Some young people decided to spend part of their summer giving back to the community! For two weeks, they joined the Wilmington Family YMCA for an opportunity to learn and grow as teens. The Service Learning Camp is a pilot program using curriculum from the University of Minnesota. This is the first time it has been implemented in a recreational environment instead of a school setting. The Bubel/Aiken Foundation awarded a $3,000 grant for the initial camp.
Dalia Nir, YMCA Physability and Inclusion Director, said,"The main camp objective is to provide an inclusive experience, while teaching the teens about community service with a team approach. The youth, therefore, had the opportunity to volunteer at the Coastal Therapeutic Riding stables during the camp session.
"This is a beautiful program because of the inclusion and multigenerational component." said Nir.
I went to CTRP on North Kerr to see the volunteers in action. As part of the camp, they spend time at the stables and part of the time at the Y. At the barn, they performed a multitude of tasks, including assisting riders, grooming the horses, and cleaning the stables. When at the YMCA, the volunteers participate in group bonding activities as well as diversity and sensitivity excercises. They also write reflections, explore other ways to volunteer, make group decisions, have experienced the YMCA inclusion programs, and enjoyed swimming , weight liftting and yoga!
Pam Herman, a young woman living with Asperger’s, likes meeting new people, She has met other student volunteers, the riders and the other workers at the stable. She has enjoyed getting to know the horses by cleaning the stalls, putting new shavings down and giving the horses fresh water. Pam assisted the special needs riders by walking alongside them as they rode. Pam stated, "I find it inspiring."
Chris Nicholas, a 17-year-old student, says this camp has been a great, positive experience. He likes seeing the clients’ happy faces even though they can’t communicate verbally. He said, "It has been a well-rounded experience."
Michaela Raegan, 13, thought her first day was the hardest but thought the best part was connecting with the clients. She said, "Cleaning horse manure isn’t the best thing, but it does build character."
Darrius Robinson, 15, felt intimidated at first because of being unfamiliar with the situation, but being around the horses brought back memories of his own riding experiences. Now he goes out to the stable on his own time and plans to continue working as a volunteer after the Service Learning Camp ends.
Eliza Belew 13, thinks it is cool to communicate with a smile. Many of the clients are nonverbal but will "get happy" if you smile at them. She said, "It doesn’t feel like a job because I am having fun."
Jonathan Bishop, 13, chose this camp because the YMCA is never boring. Every day they have different activities. It is fun! He would recommend this camp to other teens because they can be themselves and learn something at the same time. The most important thing he has learned is how to interact with those with a disability. He now knows the etiquette. "We are all just people."
Helping Dot Lee, the camp counselor, was Janie Knight, a senior volunteer from the Foster Grandparents Program at the Senior Center. She has loved working with the young volunteers. This was her first experience working with the disabled population and she has learned a lot. She said, "This is a good program because it makes you think of others. If you train them when they are young, they will continue to help others when older."
Prior to watching them at the stables, I met with these students at the YMCA to hear about their experiences and to share my story about riding as a young child. Since I am verbal, I could explain how very beneficial riding was for me and I feel that allowing these students to hear my tale helped them to understand what a wonderful activity they were participating in.
After watching these young people interact with the riders and horses, I can agree with Dot Lee,who said, "It has been a pleasure having this experience with these people." I sincerely hope that the YMCA continues this camp in the future! To conclude, I would like to express a big thank you to all the volunteers for allowing me to be a part of their adventure!"