Camp Bennett and its Irreplaceable YVC Volunteers

Muskogee - Summer 2014 Camp Bennett - 2When Camp Bennett, a camp for kids and adults with special needs, spent a single day without their usual 15 volunteers from YVC of Muskogee this summer, it was obvious that day was different. The campers weren’t nearly as active or engaged, and the counselors were exhausted by the end of that day.

Meanwhile, during the rest of the five weeks of camp this summer, YVC of Muskogee Youth Volunteers are crucial team members at the camp, helping campers get from activity to activity, stay motivated and have a blast.

“We count on YVC,” says Tamra Scherer, director of the camp.

Camp Bennett has depended on YVC of Muskogee volunteers for as long as YVC has been in the community (20+ years now!). Every summer, Youth Volunteers serve as additional helpers between the counselors and the campers.

Lasting Friendships

Each Youth Volunteer is assigned to a group of campers, and they join the campers on all activities throughout the day. Their most important role is to get to know the campers and just be friends.

“It’s so much more than helping hands, it’s the friendship that you see being built,” Tamra says.

Tamra says that one of the best parts of the relationship is after the camp, when campers and YVC Youth Volunteers run into each other around town, and their new friendship brings them together in ways that never would have before.

“Both the campers and the youth love it,” Tamra says. “They all have certain ones that they really want to be their buddy.”

Throughout the camp, the buddies get to do all kinds of fun activities including swimming, bowling, crafts, archery, field trips and more.

One of the most popular activities is fishing, which both the campers and Youth Volunteers love. Fishing is especially fun with the youngest campers, says Eileen Van Kirk, Program Director of YVC of Muskogee. “All the little kids kiss their fish before they let them go,” she says.

Muskogee - Summer 2014 Camp Bennett - 5Crucial Volunteers

Camp Bennett runs two different programs: two weeks of camp for adults with special needs (anyone who has graduated high school, up to the oldest camper who is 74), and three weeks for kids with special needs (5-21 years old).

YVC of Muskogee volunteers help set up the camp and help throughout the camp, with some campers helping every single week.

“They love to take some of our really hard-to-handle campers and just smile with them and help them with their arts and crafts,” Tamra says. “You can see the campers light up when they see their finished product.”

Tamra says that the YVC volunteers have been such a crucial part of the camp for the last 21 years, and she has some advice for similar camps around the country who are looking for some additional volunteer help: “Get on board with YVC, and there won’t be any regrets!”

Finding Dream Jobs

Over the years, many Youth Volunteers have had such a profound experience helping at the camp that they chose career paths in special education after their experience.

“It is a great opportunity for our kids as well as the campers,” Eileen says. “It’s one thing to help in a self-contained environment, and quite another to take these kids out to public events and locations in the community. It gives the campers extra confidence to have their ‘YVC buddies’ there to help them test their abilities.”

Even those who never would have considered a career in special education can see the impact that they have when working closely with the campers, and many realize they’ve found their new dream job.

Muskogee - Summer 2014 Camp BennettSelfless Giving

Tamra knows firsthand the difference that YVC can have on youth, with two of her granddaughters having volunteered with YVC over the years. “You can tell that they feel so good about themselves,” she says.

She raves about the youth who devote a huge portion of their summers to helping these campers have a great experience.

“They give of themselves for the time they have a camp,” she says. “It’s unbelievable the things these young people go out and do for the camp.”

Each camper leaves with a whole crew of new friends, and each Youth Volunteer leaves knowing that they have truly made a difference.

“It’s a win-win,” Tamra says. “The YVC kids go away with a great feeling. The campers love their role models. The staff loves having them.”

 

*All photos are of YVC of Muskogee Youth Volunteers helping at Camp Bennett, but campers are not pictured out of respect for their privacy.*

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