4 Lessons Summer Camp Taught Me About Stuttering
In the summer of 2013, I worked as a camp counselor at an all-boys summer camp. That alone was out of my comfort zone because I’m about as far from an outdoorsman as one can be. The outdoors was nothing compared to being a camp counselor to a dozen 7- to 9-year-olds, our youngest campers. When we began training, I stated that I wanted to work with the oldest group of campers, 12- and 13-year-olds, because I had previous experience working with high school age kids and I thought that experience would translate nicely.
However, at the recommendation of the child psychologist who trained us on how to handle certain issues that may arise during camp, I was placed with the youngest group, a position I hesitantly accepted. What I thought was a curse turned out to be a blessing because I grew to love that age group, after I got over my growing pains. One reason loved them is because of the lessons my campers taught me about life and stuttering. These lessons I still use four years after the fact.
1. I care about my stutter more than others do.
During the first hour of the first day of camp, one of campers went up to my co-counselor and asked, “Hey Brad*, does James stutter?” Brad’s response was, “Ask him.” The camper then proceeded to ask me and I said, “Yes.” The camper’s response was, “Cool, so does my sister,” and he moved on. That moment taught me that if he doesn’t care, why should I care that I stutter?
2. Own who you are.
Every week, the camp would receive a new batch of campers, and every week I was given a new group of campers. As a result, Brad and I had to go over the rules and regulations of the cabin and the camp, but more importantly, it required me to announce something I wanted to hide from the world: “I’m James and I stutter.” At that time, I was a few short months away from going back to speech therapy and I was still running from my stutter. I knew I had to tell my campers this fact about myself because I would be with them 24/7 for the next week, and if I did not, they would figure it out. When I said, “I’m James and I stutter,” during the first week of camp, it was the one of the first times I owned the fact that I stutter to a room full of strangers, kids no less. As the weeks progressed and turned into years, this statement became easier to say when I am with a new group of people.
3. Stuttering is a great teacher.
When I introduced myself to my campers every week, I followed up “I’m James and I stutter” with “Some people are tall and some people are short. We all have differences, but we all respect each other and treat one another with kindness.” I hope that my speech taught my young campers about embracing and owning their differences, embracing the differences of others, and that one treats everyone with kindness and respect, regardless of one’s appearance or voice.
4. The beginnings of acceptance.
The biggest lesson my time as a camp counselor taught me was acceptance. My experience at camp started me on my journey to accepting the fact that I stutter.
*Actual name of co-counselor used with his permission.
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