Jenai Bilimoria, recent graduate of Lehigh University and former Women’s Tennis varsity captain has spent two summers as a camp counselor working with children with aspergers and on the autism spectrum. Having loved children since a young age, Jenai’s strength, compassion and commitment to making everyone’s days brighter is truly amazing!
Jenai shares with Zoetic her experience and learnings at Camp Akeela this past summer.
Ready to undertake my first ever zipline adventure, I must admit, I was nervous. However, when I looked down to find my campers – eight wonderful young boys I had spent the last three weeks at Camp Akeela in Vermont with – suddenly, everything seemed just right. As they cheered me on, I felt this great feeling of warmth and sudden buzz of confidence. And so, getting over my fear of heights, I did it! As they helped me down the ladder, congratulating me and still cheering me on, I knew that that was a moment I will never forget.
This summer I had the great opportunity to spend two months in a camp in the beautiful state of Vermont. The camp was set by a gorgeous lake and had facilities for almost every activity one can think of from woodshop to archery. But the most amazing part of the camp were the campers. These were campers from all over the country and world. They were bright, creative and quirky. A lot of them had trouble connecting to their peers in the outside world, and were unable to truly be themselves- that is why camp was a perfect place for them to spend a part of their summer. For most of these campers, this camp and this part of their summer was the best time of their year. It was a place that they could express themselves without the fear of being judged; it was a place where they could meet others just like themselves and make friends; and it was a place where they felt like a part of a community that was filled with love, laughter and happiness. These campers never failed to amaze me with their talent whether it be in ceramics or in swimming. They made every single minute of the day eventful from wake-up to bedtime. Even after a long week of camp, sitting around the campfire and singing songs with these amazing kids made everything worthwhile.
As a counselor there was no greater feeling than to watch one of your own kids grow and blossom each and every day of camp. On day 1 they might have been shyly sitting on the bench during an evening meeting, and three weeks later they were jumping around the same bench dancing to ‘What did the fox say’ with their new friends. There was never a moment that passed by that these kids did not make us smile with their funny comments or with their amazing accomplishments. They were the most fun, energetic, caring and loving group of kids that I have ever come across.
After spending almost every minute of everyday with them, it was hard to say goodbye to my campers who had become like my family. It was hard to let them go knowing that some of their personalities were not appreciated in the outside world. However, in the end watching them walk out of camp with a smile on their face and talking about the next summer like it was so close by was a great way to see them end their summer. Before we left camp, we were warned that it might be difficult to adjust to the real world outside of camp. Even a week after leaving camp, I still wake up every morning thinking that it is time to go wake up my kids and get them ready for that days adventure. I still have to adjust to the fact that Sunday is not ‘hike day’ and I will not be able to see my the joy on my campers face when he has reached the top of the mountain, or that I will not be eating pizza for lunch on Wednesdays or Challah bread on Friday for dinner.
Camp was a community filled with supportive, thoughtful and compassionate people, all living together to create the most incredible life-changing summer experience on this planet. Several summers have gone by but this has been the most memorable one in my life. I hope to spend several more summers with these incredible campers and I encourage others to do the same!