Not Just a Summer Camp

Emily Byrne Brigadoon Counsellor for 5 years

The best decision I ever made was applying to work at Brigadoon Village.  I expected a fun and challenging summer, but I got so much more.

Before my first camp back in 2013, I remember receiving my campers’ files and immediately feeling panicked. How could I care for these campers with pages upon pages of medical history? I quickly learned that behind the many diagnoses, medications and procedures were just kids, kids with unique interests, strengths, and personalities. The medical staff on site made my role simple- get to know these campers, support them, and ensure they have the best week ever.

Flash forward 5 years. I no longer worry about how to support campers, regardless of the diagnosis or challenge they face. I am now more comfortable with who I am and what I am passionate about. I have been taught the true meaning compassion and empathy and understand what hard work really means. I can also now eat spaghetti without utensils and can fit a month’s worth of activities into a single morning.

I expect people often assume that working at camp is a mix between babysitting and hanging out with friends. Though our staff, who quickly become a wonderful and quirky family, spend most of our time having a blast with kids, we also accept a huge responsibility each day. We understand that every minute with a camper is an opportunity to make an impact- to build a relationship, encourage a friendship, or be that listening adult a camper may not have at home.

Just months away from completing my master’s degree, I can honestly say that there’s no exam or paper that I have worked harder towards or sacrificed more sleep for than I have to make these special camper experiences happen. You can’t help but give 110% every single day when provided with the opportunity to make a difference in a camper’s life. I’ve seen a staff member sacrifice their only 1-hour break within a 16-hour work day to blow-dry each page of a camper’s soggy comic book retrieved from the lake, and another stay up all night ensuring the generator, powering a camper’s feeding machine, doesn’t run out of gas, so the camper can stay in a tent with his peers.

The best part of my time at Brigadoon, though, is seeing campers grow. Brigadoon allows youth to learn about themselves, about others, and how to support each other. Campers leave with newfound confidence, and the ability to advocate for themselves and their condition. They can now open up without fear of judgment. I have seen the relief on a teenager’s face, sharing her journey with peers for the first time, after years of keeping her diagnosis a secret. Brigadoon transforms lives; like the camper who was only at camp to “try it for a day”, yet took to the stage four days later in the leading role of the play. Others take place more gradually, like my timid first-year campers, who nearly five years later have grown into mature young people, taking on leadership roles at Brigadoon and in their communities.

I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of the Brigadoon Family. I just cannot wait to see the places these campers will go and the lives they will change.