"I won't lie, it's going to be tough." A Mentor's Camp Riley Story
I have the honor of serving as a mentor for two campers who attend Venture Beyond the Woods at Camp Riley. Mentors are either in college or employed, and they have personal experience dealing with a disability. They act as role models when campers return home and deal with school, issues with family and peers, and decisions about post-secondary education and employment.
I know I can count on my campers to be honest. Our conversations range from typical teenage issues to deeper discussions of what it means to live with a physical disability. The shared experience of disability enriches our relationship. I know how it feels when someone stops you at the grocery store to say that you are an inspiration—just for leaving your house to buy food.
My campers are ambitious. They are writing novels and auditioning for lead roles in the school play. But they are also frustrated. They recognize the gross under-representation of people with disabilities in society. One camper I work with, Parker Timberman from Brazil, Ind., discovered that his favorite computer game, The Sims, did not offer the option of creating a character who uses a wheelchair. “I tried playing as an able-bodied person for a while, but I stopped because it wasn’t me,” he told me.
I wish I could tell my campers that these feelings of isolation won’t last after high school. The truth is, living with a disability will always be tough. People with disabilities are the largest minority in the United States, but it is rare that we see each other on college campuses, in the workplace and in media.
The mentor program for Venture Beyond the Woods helps to fill that void. This past weekend, 15 mentors traveled to Camp Riley to meet campers. They made s’mores, played games and swapped stories. “She’s the coolest person ever,” one camper raved about her mentor, an attorney. Everywhere you looked, people with disabilities were the majority.
Parker and I will soon share another experience: scuba certification. Each summer, Epsilon Sigma Alpha (ESA) Indiana and the Cody Unser First Step Foundation provide a day of scuba diving for Venture Beyond the Woods campers. A few campers go on to finish their certification. Parker earned his certification in January, and I began my training this summer.
Parker warned me that scuba training would be difficult. He stayed poolside during my first lesson as I struggled to master the skill of clearing a flooded mask.
When I finally surfaced with a clear mask, I heard Parker cheering the loudest.
comments powered by Disqus