Written by Ukiah Barnes
On the weekend of September 20th, Durham Tech’s Center for College and Community Service led an Alternative Service Break (ASB) trip to the Autism Society of North Carolina’s Camp Royall. The Autism Society of North Carolina is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “improve the lives of individuals with autism, support their families, and educate communities.” Early that morning 15 Durham Tech students, selected from over 40 applicants, arrived at Camp Royall in Moncure, North Carolina. After getting settled into their cabin they began their training session with Camp Royall Director, Sara Gage.
The team spent the first day in training learning about the Autism Spectrum. They explored how to meet the campers’ needs and how to be great counselors. During the training, they discussed common misconceptions about autism and different techniques that could be used to navigate various situations should they occur. When all was said and done the students were able to unanimously agree that the most important takeaway from their training was that the autism spectrum is broad and that no person with autism is the same.
“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”
It became apparent just how true this statement was when the campers arrived at 5:30 p.m. that afternoon. The campers, age 7 to 38, were ecstatic to be there. Each counselor was assigned a camper and that was their buddy for the weekend. Upon their arrival, the Durham Tech counselors met with their assigned campers and the camper’s parents. By meeting the parents, the counselors were able to discuss necessary accommodations and learn more about their individual camper’s personality so they could ensure that their camper had the best experience. After the meet and greet, the weekend camp session kicked off with a big pool party and the adventure began!
Throughout the weekend, the Durham Tech students now trained as Mini-Camp Counselors spent the entire weekend under the leadership of Camp Royall staff facilitating activities like campfire songs, boating, hayrides, pool parties, and even a huge talent show at the end of the weekend. Each night was closed out with a reflection discussion led by the team leaders Ukiah Barnes and Shelbie Chervinko.
The most meaningful part of the experience for me was seeing the connections that were made between all of the counselors and campers. I feel that all of us learned something about ourselves and people on the spectrum that we did not know before.Shelbie Chervinko
This trip aligned with many of the participants’ career goals whereas others had a more personal connection to the trip subject. While the participants’ majors varied from occupational therapy to computer science, nursing to web development, they all possessed a passion to understand autism to better serve as allies to persons on the spectrum. Each team member felt welcomed by their teammates and the camp. In turn, they did their best to create a welcoming environment for the campers that weekend.
I met a stranger at the beginning of the weekend but ended up with a friend.Jose Perla
Jose’s experience embodied the goal for the “Forging Friendships at Camp Royall, Fall Alternative Service Break Trip.” Ukiah, Shelbie, and the Center for College and Community Service could not be more proud and cannot wait to host another Alternative Service Break trip at Camp Royall!