Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.
For my STEP project, I went on a buck-i-serv trip to Camp One Heartland in Willow River Minnesota. My job there was to do any work around the camp they needed such as planting trees, staining picnic tables and making useful things with wood.
What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?
Before going on this trip, I did not know much about the children affected by HIV/AIDS. I never really thought about HIV and AIDS, having no connection to the diseases except for learning about them briefly in biology and health class. I knew the facts of HIV/AIDs but knew little about the people. At camp one Heartland they have a camp dedicated to kids affected with HIV and AIDS. This is a place that kids who have HIV/AIDS or have family members with the disease can forget about their troubles for a week and just be kids. When I hear something about HIV or AIDS now, I no longer think about the biological facts, I think about the people who deal with it every day. Camp One Heartland specializes in having camps for kids who would not be able to go to traditional camps. Not only do they have camps for kids affected by HIV/AIDS but for kids in transitional housing, kids who identify as LGBTQ+ and may or may not have been kicked out of their homes and many other kids. Camp One Heartland lets kids in tough situations just be kids and I am inspired by their work and dedication. Volunteering at Camp One Heartland helped me to realize that the world needs more places such as this, where kids can just be kids when they still can be.
What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?
Most of my work at Camp One Heartland was physical labor. My groups job was to help the camp director and her staff to prepare the camp for the campers. The camp is a very large place and the preparation took place in all corners of it. I made wooden boxes for fans to put in the cabins so the kids could not knock them over and break them, stained picnic tables, planted trees and many other tasks throughout the week.
Most of what was transforming was not the work itself but the place in which it was done. Camp One Heartland is a warm and loving place, the campus is beautiful and the staff is amazing. After service, each night or sometime during the day, we would have some sort of educational activity. These activities were to help us understand the kids who come to the camp, since we could not meet them at the time. The staff found several movies that they thought would teach us about the situations the campers are in. After we watched these movies we would talk amongst ourselves and reflect on what we have seen. The staff members were very good at explaining what in the movies applied to the kids. One of the movies was about the HIV/AIDS outbreak in New York. The movie really opened my eyes to how terrifying these diseases really are, especially without treatment. They explained to us that most kids now can live very long lives with the disease if they take their medication. They also explained that when HIV progresses to AIDS the treatment is harder and lives can be cut short. They expressed frustration with how HIV/AIDS continues to be treated as just another STD when it is so much more than that. I saw how deep the stigma is for kids with HIV/AIDS or kids who have family With HIV and AIDS. Another movie we watched centered around kids in transitional housing. It really got you to think about the horrible situations some of these kids are in and how important it is to give them a happy place and experience to hold on to.
Probably the most moving experience I had happened on the very first day. Upon arrival, we went on a tour of the main cabin in which we stayed. In the basement also known as “Funky town” there were drawings created by kids about HIV/AIDS. The drawings were heartbreaking, begging for understanding and compassion. I saw what the stigma of HIV/AIDS did to the children most affected by it. Going down to the basement hundreds of paintings are on the walls. These paintings were more hopeful and you could see how happy the kids were at the time that they painted them. Camp One Heartland helped them feel happiness when so much of their lives are filled with the opposite. I am so thankful to have played a small role in making that happiness happen.
Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?
The transformation that Camp One Heartland brought me will help me in my future as a physician. It is easy as a science major to look at diseases and such as just facts to memorize in a book but we need to look at the actual people affected by it. Some doctors are very detached from their work because it makes it a little easier. I will use this experience to remind myself that the most important thing about my job is the people I will be treating. I am so grateful for this experience.