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Life-changing experience

Six students take on a challenge they will never forget

HKR student Kayla Hemmens with a camper at Camp Tidnish.

By Michelle Osmond

Six Memorial students have had a life-changing experience. Charlotte Allison, Jason Boutilier, Kayla Hemmens, Cassandra McLean, Rachel Peveril, and Timothy Williams are all students in Human Kinetics and Recreation. But that’s not all they have in common. This past summer, they chose a work term that was like no other and completely outside their comfort zone. All six spent their summer at Camp Tidnish, a camp for Nova Scotians with physical disabilities.

While there they planned activities for groups with different levels and types of disabilities. For example, for teenagers with mild cognitive delays they held the "Tidnish Olympics”; for adults with a primary physical disability they held protests complete with bra burning and chants, and they organized a prom for the young adults with primary physical disabilities.

Charlotte Allison chose this work term because she felt it was an opportunity that was too good to pass up, and, as it turns out, she was right.
“The campers at Camp Tidnish were beautiful. Each camper brought new personality and excitement, each with their own strengths and abilities,” she said. “After seeing some of the challenges that the campers have to face every day, I truly feel like I can do anything.”

Kayla Hemmens agrees. “It was by far the best summer of my life and I feel grateful for being able to go to such a wonderful place and meet such amazing people,” she said. “I met people who had rare chromosomal disorders, Angelman syndrome, muscular dystrophy, different levels of CP, MS, and varying levels of cognitive delay.

“I haven't been home to Ontario in a year, and I am going back a different person than what my friends and family knew and I couldn't be happier about it.”

During her time at camp, Ms. Hemmens says she also lost all inhibition. “I took up cross-dressing, participated in mustard fights, painted myself several colors, dressed up as countless characters and I would have it no other way.”

Ms. Hemmens said she was inspired by so many people. “One camper in particular had cerebral palsy and could only communicate by looking up for “yes” and was completely dependent yet he is the happiest person I have ever met. Several weeks after he left he added me on Facebook, and now we talk from time to time and it blows my mind. I even have the quote he wrote on the Camp Tidnish shirt he designed on the wall of my bedroom, ‘Impossible is not a fact ... it’s an option.’”

Ms. Hemmens doesn’t deny that it was challenging. “I definitely lost my mind several times throughout the summer especially during weeks where there were campers with severe cognitive delays and disabilities but it always finds its way back. I wouldn't take back this experience for anything.”

She’s still friends with many of the campers. In fact, she and Allison visited one camper and his family on their way back to Newfoundland.

In a post-work term discussion with fellow students, Ms. Hemmens knew that the Tidnish crew had the best time. “So many people have come up to me and told me that they too wish they went to camp… After the group discussion we had about our work terms, I walked home in Hurricane Igor with a smile on my face simply because I was able to do so.”

Rachael Peveril was nervous after signing up for the camp because she’d never spent much time with people with disabilities. But the nervousness soon disappeared and she spent the summer having fun. Although she said the staff were amazing, in the end, it was the campers who changed her life.

“These people are such an inspiration. They make me want to give back to others in a way I never felt before,” she said. “I am so happy that my life is full of opportunities and I am so glad that the people who face the most challenges were the ones who taught me what being really happy is all about.”

Recently, these six students were recipients of the Everest 2010 Mountain of Learning Award at the annual HKR academic awards ceremony. The award was established by HKR faculty member TA Loeffler, on the occasion of her second attempt on Mount Everest and in honour of her grandmother, Frida Loeffler and her lifelong love of learning.

According to Dr. Loeffler’s website, “This group of six co-operative education students embraced their personal Everests while making a huge difference in the lives of children with disabilities at an Easter Seals camp. My heart soared as they gathered at the front of the room and instantly formed a group hug–they supported each other through the hardest and best times on their mountains and the award brought them back together again.”

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