Written by: Jon
“You don’t have to be Mother Theresa, you just have to care.”
Those were the (pretty sage) words of my Camp Director, as she reassured me that I wasn’t going to totally suck at my new job. I had just taken on a position at a summer camp for underprivileged children as an Integration Counsellor, where I would be responsible for working one-on-one with campers who have special needs.
Now, I wasn’t new to camp at this point. I had already worked two summers at a different camp for underprivileged children, which I absolutely loved. The main difference was that now, instead of being a lifeguard and canoe instructor who could spend his days soaking up the sun by the lake, I would be responsible for the safety and happiness of one camper who was coming to camp with more challenges than the other kids. More challenges than I had ever experienced in my 23 years of relatively privileged existence. And that terrified me.
So I did pretty much the worst thing you can do when starting a new job; I told my boss that I thought she made a mistake in hiring me. Here’s a brief synopsis of how that conversation went:
Me: “I don’t know if I’m the right person for this job, maybe you should hire someone else.”
Her: “No, I know you can do it.”
Me: “But I think I’m going to mess up and my camper will have a terrible summer.”
Her: “No, I know you can do it.”
This continued for a good 15 minutes before she gave me that nugget of wisdom I started this blog post with.
“Listen, Jon, you don’t have to be Mother Theresa, you just have to care about your camper. The fact that you’re so worried about them already means you care, so I know you can do it.”
I can’t really explain why, but those words shut me up pretty much instantly. I agreed to start the summer and do my best to help my camper have a good time. I carried those words with me on the first day of my job, and every day that followed.
I won’t lie; my job was not an easy one. There were days when my camper would refuse to participate in any activities, days when even sitting down to eat a snack became an exercise in patience. But there were also days where the stars all seemed to align, and my camper was having the time of his life, running all over the camp laughing his head off.
Throughout the entire summer, whenever I was having a tough day, I tried to remember what my director told me. “You just have to care” became my mantra, and it carried me through many difficult situations. I came to realize that when you put the happiness of another person at the core of whatever you do, you can accomplish things that would be otherwise impossible. It’s a lesson that not only made me a better Camp Counsellor; it made me a better person.
During my last season on the Camp Canada team, I interviewed many applicants for positions just like the one I was so afraid of. Many of them exhibited the same fears that I showed my Camp Director the year before.
“I don’t have any experience, I don’t think I’m the right person for that.”
“But I’ve never done anything like it before.”
“I’m worried I wouldn’t be able to give them the best summer.”
Those fears are all valid. Having felt them all before, I know how real these fears can be. But in a sweet twist of irony, I also now know a great response: “The fact that you’re worried means you care, and that means you would probably be able to do it.”
At the end of the day, working with kids of any kind can be a challenge. Anyone who has spent a summer at camp can tell you that. But stepping outside your comfort zone is one of the best things you can do for yourself. More than that, it can be one of the best things you can do for someone else.
So, if you’re reading this right now because you’re thinking of working at a camp for underprivileged kids, or a camp for kids with special needs, or any camp at all, and are feeling anxious about being able to give those kids the summer of their lives, let me leave you with this:
I know you can do it.