Cody is one of the many people who have benefited from YAI's Mainstreaming at Camp Program, which offers inclusive, safe and caring summer camp opportunities to children with disabilities in partnership with Frost Valley YMCA. For Cody, summer camp was just as much about building confidence, social skills and self-awareness as it is about swimming, and hiking.
By Cody Spears
I'm writing to share some of the memorable experiences that I've shared as a member of the Frost Valley community as well as some of the challenges and tribulations that I had to overcome over the years. My camp experience has been meaningful by giving me the opportunity to make a lot of new friends along with making lots of new, fantastic memories that will last a lifetime. My experience has also been meaningful by allowing me to work there as a member of the Supportive Training Employment Program (STEP) as a way for me to give back to the community.
I've been attending Frost Valley since I was five years old, and I've been a part of STEP Village for three years - a total of seventeen years. I believe that I've grown from being a young, crazy, hyperactive boy into a more responsible and a more mature man. Some of the challenges that I faced growing up were being more understanding about some of the different disabilities that other members of the MAC program have. For example, some of them might have Down syndrome, might not be very good at sports or may not process directions as fast as others do. I've learned to accept people for who they are despite their differences. And, over time, I realized that they're actually really cool and fun to hang out with at camp.
Another challenge that I faced growing up was learning to listen to the counselors when I was a member of the MAC Boys Village in my early years at camp. I just wanted to do my own thing back then, without being told what to do. But as the summers passed by, I realized that the counselors just want to keep us safe and make sure that nothing really bad happens to us. For that, I'm really grateful.
I think that it's really important that YAI and Frost Valley provide opportunities like these because to me it's not just about having a great summer; it's about having a fantastic summer socializing with all your friends (fellow campers, staff members, co-workers, CIT's) while also preparing yourself for when you get a job in the future and having a lot of fun while working at the same time. Over the many, many years that I've been to Frost Valley, I've had a lot of memorable experiences. But one or two of those experiences are really at the top of my list.
This past summer, my fellow STEP members and I were making s'mores during a third session barbecue. I roasted three, perfectly golden marshmallows in succession and earned my nickname, The Master of The Golden Marshmallow. I remember this fondly because, for me, it felt like a really fitting nickname and I was also really proud of myself because it was the first time ever that I managed to get three marshmallows perfectly golden in my whole life. It takes a lot of patience, focus, determination and, last but not least, technique.
My second favorite memorable experience at camp was last summer when I went bowling with my friends on our day off. Out of everyone on my team (mostly comprised of older counselors), I scored a 264 - which was the highest score that I had ever gotten in bowling in my entire life. Everyone was shocked and surprised, asking me "how did I get so good?" It's such a happy moment for me because we were all having fun laughing and joking around, and I felt very proud of being recognized for my skills. Plus it was really a lot of fun.
Some of my goals are to be working full time at Frost Valley next summer, getting to see all my friends again and having a wonderful summer.
In conclusion, Frost Valley YMCA was a really awesome opportunity for me to make a lot of new friends, participate in really cool activities, hang out with really cool people, and have a really fantastic summer.