The car was hot, and the air conditioning was high. Our family was on our way to Bay Cliff Health Camp, way Up North. It was the summer of 2005 and we were spending a week of it helping handicapped kids. My dad had been a counselor year before, and he wanted to give us the opportunity to be one too. “The experience definitely changed my life,” he explained. “You guys will have fun for sure,” he reassured.
The drive seemed to last forever, and the humid air made my legs stick to the leather seats. We soon pulled into the long driveway of a beaten up hotel. The wood that was supposed to be pure white, was a rusted yellow, and the grass was sharp and brown. From the very beginning I thought, “Wow this will be interesting.”
The next morning my family woke up at 10:00 am to head to Bay Cliff. The camp was so close to the hotel you could walk there without getting tired. It was July 4th, and all the kids would be going in a parade later in the day, but we went early to get to know some of the kids there.
We were greeted by a big sign that read, “BAY CLIFF HEALTH CAMP”. We walked out of the hot air into a big air-conditioned building. The inside was just as big as the outside had looked, and the smell of new wood stuck in my nose hairs. The woman behind the wooden desk greeted us with a big smile.
“May I help you?” she questioned. “We were just wondering what the kids were going to be doing today,” my dad replied. “Well, since today is the 4th of July, we’re letting them play games until the parade,” the lady smiled again. “They always enjoy that.” “Thank you very much,” my dad said, and then we were out back into the heat again.
We soon saw a ton of kids in wheelchairs and crutches playing games. The kid’s smiles reached their ears as they played the various games. The kids giggled when their faces were getting painted with any design they wanted. I went over and sat on a bench because the heat and mosquitoes were getting to me.
Immediately the kids started to come up and just tell me their names. “Hi, I’m Cody. Who are you?” a little girl, maybe seven, asked me. “I’m Shannon. I came here to see if I want to be a counselor when I turn sixteen,” I replied. “Oh! You’re going to want to be one Miss. Shannon, it’s a lot of fun here, and everyone is really nice,” she explained. Not five minutes had passed before tons of other little kids came up and told me their names.
I was invited to five tables at the “Big House” also known as the cafeteria. The meal was set before me, and I didn’t feel right eating the food they had made. They made this for the kids, not me, I thought, maybe I should just not eat, and maybe they won’t notice. After a while of debating, I decided to eat because my stomach was growling louder than the kid’s laughs were.
“How long are you staying for?” one of the younger counselors asked. “Just for a week,” I told her. “I’m planning on being a counselor when I turn sixteen.” “Oh, that’s really cool of you to do,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun working at Bay.”
Before I knew it, the parade was going. The kids threw candy, and their smiles lit up their whole face with joy. The kids made their wheelchairs into cars, and they made signs for their cabin. The kids dressed up in cheerleading costumes and basketball uniforms. I had already fallen in love with these kids.
The week I was at Bay Cliff went by way to fast. It was soon departure day, and I knew it’d be pretty hard to say goodbye to all the kids. I hugged every kid I had gotten to know, and every time I did, there was a feeling in my stomach. It was as if this whole vacation, the whole camp was all for a reason.
That’s when I realized what I wanted to do when I got older. I wanted to work with little kids, with or without disabilities. This camp made me open my eyes to my possibilities. I loved being with little kids, and I loved seeing them happy. From that moment I knew what I wanted to be.
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.