Hi! My name is Gabrielle Espinosa and this will be my fourth summer at Camp Lee Mar. After working at Camp Lee Mar my first summer, I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I am currently studying Special Education at California Lutheran University. All of the campers have made such a strong impact on my life! When you think of summer camp, you think of seven weeks of swimming, basketball, and tennis. But at Camp Lee Mar, both campers and counselors have an experience that is unlike any other.
During my past three summers at camp I have worked as a general counselor, a Resident Advisor (RA) to the youngest group of campers and an academic specialist. It is truly amazing to see the huge changes the campers are able to make in just seven weeks! Whether it is learning to get dressed independently, brushing teeth, or showering, daily living skills improve so much! I have had campers come at the beginning of the summer needing assistance in all of these areas and by Visiting Day their parents were astonished to see that they were doing these skills with little to no help.
Dining room skills are also worked on every day. During our family style meals the campers get many opportunities to practice serving their own food, proper use of utensils and cutting their own food. It is amazing to see how many skills that campers, as young as seven years old, can improve on over the course of the summer.
Being in new surroundings also allows the campers to be in situations where they need to self-advocate and be independent while also having a great support system in place, such as their counselors. Many of my campers gained the ability to self-advocate and try new skills in an (initially) unfamiliar environment during the summer. These are all essential life skills. In many of my campers I.E.P.s there would be life and living skills listed that needed to be worked on “in a variety of different settings.” Camp is the perfect environment for this.
Social Skills are nurtured constantly throughout the 7-week camp program. This could be directly during camp speech therapy sessions, social thinking therapy, or by us as counselors while the campers are traveling in their cabin groups. The campers were supported continuously with their social skills throughout the camp program, always learning new ways of communicating alongside their peers.
Not only do campers develop new strengths at Camp Lee Mar, their counselors do too! My first summer at camp was the longest amount of time I had ever been away from home. I was put in so many new situations and pushed out of my comfort zone, just like some of the campers. I learned and grew from these experiences both personally and professionally. My first summer at camp really helped me decide that Special Education was going to be my career path.
As counselors, we always support each other and remind each other that, “It’s all about the Campers”. By always putting the campers’ needs first, young adults, such as myself, learn what it means to care for others and develop a strong character and work ethic. At camp, you are expected to be at activities with your campers on time with all water bottles filled, sunscreen on, towels ready for swim. etc. This teaches us to be accountable and especially to model these skills for the campers. We work as a team with our co-counselors and RA’s to give the campers the best summer of their lives. You really develop your teamwork skills and communication skills while working with a group of people from all over the world with different strengths and backgrounds. I am so grateful for Camp Lee Mar for helping to shape me into who I am today!