Jeremy is the newest trainer to join the KIT team – he previously worked as a Youth Program Director, where he was a KIT affiliate since 2008.
I have a letter that sits on my desk. It is from a mother of a camper at a camp where I used to be the director. I keep the letter, in its envelope on my desk, as a personal reminder that the world is not quite as I want it to be when it comes to meaningful inclusion (hold that thought; we’ll get back here in a minute).
Simply put: the letter is a big ego booster! It is full of experiences that I helped cultivate, and stories of how “seeing Jeremy at camp” was part of this family’s language throughout the year. Just by being the director of a camp, “whether I knew it or not” as the mom said, I had become a big part of their day-to-day lives. When I read that letter I see the very best version of myself… the person I want to be in every difficult circumstance I face. I believe it is important to have these life markers to remind myself where I have been and where I am heading.
Each time I read the letter there is a point where I feel some underlying sadness. The letter is not meant to be sad; it is meant to be a compliment – the mom expresses that camp is the first place her child experienced belonging. When her son talks about camp, he says – “my camp.” i.e. “have you heard of my camp?,” “mommies can’t go to my camp,” and “for my birthday I am going to my camp!” (because his birthday really was during camp…how awesome is that?!) I always let the concept of belonging sink in for a few moments. The camper we are discussing was 8 his first summer at camp and had some issues that required some accommodations for communication and social structure. As a staff, we did some really simple stuff – we made a picture schedule, read some stories to help facilitate understanding that everyone is different and that different is okay, celebrated the moments this camper was really involved and engaged with peers, and we did not make a big deal about the times he needed to do his own thing and was less engaged with the group. We just accepted that this child was an individual and had individual needs. At no point did we feel like we were going out of the way, or doing anything we would not do for any other camper.
As I read the letter there is a part of me that feels a little guilty, as though I do not deserve the fanfare, because when it comes down to it I do not believe I did anything special. I do not want to sound ungrateful – the gratitude this parent showed me and the staff was always welcome (as were the sweet/cold treats she frequently delivered during the very hot North Carolina summers). It saddens me that accepting and accommodating a child’s individual needs was a rare experience for this family, because embracing individuality is a big part of my world view.
I will always be grateful for the time I spent as a camp director – it was an honor to be a part of so many families’ lives! Whether this mom knows it or not, her family has become a life marker in my heart – a marker that was part of what lead me work for KIT. Thinking of her family and her son has become an internal compass pushing me to work harder to help create a world where more and more families like hers can be thankful for great camp staff, and where it is just a normal everyday thing when their child is accepted as an individual regardless of their needs.
-Written by Jeremy Crisp. Edited by KIT staff.
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.