A Place to Share
by Ryan Douglas
My first summer camp experience came along because of an accident. I
was burned by cooking oil in a kitchen fire when I was eight years
old. After spending months in the hospital and going through physical
therapy, someone offered me a chance to go to a camp for burn survivors.
At first I didn’t really understand. As far as I knew, I was
the only kid in the hospital who had been burned. I didn’t even
know what camp was, but after a long discussion and some convincing
from my parents, I hopped on a bus headed for Camp John Marc.
At camp I was able to meet kids who were going through the same things
that I was. Suddenly, things in my everyday life didn’t matter
anymore. I was free to be myself, and I didn’t have to worry about
people staring at me or kids making fun of me. I was just like everyone
else, and it was the greatest feeling in the world. After my first summer
there, I was hooked. I decided there was nothing else I would rather
do with my summer than be at camp. I went to Camp John Marc for nine
years as a camper and then was on staff for four summers, and after four
years of college, I was finally offered a full-time job as an assistant
Summer camp wasn’t just a place for me to go and have fun for
one week of the summer. It was a place for me to grow and learn more
about who I was becoming. Being there helped me to decide what I wanted
to do with my life. It helped my confidence grow after living through
a horrible accident. And even after all I have been through I ask myself:
if I had it to do all over again, would I choose to still be burned?
And the answer is always, yes. I have gotten so many good things out
of being burned, that the bad things don’t even have a place in
my life. I got to go to a beautiful camp and meet some amazing kids.
I had the opportunity to be around some wonderful counselors who changed
my life, and I got to spend time at a place that helped me to decide
just what I wanted to do with my life.
I made the career choice to work at the camp I went to as a kid to see
if it was something I truly wanted to do long term. I decided to try
it out for one summer and then make my decision. Working that first summer
was one of the hardest things I had ever done, but it was also one of
the most rewarding. At the end of those twelve weeks, I knew exactly
what I wanted to do with my life. Every week I would see a new group
of kids arrive, and each time I could watch their faces light up as soon
as they stepped off the bus. It’s truly amazing to see a group
of kids who hardly know each other come to a place and make friendships
that will last a lifetime. There’s just nothing like it.
I was given the opportunity to go to summer camp because a group of
individuals decided they were going to find a way to serve a group that
being reached. Now I want to give something back. I think that we, as
camp directors, should make it a goal to reach out to everyone we can
and show them what the camp experience is all about. Whether working
with a private, nonprofit, religious, adventure, or sports camp, we should
all strive to find those groups that aren’t being served and make
our camps available to them. Everyone should have the opportunity to
go to camp no matter what their situation, and we have the ability to
provide that opportunity. Partner with a hospital, create a scholarship
program, or open your site to an organization looking for a home. Anything
that we can do to reach out and find those kids and bring them to camp
will be well worth the effort.
While earning a degree in recreation and leisure studies from the University
of North Texas, Ryan Douglas worked four summers at Camp John Marc and
was subsequently hired as an assistant camp director.
Originally published in the 2007 January/February
issue of Camping Magazine.