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Leaning In for the Win!

Campfire Chat with Mike ParkerProgram Manager, Learning & DevelopmentJoin us Around the Campfire for a monthly sampling of inspiration, impact, camp-inspired recipes, activities and crafts, and more!

I never in a million years imagined when exploring summer volunteer opportunities at age 24 that I would be qualified to do so at a medical specialty camp: I had no prior medical training and no experience caring for children with serious illnesses, but something compelled me to apply to North Star Reach anyway. That decision, combined with a heart-warming moment of transformation by one of my campers that summer, changed not only my understanding of what it truly means to volunteer at a SeriousFun camp, but also the trajectory of my future.

After absolutely loving my first year volunteering at North Star Reach, I was excited to return the following summer to take on new responsibilities as a Counselor. I was filled with excitement and enthusiasm mixed with nervousness and anxiety about living up to the expectations I had set for myself the previous year, and also about working with the youngest group of campers for the first time.

Right away, I noticed one little boy who was visibly withdrawn and not speaking to any of the other campers. He was, however, watching them all intently. After I shakily introduced myself to him, he told me he was “shy.” I shared with him that I, too, was feeling a little bit nervous about my series of firsts for this session and suggested that maybe we could help each other have some fun anyway and just see how it goes.

He agreed, and with my encouragement reluctantly participated in the group activities the rest of the day. He still didn’t directly interact with the other campers, but I could tell he was beginning to relax a little by the end of the day. I was, too!

The next morning, while getting ready for breakfast, I was feeling relieved about having successfully navigated a full day and overnight with my campers, and much more confident in my ability to manage the rest of the week. I was pleasantly surprised to notice my little shy friend singing along to the camp line-up songs with the enthusiasm and passion of someone solo jamming out to their favorite car tune. I can still hear him gleefully shouting “OREO COOKIE!”

As we were walking back to the cabin after breakfast, he caught up to me and looked up at me with bright eyes. With the same confidence he displayed while singing those camp songs, he told me, “I’m not shy anymore!” and ran ahead to join the rest of his cabin mates.

In that moment, in addition to being so happy for the camper, I felt a sense of victory and achievement for BOTH of us that is impossible to describe and inspires me to this day.

That’s the moment I realized that “camp” is about so much more than campfires and cabins, not only for the campers but also for all who are there to support their experiences.

Today, I am incredulous that I have been able to make mentoring camp professionals a full-time career through SeriousFun. I get to help them lean in to opportunities for professional development and networking that will help further their career goals, and share in their experiences of personal reward and gratification that they gain through their contribution to our camps and programs.

Thanks to my own decision to reach for something that seemed out of reach so many years ago, I have grown into the nickname that my campers teasingly assigned to me that very first day of camp, “Coach,” in every sense of the word and hope to help as many people as possible to “lean in for the win!”

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