tried to feel it, but the floor was carpeted and so was the stage. I sat there in muffled silence and watched the community around me bond through music.

Mike Spiller grabbed me by the hand and led me to one of the standing speakers in the room and put my hands up to it. I actually felt the speaker's words! And then, before I knew it, I felt the drums, the beat, the passion, the excitement, and the bonding. Music can build a community, whether it is through sound or touch.

ACA made incredible accommodations for me, and without them, I would not have had the experience that I did. I can't wait to go back next year and "jam" with all my fellow camp people.

Sunnie Kaufmann is the camp director of Camp Wasiu II, a Girl Scout resident camp located in the Tahoe National Forest. She has been a Girl Scout for over twenty years. She is an avid camper and loves spending time with her two dogs, Lola and Piper.

Originally published in the 2007 July/August issue of Camping Magazine.