Jennifer Birge has performed volunteer service from an early age. She had worked with the Special Olympics and other venues that benefited developmentally and medically challenged children. During the past summer, she volunteered over 400 hours to work at a special camp for physically and mentally handicapped and medically ill children. This experience crystallized her commitment to working with the disabled and challenged.
Jennifer was selected to serve as a Counselor-In-Training (CIT) at Alabama’s Special Camp for Children and Adults (ASCCA). Participants at this camp presented with a variety of challenging disabilities or medical diseases. Their situations required constant supervision and sometimes intervention. Some of the campers had epilepsy, mental retardation, sickle cell disease, asthma, diabetes, sensory impairment, and a variety of other disorders. The CIT’s performed a variety of tasks for the campers. They were responsible for the personal care of the campers along with general housekeeping and assisting with camp activities. Jennifer has bathed and fed many debilitated campers and helped to take care of the living space. She also had many opportunities to make it possible for the handicapped campers to actually participate in camp activities like horseback riding, swimming, hiking and group games.
Camp ASCCA is a non-profit organization that provides services to people who would otherwise be unable to attend a camp. Many received scholarships from other agencies that made their camp experience possible. Volunteers like Jennifer make Camp ASCCA possible because they could not provide the service it does without them. Jennifer worked 100 hours per week at a CIT. Each day, she only had one to two hours apart from her campers. The position of CIT is physically demanding and emotionally draining. Though being a CIT was a challenge, Jennifer is awaiting next summer when she can repeat the entire experience.
Jennifer had a seizure disorder as a child and has been challenged with a math-related learning disability. Most people agree that a child who is looked at by others as different has to face many obstacles growing up. Jennifer was a camper at Camp ASCCA as a child. For the first time, she learned that she was able to do normal things and gain the same confidence that her peers possessed. Her experience as a camper contributed significantly to her development as an adolescent and her willingness to volunteer.
The achievements Jennifer made are real and lifelong. As she provided opportunities to other campers to gain confidence and new skills, Jennifer also gained the same. As she helped campers face new experiences and fears, Jennifer did also. She also learned about giving time and of herself while facing criticism from her peers for doing so. Her friends thought it was odd that she would give up four weeks of her summer vacation to work at this camp. Despite their initial misgivings, each weekend Jennifer was home; she shared her experiences, and her friends came to understand the challenges of handicapped children and Jennifer and the other CIT’s accomplishments. Jennifer has also volunteered at her school, Decatur High working with developmental students. Her compassion and unselfishness means a lot to those she serves. In addition to that, the youth are excited to see at least one other teenager who accepts them unconditionally and knows their joys and fears.