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My Why: For the Young, Scared Staff Member in All of Us

elizabeth support quote

The “Why” blogging series has me digging deep and pondering the question of “Why do I do what I do?”

Is it because I am a kid at heart? Is it because I spent too much time listening to Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” in 8th grade? Is it that working with children and youth in after school and camp programs is the closest thing to being a teacher without actually being a teacher – something I swore to my mother, the teacher, I would never be? Or is it something much deeper? And then it hit me. Where I am today and where I have been every step of the way along my career path is because of one singular incident. The time I threw up at a weekly staff meeting.

It was the summer of 1990.

I was working at a summer camp, the same camp I attended as a kid, spent my high school years volunteering, and now it was my turn to be on staff. Only this week was different. This week we provided a camp that was adapted to meet the needs of children and adults with developmental disabilities. The summer before I had been at camp during one of the inclusive weeks and the speaker had me so freaked out about not causing harm to the campers that I thought it was best that I stayed away from them.

It turns out, that was the exact opposite intention of the camp. During our staff training week we had been filled with the “don’ts” about that week. It turns out all the “don’ts” freaked me out even more to the point I had worked myself up into a nervous wreck who lost it – and I mean my lunch – during the pre-camp huddle. What happened after that was a great week of camp. I learned that the opposite of all the “don’ts” were actually “do’s.” Do have fun, do make friends, do engage in lively conversation, do tell jokes, do give out lots of hugs and high fives, do sing songs, play games, make crafts, and all the other great things that come along with camp.

That week changed my life.

I went from being a Journalism major to getting a degree in Outdoor Therapeutic Recreation.

elizabeth support quote


It didn’t stop there. As time went on I found myself working in afterschool programs (because I needed a job the other nine months of the year) and working in inclusive recreation settings – the real intent of that week I had experienced so long ago. I was bound and determined that the staff I worked with needed positive support, training, reassurance, and general kindness because nobody was puking on my watch!

As I have transitioned positions throughout the years the one common thread in the work that I do is making sure staff have the resources, training, and tools to do their best work. The programs and services provided to today’s children and youth are only as great as the staff, teachers, and leaders providing the services.

So today, as I sit at my desk working on program quality assurance checklists, curriculum resource guides, and training facilitation notes, it is all because of that one incident. My why is…I do it for that nervous 17 year old girl and the hope that nobody ever has to feel like that at their job.

This morning I had a mobile breakfast. My kids and I had PB&B on T (peanut butter and banana on toast) while walking to school…because we were running late. 

Author Profile: @eppispeppy

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