Helping Kids in Need is What She Does
West Chester University, PA, Class of 2017
This summer has been extraordinary! I worked at a camp on West Chester University's campus for rising high school seniors who will be applying to college. It was the most powerful week of camp I have ever experienced because of the incredible teenagers that I met. I have never encountered so many kids with so much strength, a strength they have had to acquire because of how tough their lives are.
The day I left, I went to work at another camp, Dragonfly Forest, where I have been working at for six summers now. This is a camp for kids and teenagers who have Autism; 22q Chromosome Deletion which is a deletion syndrome that results in many physical and biological challenges; Sickle Cell Anemia; Hemophilia and Persistent Asthma. I was a Unit Leader for the second summer in a row which means that I am responsible for four staff and our unit (around 10 kids). My kids at Dragonfly mean the absolute world to me. So many of them spend a large majority of their year in the hospital and the fact that I, along with my coworkers, can give them a week of being a carefree kid, is something that I will never stop being a supporter of. I have been able to watch many of them throughout the years and it's so powerful knowing that one day they will be grown up and have these memories of a camp that let them be a crazy, weird, smart, funny, intelligent, carefree kid.
Dragonfly is the most welcoming place I have ever been to and it creates a kind of bubble around the kids that lets them know that they are safe and that they can truly be themselves. For that reason, I will never stop going back to camp.
Next week, I am traveling to Michigan to work at another camp for kids who have Autism but have much higher needs than those at Dragonfly. This camp is an overnight camp called Camp Tall Tree and it is also an extremely magical place where staff is trained (just like at Dragonfly) and taught to make camp an enjoyable experience for kids who struggle everyday.
At the end of August, I am starting my junior year at West Chester University. I'm studying Psychology and plan to graduate and then travel around the country working at various year-around camps. Psychology has always been an interest of mine and I thoroughly enjoy my classes. My favorite so far has been Adult Development due to how I can apply what I learned into my everyday life and how I interact with people I see everyday.
On top of classes, I am working part-time for Dragonfly. It is a year-round position that focuses on the fundraising and networking for Dragonfly because it is a nonprofit. Since I plan on opening up camps of my own in the future, I am extremely grateful for my job because I am able to learn the ropes.
Goals of a First Generation College Student
For the past four summers, Maria has worked with disabled youth and found her love for helping people. She is enjoying her studies at West Chester and even volunteering to work in several college-sponsored afterschool programs with autistic youth and a group of severely disabled children.
Maria hopes to be the first in her family to complete college and is confident her time from home is making her a better student.
"My grades are better than they have ever been. I have always been an independent person and I really like being able to make decisions about when I get to study, eat and sleep. "
As finals are approaching, we can only guess she may be spending most of her time in that order.
Keep up the good work, Maria!