Camp Thunderbird, Show Me Your Wings!

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By Meg Hossler and Matthew Watkins

“Camp Thunderbird, show me your wings!” Now that we have your attention, let us introduce you to what place we called home this past summer. Camp Thunderbird, founded in 1969, is a summer camp for adults and children with developmental and physical disabilities. We serve a diverse group of people who come to enjoy a summer camp like any of you would. We do everything “normal” summer camps do, like, crafts, archery, swimming, bonfires, and talent shows, but with a few exceptions. We provide adaptive activities for all our guests, we help with self-care, we provide nursing care, and we help to diffuse a wide variety of behaviors. We hope you get to see a snapshot of what camp life is like and get the chance to grow like we did.

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Welcome to Camp Thunderbird! My name is Meg, and I serve as the Administrative Lead here. I work in the office and process all the applications for camp, I talk to concerned parents, and I give tours of our lovely camp to prospective campers. I also serve on the medication administration team and pass meds to our campers every day. Some fun facts about this summer: I saved a bat my first week at camp, I wore matching flamingo shorts with one of our guests, and I made 62 drug sheets for the all the medications I passed out.

Before I tell you more about camp, I need to give you some background on Matthew Watkins. I met Matt when I was a freshman in the Kugelman Honors Program, where we became instant best friends and began dating shortly after. In the past, we’ve worked together as youth directors at a few local churches. This summer, I convinced him to work at a special needs summer camp with me, something he has never done before and had zero experience in. To say I was impressed by the end of the summer would be an understatement. Matt was a rockstar at Camp Thunderbird. Every week, Matt managed a cabin of 15-20 mentally and/or physically disabled guests with ages ranging from 45 to 80. I had the amazing opportunity to watch Matt care deeply for each of our guests and develop relationships with each of them. I watched Matt change adult diapers, pass medications, manage extreme behaviors, and comfort guests during emotional breakdowns. After last summer, it is clear that Matt will be a great social worker after he graduates this fall. Camp has solidified Matt’s desire to pursue a career in the school system, where he can continue helping students of all abilities.

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Welcome to the Gator Cabin! My name is Matthew, and I am the Cabin Lead. It’s my job to spend the day with the guests, ensure all their needs are met, lead a staff of 10 people, make schedules, and report to the camp director about everything going on in the Gator Cabin. The Gator Cabin is one of four and houses the older male guests. Some fun facts about this summer: I went to New York City during my week off, I played banjo at the opening bonfires, and I served on the safety team at camp.

Meg was looking for an Orlando job this summer and found Camp Thunderbird. After applying, she called eagerly and ended up getting an interview with the director, who offered the Administrative Lead position on the spot. Meg did an amazing job in the office getting the applications through, working with guardians and group homes to meet the financial needs of guests, and gathering all the medical documents needed for campers to come. She also showed enthusiasm interacting with guests and giving tours. Meg’s position was new to camp, so she faced some adversity with it. However, she made positive changes at camp that not only made this summer better, but will also improve camp in the long run. During the last week on the job, Meg stepped up as camp was short staffed and worked with guests in the cabins on top of her normal job responsibilities. Without Meg going above and beyond this summer, camp wouldn’t have provided such an incredible experience for our guests. After last summer, Meg has decided to continue pursuing her passion for working with special needs, and she has joined the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association, and she plans to get her nursing certificate in developmental disabilities nursing, while also getting a doctorate in the future and pursuing research in this area.

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Benefits of My Internship

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By Felicia Riggs

This summer I decided to take an internship as an exotic animal caregiver (which is a fancy way to say zookeeper and animal trainer) at a small private exotic facility in Louisiana. I jumped into this internship head first without a second thought and took this opportunity mainly as a resume booster, but I ended up learning more than I expected in my short time there. Here are some unexpected benefits that I have personally received through my internship.

1. Finding Myself Outside My Comfort Zone:

If you are anything like me, you have no real idea of who you are outside of your hometown/high school. I came to this small town in Louisiana just hoping that everything was going to work out and that I wouldn’t hate my summer. I was terrified that I was going to be here for a few weeks and not be able to handle the distance from everybody that I knew and loved. Going away to college wasn’t hard because I couldn’t wait to get out of my hometown, but taking a summer away from the place I now called home was something that I didn’t know I could handle. Being isolated from all my friends and family was hard for the first few weeks, but being away from them has really showed me that I can go live my life and be a “real adult” away from my comfort zone. I can adapt to places just like anyone else, and I find that it is easier to adapt once you realize that your comfort zone is what limits your exposure to the world.

2. Figuring Out The Right Job For Me:

You will know quite quickly if that specific job is something that you want to do for the rest of your life. If you hate the thought of continuing the work that you are doing, or taking on an internship related to that work, then you need to find a new career path. If I didn’t love my kangaroo joeys, and all the other one hundred-plus animals out here in Louisiana, then there is no way that I would last at this place. I work long days out in the sun and the Louisiana heat, but being able to snuggle with my lynx kitten at the end of the day makes everything worth it. So, if you take an internship and can list more cons than pros, RUN. Your internship should not be a chore to you, and you should not hate every minute of it. I would be lying if I said that there haven’t been a few days that have been extremely difficult for me, but I can honestly say that I have experienced way more good days than bad days during this internship opportunity.

3. Getting Thrown Into The Real World:

Taking an internship away from home is, in my opinion, the fastest way to have to grow up. I went from having meals prepared for me and having no job (other than school) to buying and preparing all my own food, working fifty-plus hours a week, and still having school work to do. Now, some of you may have more “adulting” experience than me and think that I’m entitled or taking too long to adjust to adult life, but this move was a big change for me. For example, this past week I have been sick on top of every responsibility, so I’ve really had a crash course on “How to be an Adult.” But, oddly, I like this feeling, meaning I like knowing that I am living entirely on my own because it’s freeing. For those of you thinking about taking an internship, don’t let fear scare you away. Run toward your fear, and it will pay off for you, big time.

4. Establishing Business Connections:

Okay, now this is one of the more obvious benefits of taking an internship, but I never guessed how much this one opportunity would help me. Even though you may think your bosses don’t notice you putting extra hours, working way harder than other people, or picking up on the smaller things that make the day run smoother, They do. You may think that your employers just hang out in their office all day and take care of the business stuff, but they ask about you. Bosses want to know if you are a potential employee after graduation, and they want to know if they really need to write a personal letter of recommendation for you or just use a vague template with your name on it. So, you should do all the extra things. Even when you have already worked thirteen hours that day and are at your wits end keep going. Bosses especially notice who is working hard at the end of a long, crazy week. My boss has offered me a job after I graduate and has also offered to connect me with one of his colleagues for a part time job while I am working on my degree. I cannot stress how much employers notice when you think they aren’t looking.

5. Making Friendship Connections:

Making friends during your internship or work opportunity may not happen everywhere. I am lucky enough to have wonderful people working with me, so I get along quite well with all of them. I have even met one person in particular who I know is a true friend and that know I will keep in touch with for the years to come. Having friends around while you are doing an internship is going to be a big part of your happiness. We all get mad and frustrated at work, and we need somebody that we can trust to go to when we are having problems. My friend here happens to be one of my coworkers (By the way, be careful if you befriend a coworker. You just don’t want anything negative you say to get back to the boss.) Another reason having a friend at your internship is a positive influence is that the two of you can go explore. If you are in a totally new location, don’t just lay around on your days off. You might want to go out, explore, and get a feel for the local culture. Being in Louisiana and far away from home, I sometimes feel like I’m in a totally different country, but I know that I always have a partner in crime to go find an adventure with.

The best advice I can give any of you wanting to jump into an internship is to just do it because it’s going to teach you so much about yourself and your life plans. Plus, internships are just a lot of fun. I love my internship, and it was honestly the best way I could have possibly spent my summer. Also, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get very many offers when applying for positions. I applied to 23 different facilities all over the world and this was the only internship I got offered. It’s competitive out there, but if you can snag one, take it! And once you have taken that opportunity try to learn what I learned; find yourself, your interests, and your connections to the world outside your comfort zone.

I Am Not That Smart

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By Meg Hossler

How many times has someone asked you if you’re in the Honors Program? Take a moment and really think about it. Do you have a number? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been asked this question over a hundred times. Most of us have been asked questions like these since we were little. We grew up smart, and we were taught to take pride in our intelligence. I remember being the only person who could read in my preschool class, and my mom would brag to everyone that her child was so smart. I remember feeling happy that I could read better than everyone else. I also remember that, in elementary school, I would finish my work before everyone else. I would always get in trouble for talking, so my mom would send in extra worksheets for me to finish to distract me. I remember feeling proud of myself for excelling. When we were little kids, our fellow classmates didn’t seem to care that we were smarter. We were still invited to their birthday parties, and they still picked us for their kickball teams at recess. Now I’m grown up, and I wish people wouldn’t think I’m so smart. I used to take pride in my intelligence, and now I find it bringing me more misery than happiness. If you’re an Honors student, you might see where I’m coming from, if not, let me explain.

In the three years I have spent at UWF, I think the only thing my fellow classmates have actually learned about me is that I’m in the Honors Program. At first, I enjoyed people knowing that I was in Honors, but that feeling eventually faded. I learned quickly that being smart in college was not the same as being smart in grade school. Once people find  out I’m in Honors, they always have a snarky comment, like, “Wow, everything must be so easy for you since you’re so smart.” At first, I didn’t let this bother me, but, after three years of your classmates making assumptions about who you are based on one fact, it gets old. Instead of these people learning more about me, they assume that, since I’m in the Honors Program, I think of myself as better than them, and that I don’t have time for fun due to studying. All of my classmates have put me on a pedestal that I didn’t even ask them to put me on. Once other students learn that I’m in Honors, they don’t want to invite me to their birthday parties like the kids I grew up with.

Instead, my classmates treat me like I’m only a brain. They forget that I have a soul, a life, and a heart. My classmates proceed to make statements that just a brain would like to hear. Here is a list of my favorite ones- maybe you’ve heard some of them:

  • “When did you start preparing for college? When you were 3 years old?”
  • “What are you going to do over the summer? Oh, I know you’re going to do school work all summer.”
  • “I bet you make 100 on every test.”
  • And, my ultimate favorite, but I should provide some background before I state the quote. Some fellow students had asked me how I studied, so I proceeded to tell them that I start studying one week before the test. When I get to the end of the week, I realize that I remember more than I thought I knew. I thought this was a good response, and it would help them study, but I was wrong. To this they responded, “Wow, it must be so nice that everything is so easy for you.”

Now, to answer some of these questions, so people can learn that I am not just a brain. My life consists of more than just studying, and everything is not easy for me. To begin with, I didn’t even want to go to a four-year school. I wanted a way to get a degree quickly and get into the field of nursing as fast as possible. My mom’s best friend, who is a nurse, told me I had  to go to a four-year school to become a nurse. I didn’t do any other research, because I believed her. Only after starting nursing school this year did I find out that I  could have gone to a two-year school to become a registered nurse. Going to college and joining an Honors program were  not my biggest concerns after graduating high school, and I would have skipped all of it if I knew then what I know now. I am literally only in college right now because I was lied to. Second, everything is not, “so easy for me.” Being smart has never been something easy for me. Being good at anything has never been something easy for me. I have always worked harder than everyone I know to be smart and excel in what I do, and it’s quite frustrating. In both academics and sports, I have put in more effort than most to get where I am. My little sister is one of those people with natural talent. Growing up, I always worked hard for everything, and when my sister started following in my footsteps, I thought things would be difficult for her too. Instead, she was a natural softball player without even practicing while I spent countless extra hours on the field trying to master the sport. She could study the night before the test and ace it while I had to study a week in advance just to make a B. So in response to everyone who thinks everything is easy for me, it’s not. Everything is tremendously difficult for me, but I work hard to do well. I don’t only study. I actually enjoy doing other human things, like any other human. What I find most distressing about being an Honors student is that a majority of my classmates learn about my brain, and they never learn about my heart and soul. I’m almost 100% positive that if you asked any of my classmates the things I do besides school, they wouldn’t be able to tell you. My classmates haven’t taken the time to get to know me.

But if they did, they would learn that I am a concert junkie. In high school, I used to go to 3-6 concerts a month.  I would probably still attend concerts  now, but Pensacola doesn’t support that kind of lifestyle. They would learn that I suffer from a mental illness, that every day is a struggle, and that  I’ve learned to not let the sadness win. They would learn that I am a wander luster, and I take advantage of any chance to travel. They would learn that I have a jean jacket full of patches from all of places I’ve been. They would learn that I’m a big sister, and that being a big sister holds so much more importance to me than being smart does. They would learn that I am loud, weird, and outgoing, rather than the quiet, shy, person I portray in the classroom. They would learn that I have a tattoo, and that I plan on getting at least 3 more. Finally, they would see that I’m not just a brain, but that I’m a free-spirited person who does more than just stick her head in books. They would see that I have feelings. They would invite me to their birthday parties if they only knew how cool I am.