July 17, 2020
Kamryn Romano is a senior in the Honors College studying journalism in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and global and international studies in the College of Social Science. She is a media and marketing intern at University Communications.
My best friend has been interning at the Friendship Circle this summer, an organization whose mission is to create friendship, belonging and inclusion to individuals with special needs and those facing isolation. When they were short-staffed after being approved for overnight camp, my friend called me about the opportunity to work as a camp counselor for the Friendship Circle.
Without hesitation, I excitedly spoke with her boss and secured my position as a counselor.
One week later, my friend and I packed our bags and headed to Pinckney where she would finally meet the kids she has been interacting with over Zoom, and where I would meet kids that didn’t know they were about to change my life.
Our cabin consisted of four teenage boys with neuro-diversities and a LOT of personality.
At first, I was overwhelmed and didn’t know if I would be good at calming them down when they felt overstimulated, or if I would learn how to adapt to their needs before the week was over in order to establish positive relationships with them.
These kids were going from only seeing their families for the past four months to being surrounded by friends and stimulated by activities like swimming, kayaking and crafts. However, to my surprise, by the end of the first day, it was evident they were excited to be at overnight camp.
I could see that these kids were craving interaction, friendships and fun, and I knew that it was my mission to make sure they went home with smiles on their faces and memories with their Friendship Circle buddies.
I used to major in special education, and I plan to pursue a career with Teach for America as a special education teacher post-graduation. I knew I wanted to pursue a path that would bring me full circle to education policy, so I changed my major to international reporting and international development to learn about global and domestic issues that should be addressed in the American education system.
I knew I’d learn tons about neurodiversity and adapting to each child’s wants and needs at camp, but I didn’t expect to learn about something I’ve studied in my current international development major — religion.
One of my campers taught me all about Orthodox Judaism. He even let me help him perform his morning ritual: netilat yadayim, which I was introduced to on my trip to Israel last December.
I could see how excited he was that I took interest in learning about his home life, which led to his allowing me to dance next to him in the end-of-camp talent show.
Looking back, the week of building friendships, learning about neurodiversity, religion and culture reminded me that my passion for inclusion can shine through in my future classroom. I DO have the ability to serve students with special needs and I DO have the tools I need to create a culturally inclusive space as well.
The Friendship Circle Camp was an unexpected surprise. Sometimes the best experiences in life are the ones you don’t anticipate. A week of being a counselor to amazing children was exactly what I needed to reaffirm what I’m meant to do after college.