Think Volunteering Can’t Change Your Life? How about a Teenager’s Life? Think Again! - 07/21/15
Have you ever considered volunteering with The Autism Project (TAP)? Our annual summer camp, Camp WANNAGOAGAIN!, attracts dedicated volunteers each year – but what is the volunteer experience really like? And what does it mean to those who volunteer?
We recently had the opportunity to chat with three of our Camp WANNAGOAGAIN! volunteers - Ryan Champlin (21), Barry James (18), and David Whittaker (21) - known affectionately to the TAP staff as “The Three Musketeers”! All were young teens when they became involved with TAP! Read on to learn about how they came to volunteer at TAP (in one case, a speeding ticket!), how their volunteer experiences have impacted their lives for the better, and why they think volunteering for TAP is an absolute must-do!
1. What brought you to volunteer with The Autism Project?
Ryan Champlin: I needed service hours for high school, and my friend (who just happens to be Joanne Quinn’s son, Dan!) suggested I work Camp WANNAGOAGAIN!. I fell in love with the Camp on day one, and I have been here ever since!
Barry James: My sophomore year in high school, I needed 25 hours of community service. It just so happened that my mom worked in the same building as The Autism Project, so she recommended I do the Camp. I loved it so much that first year, I just keep coming back!
David Whittaker: I needed to do community service for a speeding ticket, so Mrs. Quinn suggested I volunteer for The Autism Project. I had so much fun that I’ve been volunteering here ever since!
2. Describe Camp WANNAGOAGAIN! in 3-5 words.
Ryan: Crazy, improvisation, make it work, and beautiful.
Barry: Awesome! That’s just all I can say… it’s awesome.
David: Hot, hectic, emotional, fun, and hands-on.
3. What is your favorite Camp WANNAGOAGAIN! memory?
Ryan: My first week at Camp, the kid that I was working with was initially very closed-off, but by the end of the week, he was smiling and he had fun! And I like to think that I helped with that. That was the first time I thought “This is something I enjoy and I’m good at…” I’m sure as soon as I get in the car I’ll think of 20 other favorite memories!
Barry: Last year at camp, one of the girls I worked with was hyper and aggressive. Later in the week, I was speaking to another counselor about her, and we turned around and found her so relaxed she’d fallen asleep in a chair! It was really adorable, and cool to see her transformation.
David: At Camp, I was working with a high-functioning child, and he loved using the walkie-talkie. He kept saying random things into it and annoying another counselor with how much he was using it! Then we were docking the boats, and he dropped the walkie-talkie in the water! We all just started laughing. I could talk about Camp forever!
4. How has volunteering at Camp WANNAGOAGAIN! transformed your life?
Ryan: I always assumed theater would be my life, but I’ve now realized I can do other things. Theater will always be my Plan A, but my Plan B is now social work. Camp and The Autism Project have helped me to realize what I’m good at and that I have skills and talents that can make a difference in people’s lives.
Barry: I’m definitely more conscientious about what I say and how I treat others. I pay attention to how my words and my tone come off to the kids I work with, and how they feel about it. I just pay more attention to people and their feelings as a whole.
David: It has made me a better person and shown me how lucky I actually am. Volunteering has shaped my career – it’s really shown me what I want to do with my life.
5. How has your time with The Autism Project influenced your future endeavors?
Ryan: It’s created a new life path for me. You’re working 1-on-1 and creating relationships. This kind of work is so taboo and not a lot of people want to do it or can do it, so, if I can, it’s almost my obligation to help where I can. It’s led me to work more in the nonprofit sector and opened so many doors for me, especially when it felt like doors were closing.
Barry: I realized that I have better people skills than I thought I did! When I attend Iona College in the Fall, I am seriously considering pursing a degree in social work or occupational therapy.
David: I am going to New England Tech to become an O.T. (Occupational Therapist). What we do is so important and it feels so good afterwards. We are able to accomplish so much!
6. What is the best part about volunteering at The Autism Project?
Ryan: The coolest thing is you see huge progress. During the Play Group I worked (one of the Project’s social skills groups), I took a few weeks off, and when I came back, the girl I worked with had progressed leaps and bounds. I love to see the kids’ progress and happiness.
Barry: Through my time volunteering I’ve gotten to know everyone at The Autism Project and what they do. I’ve learned so much - it’s awesome to work with such a diverse and talented group of people!
David: How much we are able to accomplish, and the impact we have on these kids’ lives. It’s awesome to talk to the parents, too, and see the impact on their lives – how much of a difference we make.
7. Why should people support The Autism Project?
Ryan: The people here are the unsung heroes, they do the work that most people don’t want to do; they deserve all the credit. The kids we work with are still people and that’s what it comes down to. Supporting the programs and services The Autism Project provides is vitally important; The Autism Project is vitally important.
Barry: Everyone here does an amazing job. They put their heart and soul into this. It means so much to them and they feel a connection to everyone. It’s just a great environment!
David: We accomplish a lot more than people think. They deserve our help, an extra person to support them, anything to make their lives better.
8. Is there anything more people should know about The Autism Project? About Autism?
Ryan: That we care. We make dreams come true. We take care of everybody. The people with Autism are no less. They just experience the world differently, and they do not deserve any less than anybody else. The Autism Project embodies that.
Barry: We are willing to help anybody with any issue. We are helpful to everybody- a child with a specific need, a family who needs time, or a sibling who needs help. If you have someone in your family with Autism, it becomes part of your life. It doesn’t need to be a negative thing; it can be a positive! There are so many different things you can learn about yourself and your child that most people wouldn’t get from a “typical” life. People need to be more open-minded and more accepting of the positives that can come from difference.
David: All of us care. Failure is not an option here. If something doesn’t work, we will tweak it to help each kid. They deserve to have fun, and learn the social skills to be able to work with people. They’re people, too. They’re just like us.
A BIG thank you to Ryan, Barry, and David for sharing their experiences with us! We are so grateful to you all! And, it is worth noting that all three young men were so amazing at Camp that The Autism Project hired them to work with the Project’s social skills groups! Sue Baylis, our Parent Resource Specialist and herself a parent of two daughters with ASD, says, “Ryan, Barry, and David truly help my daughters to come out of their shells and feel comfortable and excited to participate in groups! They go above and beyond, and are caring young men!”