From Camper to Post-College: How Akeela Shaped Me

Hello, my name is Katerina, and I’m currently 24 years old. I can proudly say I was camper at Akeela for many years (until I aged out). For my guest post, I wanted to reflect on my experience as a camper at Camp Akeela and how the skills I learned there helped me continue to succeed in my life, even after my time at camp was finished.

Flashback to the summer of 2010, when Disney Channel Original Movies and trading friendship bracelets were childhood staples. That summer, I was one of the older campers, residing in Bunk 13. My bunk had just returned from our activities at the farm. It was fun, but for me one of my challenges was mess, so farm activities were a lot of hard work as well. I was relieved for my counselor to tell us it was free time; she told us we could play soccer or just sit in front of the cabin and hang out. I always liked being able to write in a journal. This particular day, my counselor encouraged me to try something new, so I agreed to play soccer for a bit first. It proceeded to downpour. We all had to run back to the cabin, some of us now soaked from running in the rain! To pass the time, we sang songs from the Hannah Montana movie, and I taught my bunkmates all the choreography from the movie.

I didn’t know it then, but in that hour of free time, I shaped a vital part of what made me who I am and the skills that make me unique. I learned that I could work in a team. I learned that I enjoy having a creative outlet, such as dance or music (rather than my bunkmates who found their outlets playing soccer or other more athletic activities). I also learned that even with my social challenges, I thoroughly enjoyed being with people, and even more so helping people.

Now skip forward to May 2017, and I am a graduating senior at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire. I have successfully lived in mainstream housing on campus. My major is Media Studies; where I learned how to write and make creative projects that can help people. (In my case, my senior capstone project was creating a short film about anxiety and living uniquely.) I have also choreographed and taught dance to college peers, and displayed my dances school-wide through college recitals. I created my own club on campus to encourage friends to get together on Friday nights to watch some TV shows and movies while catching up; my own version of what Akeela free time did for me. Now post-grad and in the workforce, I work full-time as a teacher in a daycare center. I get to help children of all abilities grow and learn how to be their best selves. Looking back, I would not be where I am today had I not been able to learn and develop skills through camp.

So to any Akeela campers and families (prospective or otherwise) reading this, I want to leave you with this thought. Being a camper influences your life in so many ways that go beyond the right now. It is more than just three weeks of camp. This is an opportunity for you to discover what makes you … well, you! You can learn all about the things you like to do, and some things you don’t like (and that’s okay, it’s just as important!) Lastly, and this helped me a lot, it is a chance to meet other people like you. Your differences and challenges can come with a lot of feelings, but being with other people who might feel the same as you and understand what you’re dealing with can make conquering your challenges that much less intimidating. Being a part of Camp Akeela shaped me into who I am, and it can do the same for you if you take on the challenge.

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