I participated in a buck-I-SERV trip to Willow River, Minnesota for my STEP Signature Project. Seven other girls and I drove to Camp One Heartland and helped them get ready for this summer’s camp season. While there we helped cut firewood, organize rooms, check cabins and create crafts. Camp One Heartland is a non-profit organization and their mission is to improve the lives of children, youth and families facing significant health challenges or social isolation.
My visit to Camp One Heartland gave me a new appreciation for things that I take for granted. Camp One Heartland hosts camp for four specific youth populations: youth living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, youth experiencing housing instability, youth working to achieve a healthy lifestyle, and youth identifying as LGBTQ+. While at Camp One Heartland, I was shown through stories, journals, and staff experiences the impact a week at camp has on kids’ lives. For once, they are surrounded by people who appreciate them for who they are, and they can just be a kid. I left Camp One Heartland with a better education and understanding of each population they serve.
Each night after we were finished with our service for the day, our group was given a movie that highlighted each of the populations Camp One Heartland serves. The first night, we watched Short Term 12. This movie correlated with Camp Northstar. In the movie we saw teens who were facing housing instability. The teens were at a state ran facility and as the movie progressed you saw the kids get closer and closer to the staff. It showed how simple gestures, like listening, can impact a teens life. The movie showed that even though the teens had very little, but they had each other at the facility. Camp Northstar is that community for teens facing similar issues as the ones in Short Term 12. I learned that most kids who participate in Camp Northstar have never been outside the city and a lot of them come to camp with very little. However, the staff does not let anything thing stand in the way between the kids and an amazing time at camp.
Another night, we watched The Normal Heart. This is a movie that tells the story of the HIV/AIDS crisis from the 1980s to the present. This movie corresponded to the population who participates in Camp Heartland. This movie was especially interesting to me and the rest of the group as most of us are pursuing careers in the medical field and The Normal Heart depicted gruesome facts and experiences gay men specifically were facing during the time period. And it is crazy to think that significant research into the HIV/AIDS virus was not done until children started testing positive for it. Camp Heartland serves any youth living with or affected by HIV/AIDS. This camp is extremely cool to me because most kids in that situation are not allowed to go to a ‘normal’ camp due to their condition. Camp Heartland works to combat the negative stigma surrounding HIV positive kids. For once they do not have to worry about what others might think of them because they must take their medication every four hours.
The last movie we watched was Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric. This movie correlated with Camp True Colors. Camp True Colors serves the LGBTQ+ population. The movie gave us a better understanding of the terminology associated with the LGBTQ+ community and gave us an inside look at people’s journeys. For many teens Camp True Colors is one week where teens do not have to worry about being judged for who they are and can truly express themselves. The camp has become more and more popular; it started out as a 20 person camp and it now averages about 120 campers. At Camp One Heartland, you make name tags with your preferred pronouns. This ensures everyone is addressed how he or she wants to be addressed.
We also had a presentation on Camp 5210. This camp encourages kids to live healthier lives. 5210 stands for: eat five or more fruits or veggies a day, limit TV and computer time to two or less hours a day, get one or more hours of physical activity each day and cut back to zero sugary beverages. The staff bring in registered dietitians to help counsel the kids on healthier eating habits and lifestyle behaviors.
Participating in the service trip to Camp One Heartland reaffirmed my attitude towards community service: nothing is more rewarding than giving back to others. The trip gave me better understanding of different populations I might face when treating as an Occupational Therapist. The different educational moments we had, might help me better relate to my patients in the future. Through the movies I also became aware of the injustices the different populations face. As an occupational therapist, it is my duty to advocate for my patients and I will be better suited to do so because of the knowledge I gained through the trip.