In the summer of 2014, I was introduced and brought into an organization I had never even heard of. I’m sure some of you may have gone through the same thing, but I am going to tell you something that I have learned in the past year that I will never forget thanks to it.
The organization’s name is Extra Special People Incorporated in Watkinsville, GA, and first I feel it necessary to provide a little history and background. This is unlike most organizations in the fact that we work specifically with kids and young adults with developmental disabilities (Cerebral Palsy, full spectrum of Autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Spina Bifida, and many more).
It began in the late 80’s as a summer camp and is now a year round operation providing after school classes in the fall and spring, as well as a full summer camp serving upwards of 200 individuals.
What do the parents do? Do they get to experience the same joy as you did at your camp? ESP is an answer to that question and the answer is yes. Thankfully, I was able to see it take place first hand.
I, and 60+ staff and volunteers, worked with people of all ages in the organization and we would plan special activities throughout summer like sleep overs, Prom, Braves game, and even some campers’ FIRST TIME at six flags.
For me the greatest weeks were the weeks we went out to an overnight camp at Camp Twin Lakes where we would spend a full week with these kids and young adults, just getting to know them, watching, and encouraging them to do things they’ve never done.
My favorite part of explaining the things we do with our campers to friends and family is when they say something like, “Wow. I didn’t know that was possible” or, “I didn’t know they could do that” and I would always respond with “Why not? They can do anything, they just do it differently.”
One of the best stories is one where a camper did not want to go on the Superman Roller Coaster at Six Flags just because he was scared, and I told him that there was nothing to be afraid of and just kept encouraging him to just try it. Our time came to get on the ride and he got on but he was very scared and at this point shaking once buckled in so I grabbed his hand and told him it’s going to be fine and the ride took off.
Throughout the ride it sounds like he is singing to himself but I couldn’t make out the words and as the ride came to an end and the rushing abruptly stops, I heard him yelling “I LOVE YOU GUYS” at the top of his lungs. After we got off he looked over at me and said “I did it. I didn’t think I could, but I did it.”
So looking back at this story what all comes to mind? I know it may seem like a simple narrative about just overcoming a fear, but imagine facing a new fear every day like one of our campers. Some of our campers are partially or completely blind. Could you imagine something like being blind and doing that same feat? You’ve never treaded those waters before and that is what is incredible about new challenges. Challenges for some are a fear that may be like none other.
ESP has created many memories for me after only a year of working here. I am currently working another year as a Unit Leader for the summer, and I am excited to see what more I have to learn from these campers because if it’s anything like last year I may never stop. I’ve laughed here (a lot), I’ve cried here, and I’m pretty sure I’ve bled here a time or two. To think it was all by accident that I came here and with complete incompetence of working with the population. I gave it a try and haven’t regretted my decision once.
For me, the biggest thing I’ve learned is to just try something new if the opportunity is there. You never know what it will turn into, and don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled because on that road you’ll learn more about yourself than you would think possible. Don’t believe me? Just give it a try.
To learn more about Extra Special People, please click here: