Monday, May 13, 2013

Veterans Camp for Families - Part 3 - May 5, 2013

Alrighty, should have had this up last weekend. I apologize, things got a little hectic...

For the third and final day of the Veteran's Camp, we gathered together after breakfast and headed into town for a boat tour on the Wisconsin Dells River. I must admit, it was kind of amusing to have two trailors each with a couple dozen people hooked up to tractors and driving through the town. Granted, it wasn't that far, maybe a mile, but it was enough. By the time we arrived at the parking lot, we had started a little parade. Behind the second tractor was a string of oh, probably 8 or 9 cars that were forced to slow down - presumably on their way to church - and wait for us to reach our destination.

We did get to disembark at Stand Rock and see a German Shepherd jump the gap at Stand Rock, as well as do some exploring at Witch's Gulch. I must admit, I think it is much more impressive that a human being made the five foot jump at Stand Rock. Not that seeing the dog jump wasn't impressive - because it was - but I think dogs have a little advantage in that department. (;

The Dells boat trip marked the end of the weekend for the veterans. After the tour we went back to camp, had some lunch and a gathered in a circle and just shared a couple thoughts from the weekend. I loved the fact that being with the older kids enabled me to share in the experiences with them. It was more like a vacation than work, to be honest.

Afterwards the veterans and their families began packing up and heading out, while the staff and volunteers - myself included - began cleaning the cabins. After helping strip the bedsheets from some of the cabins, I headed up to the larger cabin because I was told that usually took a long time to clean and the more people cleaning, the better.

I was joined by a couple other females there, and I must admit, I probably wiped down 40-50 mattresses to make sure they would be clean for the next campers. Of course that was when I was told that staff had already cleaned in there and all the work we had been doing for the past hour was pointless. I maintain that it was just that more clean for the next group of campers. Plus I managed to wipe up some stuff off a couple mattresses that I guess the previous person missed. We'll just say I'm very thorough. (:

I have to admit, I really enjoyed my time volunteering with Easter Seals Wisconsin, and if they will have me back, I would like to return in September for the next Veteran's Camp for Families. Who knows? Maybe next time I'll ask to work with the younger children. Variety is the spice of life...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Family Day for Veterans - Part 2 - May 4, 2013

On Saturday the real work began, and by work, I mean a full day of awesome.
After an early breakfast, we broke into two groups: one group boarded a shuttle bus and headed to a nearby pond to do some fishing. The other group took a tractor-drawn wagon ride to the ropes course. Since my partner, Keri, was heading to the ropes course with some of the older children, I decided to go fishing with the others. Most of the parents chose to have their kids with them, so there really was not much for me to do...except join in the fishing.
Granted, I am pretty sure that I was as old as some of the younger children - the ones using the red and blue Spiderman poles - the last time I went fishing. And today I remembered why: I hate touching worms. Luckily, one of the veterans was nice enough to put a worm on my line, and after I caught my second fish, taught me how to de-hook the fish so I could throw him back in the pond. I was able to try my hand at that solo, when a young boy, Connor, caught his FIFTH fish! I told his dad he could catch our supper, lol. I unhooked his fish - poor little guy was snagged right through the left side of its lip - and hand Connor the fish so he could throw it back.

Young Connor catches his fifth fish of the day. I still say we should have let the children catch us dinner...

After lunch we had craft time - the veterans and older children transformed regular black and white composition books into journals, using glue, glitter, colored paper, tape, magazine photos, stickers, whatever struck their fancy.
The activities continued into the afternoon when the younger children (ages 11 and younger) headed to the gym for an obstacle course, while the older children were with me and a counselor, Annabelle, doing more journaling.

Two camp girls show off the journals they created.

Around 4 p.m., we were divided into two groups again: this time I was headed to the ropes course. Man, did it take me back to high school summer phy ed. There were three different climbing walls, each a different difficulty. Once you climbed to the top of the tower using one of the three walls, you then hooked into a zipline and weeeee! Away you went!
There was also a high-ropes course, approximately 50 feet above the ground. Only unlike my high school’s high ropes course, which had Jacob’s ladder and a post you climbed before jumping off to grab a trapeze, this course was connected. You walked onto a bridge and were hooked into the first station, where you grabbed a rope and walked across a wooden bridge. At the end you hooked into the second station and began crossing on rubber tires. The third section is when it started to get tricky. Unlike the two bridges, which had ropes you could grab onto for balance, the third station had no ropes. You could grab onto the rope connecting you to the zipline, but otherwise you had to cross the wooden log unaided. 

Camp staff Ben helps hook a young boy in for the climbing wall at Easter Seals WI's Family Camp for Veterans.

I thought that was tough enough...until I got to the fourth section. Although ropes were spaced out overhead, the real trick was reaching the five feet to the first rope, while walking a tightrope. I tried walking the tightrope straight on, but slipped and fell. I managed to catch myself before I zipped over to the other side, and from then on sidestepped across the tightrope. Once I reached the end of that section, it was time for the fifth and final part, which was also the easiest. It was basically a cargo net rope tunnel. The rope netted up high on either side, so you felt like you were cradled within the ropes, and it was just a matter of walking to the end.
Again, since I was technically with the children ages 13-17, there was very little babysitting or watching on my end, and it was more participating with everyone else, and visiting with the veterans and their families.

One of the youth at the Family Camp for Veterans scales one of the climbing walls. Once at the top, campers were able to hop a quick ride to the ground via a zipline.

Our night concluded with a kickball game with the children. About halfway through this 3-year-old, Jeremiah, joined in, and I just about died he was so cute. He came up behind me, with his hands out in front of him like claws, and chased me: Shark Attack! Nothing throws a wrench in a kickball game than a shark attack!
Afterwards we all gathered around a campfire for s’mores and campfire songs. Some of those were just so hilarious I could not stop laughing. Others I remember singing as a child, and now laughed because listening to the words, I can’t believe they are children’s songs. Henry the Worm, constantly increasing in size because he ate his sister, then brother, then mother, then dad, then shrunk when he burped them all up. I’m sitting there going, oh no! Matricide! I’m not feeling too good about his dad....
I finished up the night by talking with one of the veterans, Pat Jahnke. He and I were joking all day. He saw me come out in my camouflage pants and green shirt and was joking that we should play paintball in the woods later. Except he and one of his buddies would grab the paintball guns and I’d be hiding in the woods. I told them I’d be up for it, but they better be ready, because I would not make it easy on them. They would have to find me...

Weee! Parents and children alike enjoyed the climbing wall and zipline at the Easter Seals WI Family Camp for Veterans in Wisconsin Dells this past weekend.

However, the other volunteers and staff were not too keen on the idea, so I told him I’d work on it for the next Family Day for Veterans in the fall, lol.
Today is the last day of camp, and thankfully it will not be as long, or as strenuous. We will actually be taking a 2-hour boat ride in Wisconsin Dells, and after lunch it will be time to pack up and say goodbye. I must admit, I signed up thinking I would be working with the kids, and I have, but this weekend has been more fun than I expected. Getting to interact and do the activities with the families makes me feel more like a camper than volunteer, plus they provided food and board for the three days/two nights.
Unfortunately I cannot help out with the summer camps they have going on - those are run during the week instead of on the weekends, but I will make sure to keep an eye out for any future camp weekends Easter Seals Wisconsin offers. And I hope to be back in September to help with the next veteran’s camp. 

Me in front of the high ropes course.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Day at Camp

I’ve said before that it is hard to plan too far in advance when it comes to my personal life, mainly because my plans change so suddenly and sometimes with little warning. That happened again this week, but in a great way.
About a week ago, my friend Katka Showers-Curtis sent me a message on Facebook. She had noticed I walk for Wounded Warrior Project using the Charity Miles app, and was wondering if I wanted to volunteer with Easter Seals WI for its upcoming camp for veterans and their families. My answer? Where do I sign up?
Unfortunately my life is a little busy, and I did not get a chance to submit an application until Thursday, May 2....and the camp is scheduled for Friday, May 3 - Sunday, May 5. Luckily they were able to get my application scheduled, run a background check and one of my references submitted a form online the same day. In the end they were able to squeeze me in as a volunteer.
I was talking with Patti from Easter Seals WI on Thursday, May 2 at 3 p.m. when I realize that the in Wisconsin Dells. I had originally thought it was in Madison and would be able to show up to help on Friday and Sunday, and help with Hammer with a Heart on Saturday. But when I realized the camp was in Wisconsin Dells, I would be needed all three days and would be housed on-site for the duration of the weekend...I had to scramble.
I called one of my Sun Prairie mothers to see if she would know of anyone who could take care of Artemis, and as it turns out, she was free. That was my big worry. A cat can pretty much take care of itself, but dogs need more TLC and exercise, not to mention nature calls.
With that huge burden lifted off my chest, I could focus on getting everything packed and ready - I had to be there in 24 hours.
Somehow - between the interviews and the martial arts and work - I managed to get everything done and packed in time to hit the road at 2:20 on Friday. I pulled into Camp Wawbeek about an hour later, and the first of the families began arriving around 5:30 p.m.

I was joined by five other girls - most of them from the University of Wisconsin - LaCrosse - who also signed up to volunteer. I have to admit, it feels a little weird being big sister - I am the only volunteer with a full-time job and who is not currently attending college. But half the time I feel older than my 26 years, so it isn’t exactly a new thing.
Anyway, we will actually be working with the children of the attending veterans. A couple of the other volunteers were really excited to want to work with the 8 months-6 year old kids, so I let them have that group. Another two wanted to work with the next age group, 7-12 year olds. A small part of me wanted to work with the younger children group, but honestly, I am pretty flexible. And truth be told, thanks to all the interviews I do with students at Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School and Sun Prairie High School on the job, I actually have a pretty easy time connecting with the teen crowd. It comes pretty easy and I can laugh and joke with them, it is much easier to find that common ground.
During dinner on Friday we were able to meet with some of the attending families and strike up a conversation. Afterwards we all headed to the gymnasium, where we all gathered around in a circle. One person would then go in the middle and say “I like my neighbor who likes....” and however the person finished the sentence, anyone who also liked whatever it was would move to another spot in the circle. Between ice cream, animals, sunshine, running, swimming, dancing and a slew of others, I was constantly running to another spot. 

Karaoke with Tony the Tiger and Superman do a stirring rendition of Livin' the Liva Loca while Spiderman watches.

Our first day finished with some karaoke (yours truly polished off the pipes and did a fairly decent job singing “Beauty and the Beast”). I must admit, I did love it when people would dress up for their vocal debut - a tiger teamed up with Superman to sing Ricky Martin’s “La Vida Loca.”
I am not quite sure what Saturday will bring since I will be with the older children. A part of me is kind of hoping they will want to try the high ropes course the camp offers - because then I would probably get a chance to do that too. The forecast right now is calling for rain though, and my guess is if that happens, our plans will change.
Whatever the day brings, I am just glad to be able to give back to some of Wisconsin’s veterans. They have sacrificed so much for us, it feels good to be able to give something back.
Until tomorrow....