Corey's StoryIt wouldn't be hyperbole to say that the Akron Rotary Camp has completely changed my life, and the lives of my family. Both my younger brother and I are on the Autistic spectrum, and as I'm sure you can imagine, that led to its fair share of problems throughout our lives. My parents learned about the camp ten years ago, and felt it could be a good experience for my brother, who was largely non-verbal at the time, and didn't have a lot of social interaction. Though he was reluctant at first, the safe, friendly nature of the staff led to Ben being more willing to open up and talk to others after his first summer.
I only visited the camp a couple of times at first, mostly to say goodbye to him, and I was honestly intimidated by the camp, but incredibly impressed by the ethic of the people who worked there. I'd always thought my brother could be a handful, but they were happy to work with him and dozens of other kids with varying levels of ability. They made sure everyone was having fun and wanted to come back! I was utterly thrilled to see how much it had helped my brother, and that there were so many people genuinely devoted to helping kids like him.
Still, it wasn't until three years later, in 2006, that I truly understood just how much the camp could help people. I had been diagnosed with Autism that school year, and the diagnosis was a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it finally explained just why I constantly felt “off” compared to my peers, but the more I learned about my disability, the more overwhelmed I got. The future looked dark, and in all honesty I began to give up hope. If there was something that was actually wrong with my brain, how was I going to fight that? Why even try? It didn't help that being open about my diagnosis made me the target of quite a lot of bullying at school. It felt as if all the cards were stacked against me, and I genuinely had no idea what to do. I don't remember what exactly prompted it, but my mother thought I could benefit from spending a week at camp. In all honesty, I was dreading it, and felt it would only reinforce how defeated I was, but I remembered how much the Akron Rotary Camp had helped my brother, so I reluctantly went through with it.
The first thing that really hit me was that even though most of the staff was different from Ben's first summer, the feel and attitude hadn't changed at all. I could tell that the staff wanted nothing less than the best for all of the campers, and they did their best to make everyone's camp experiences fun, safe, and rewarding. For the first time since I was diagnosed I felt like I was a kid, instead of a kid with a disability. While I was admittedly overwhelmed at times the first week, and withdrew and lashed out emotionally, the counselors were patient and compassionate. I genuinely felt glad to be there. I went another two weeks, much more enthusiastically, and for the first time all year I was happy, hopeful, and honestly felt good about myself. The more I thought about it, the more impressed and inspired I was by the dedication of the staff, and the warmth of the camp environment.
I came back again the next year, this time as a volunteer, and saw that things were just as fantastic from the other side. I gained a newfound respect and appreciation for how much effort went into their jobs, and how much attention and care there was for each and every camper. I volunteered again the next summer, and on-and-off through 2010, and in all that time, absolutely nothing had changed.
In 2012, I came back as a counselor and saw firsthand just how they managed to change lives so well. Every camper I worked with meant the world to my co-counselors and me! I was absolutely thrilled and even more thrilled to come back again. Through new buildings, new cabins, and more counselors than I can count, the Akron Rotary Camp spirit has stayed the same, and I am honored to be a part of it. The Akron Rotary Camp truly is the way the world should be.