I’m currently writing from my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina after a long day of travel from the West Coast. Camp finished on Thursday and my co-director and I had the Friday to wrap up and clean up from a messy summer of fun. Now that I am back home and able to take a breath, I have time to reflect, digest and process all that has happened this summer.
The past eight weeks have been challenging in a lot of ways. Many of my days have been physically, mentally or emotionally difficult. Some days have been all three. It was hard to be responsible for the well being of up to twenty-five children, all with different needs and abilities. It was hard to be on my feet all day, often skipping lunch to deal with a crisis or serve lunch to others. It was hard to always be patient and forgiving. There was a lot of tedious paperwork and exact protocol. There were a few days that did not feel fun.
However, I found that each day I had at least one moment in which I experienced true, unadulterated joy. One day, it could be seeing a camper totally engaged in a science activity. Another day, it could be one camper choosing to include another in a game without being asked. Sometimes it was just a funny comment full of personality from one of the campers. These moments reminded me why I chose this internship in the first place; I wanted to be part of creating a secure, encouraging environment for these kids to make and find joy that is so inherent in childhood.
I learned quite a few lessons from my internship. My supervisor was incredible and supportive in planning and dealing with crises. My co-director was better than I could have imagined. She and I worked well together and complemented each other. The program director was always there from us, offering feedback and asking us for ours. (Read more about the curriculum our program director developed here) From these staff people, I came to understand more about creating strong workplace relationships, putting in the hard work that is necessary for social services, and using my talents and knowledge in conjunction with others’ to leverage our impact. I learned a lot from the administrative staff and case workers about homelessness services, the specifics of homelessness in the Bay area and the psychology of trauma.
Not surprisingly, though, the most poignant lesson I learned this summer, I learned from working with my campers. While it is easier to rely on authority and dole out discipline, it is always more effective to approach difficult interpersonal situations with empathy, compassion, and curiosity. For example, a child might be refusing to join in on a group activity. Instead of threatening to call her parents or our forcing her to stand and join the group, I could sit down on the grass with her and try to find out if anything was bothering her or if she’d like me to do the activity with her for extra security. It is harder to put in that extra effort, especially when it’s been a long day and more than one camper is having a difficult time, but it is almost always worth that effort. I believe I can use this lesson in other areas of my life, including my personal life and any other social services work I do in the future.
I am so grateful for my summer at LifeMoves and for everyone I met there. I’m sending lots of gratitude to my host family for the summer and everyone who showed me hospitality while I was in San Francisco. I hope all the other WoW Fellows have a great and meaningful end to their internships as well.
Mira McMahon ‘18