Sunday, August 21, 2011

Joni and Friends Camp Report

We are back! A little tired - in denial that we have to go back to work tomorrow. Loading pictures onto Facebook and looking at other's pics to relive the moments and wishing that they were not in the past already.

I have had about 48 hours to reflect on what I want to communicate about camp this year. I'll start back a few weeks. I wrote my last post (below) a few weeks before camp, knowing that we were short on STMs. I wrote about being nervous but trusting God that He's in control and why that is the best situation that we can be in - out of control. I wrote that primarily thinking of what fears that people have about being an STM and hoping to inspire confidence. Apparently I gave you all the impression that I was more nervous about being an STM than I really was, because I lot of friends commented about it.

The truth is that I was definitely a bit nervous, but my excitement about being an STM this year far outweighed my nervousness. So, on the night before camp, I decided that my new statement would be "I'm one part nervous, three parts excited."

As I thought about who I might be paired with for the week, I figured that I would get either a very small typical sibling, a child who uses a wheelchair, or possibly an adult with a disability who is more reserved. Since I already know many of the campers, I pondered the different folks I might get paired with.

One camper came to mind who made me more nervous. At some point, I definitely thought "I hope I don't get paired with Michelle". Michelle is an adult camper with spina bifida. During some illness, she had a trach and was left with separated vocal chords and she can only speak in a whisper. I had heard that Michelle was a very sweet gal, but I was worried that I wouldn't be able to hear her and we would both end up frustrated if we were paired. You see, since I'm deaf in one ear, I have a hard enough time hearing a regular conversation in a crowded room, let alone a whisper.

So, fast forward. It's Monday morning, day two of training, when we get our camper assignments. Who did I get? You guessed it - Michelle! I read her paper carefully, knowing that God had made this match and figuring He must know what He's doing. I was really happy that I got one of the adults, because that meant that I would get to attend the "Friendship Group" program and get to know all those beloved campers better.

It turns out that I was probably rather uniquely suited to be Michelle's STM. I was able to point my one good ear directly at her. Since I often miss some words in conversation, my mind is pretty skilled at searching the context for the right word to fill in the blank. As time went on, I also discovered that she sometimes will use sign language for a short message - and all her signs were ones that I knew. By Wednesday, I was getting really good at hearing and understanding her - she even said to me "you are so good at listening to me!" which was really reassuring. I became Michelle's voice when we were in group and she was talked over, when we visited with other people. I would wait to see if they understood, but if they didn't I would "interpret".

Besides the language issues, being an STM was ALL that I expected and hoped for it to be. It was so fabulous to be a participant in the programs and activities. To be involved in a family through the whole week. To get to know a particular camper's likes, dislikes, fears, interests and help her have the BEST experience.

Michelle's birthday was Wednesday during camp and she had an epic day! The whole camp sang Happy Birthday to her off key (camp tradition) at breakfast, went on a horse ride in the afternoon and was the closing act in the talent show that night.

Meanwhile, Denis and Cynthia (the nurse that we recruited) were kept quite busy this year. There were more medical issues this year than last year - but thankfully, none too serious. Cynthia had a ball and is hoping to return next year. I made a deal with her - as long as she wants to be the nurse, I will be an STM!