Camp Will Surprise You, Impress You, Ground You
Meet Dottie Greenwood, a long-time volunteer at Over the Wall, the SeriousFun camp in the United Kingdom. We asked Dottie to tell us what brings her back to camp every year. And she was quick to share! Camp has helped her heal, grow, and find a career she loves. But don’t listen to us, hear it from Dottie herself!
“There’s never a moment when you doubt that your contributions are so very vital.”
What led you to become a volunteer at Over the Wall?
In 2006 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. A cousin of a family friend was diagnosed with the same a few years prior and I contacted him for general advice. He mentioned that getting involved with Over the Wall would be a great thing to do if I was feeling down. At the time I didn’t feel confident enough to volunteer—being 16 is awkward enough! However, I felt more comfortable with the idea after treatment. Thankfully, I’d saved the information he shared, and decided to apply two years later!
How is volunteering at camp different than other volunteer experiences you’ve had?
Volunteering at Over the Wall is a totally unique experience. You’re completely immersed in the world of camp and your role is really “on the front line”. There’s never a moment when you doubt that your contributions are so very vital. You’re not hearing about campers’ successes from a distance. You’re not reading about the charity from a desk.
You’re directly (even if it’s subtle sometimes) helping empower children to achieve such wonderful things— accomplishments, discoveries, and friendships that will impact them for the rest of their lives.
And while it’s serious work, the mood is far from it! You’re laughing, being silly, discovering things about yourself, getting your face painted, and singing the most ridiculous songs.
That’s an incredibly special thing to be a part of.
“I absolutely cannot imagine my life without the people I’ve met through camp.”
How did volunteering impact your life?
The impact of camp was really significant for me. I started volunteering before I went to university, and this first camp experience encouraged me to seek further volunteering opportunities in a related field. I volunteered through the university during semesters and at Over the Wall during holidays. The more I involved myself in both causes—eventually being lucky enough to lead a university project and become a Team Leader at camp—the more I realized how much I enjoy supporting other volunteers. Since graduating, I’ve brought my passion for volunteering into my work, as a Volunteer Coordinator, and never looked back.
Also, I must mention that so many fellow volunteers have become wonderful friends! I absolutely cannot imagine my life without the people I’ve met through camp. When you volunteer at camp, you find a community.
What skills did you learn or improve by volunteering at Over the Wall?
The core things I’ve learned at camp include how to work with children and young people, communication skills, and the benefit of therapeutic recreation. I’ve also learned behavior management techniques, and about how to support others through an enormous range of skills, backgrounds, and motivations.
How do these skills relate to other aspects of your life?
In my career, they’ve undoubtedly made a huge difference. When I sit back and think about it, it’s influenced the way I support volunteers, how I deliver training, and how I work with service users, as well as how I help both service users and volunteers reach their goals.
More generally, they’ve made me a more open person and more confident in myself. This, in turn, has (I reckon!) strengthened my relationships with those close to me.
“There’s no question. Your overall confidence grows immensely while volunteering at camp. All that lovely, positive, and supportive energy we give campers can’t help but rub off on ourselves.”
What is it about camp that’s made your experience so special?
I think the turning point, for me, was after I had a few camp sessions under my belt. I had (as cheesy as it sounds) an epiphany-like moment: everything we aim to achieve for campers is what volunteers achieve in themselves as well.
For me, that realization magnified how special camp is. If it can have that impact on a volunteer, who’s had all the training and is fully aware of what’s being done for campers, how unbelievably amazing must that same feeling be for campers who are kicking back, being kids, and having the week of their lives, all while (quite rightfully) unaware of everything in the background that is helping make camp possible?
How have you continued your relationship with Over the Wall?
Seven years on, my session count is now thirteen, with two more confirmed for this year and no signs of stopping. Over the Wall offers returning volunteers the chance to help out with interviews for new volunteers, which I do a few times a year. It’s my way of staying connected to the camp community, even between camp seasons!
What advice do you have for someone who is deciding whether or not to volunteer at a SeriousFun camp?
I’d definitely say to think seriously about it. It’s a whole week of giving 110% in a busy, tiring, noisy, and sometimes emotionally-challenging environment. While the majority of people love it, camp isn’t for everyone, and that’s understandable.
For those up for the challenge, you’ll be greeted with brilliant support from staff and a wonderful bunch of volunteers to spend your week with. Most importantly, you’ll find a group of campers that will surprise you, impress you, ground you, and generally show you how much of a difference you can make.
What are three words that describe your experience as a volunteer?
Humbling. Unique. Ridiculous (in a good way!)
Dottie, thanks for sharing how you found direction, and a career you love, at camp!