Just a couple of years ago, Christian Yau-Weeks ’17 had not had prior, close interactions with those with special needs, and thus was unsure as to how to approach certain situations involving them.
“When I saw people with special needs I would subconsciously try to avoid any interaction because I wasn’t sure what to do,” he said.
Christian’s outlook changed dramatically after he volunteered at Camp Krem, a facility in Boulder Creek that provides recreation, adventure, fun and friendships to children and adults with special needs, for his Anawim project.
At Camp Krem, Christian, along with his twin sister Sophia, worked with adults and children experiencing Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Asperger Syndrome, ADHD and other physical, emotional or developmental disabilities.
Today, Christian sees people with such disabilities in a completely different light. “When you become friends with them you gain an understanding about what they go through and how society views them,” he said. “You see who they are as people and all the preconceptions go away.”
Having done lots of volunteering at local service sites with the National Charity League, Sophia was looking to branch out and serve a completely different population.
“There are many beautiful moments that unify the camp such as evening dances, campfires, and sports tournaments, but some of the tasks at Camp Krem are challenging and certainly not glamorous,” Sophia said.
“Those who are successful remember the importance of connecting with their community and learning about others’ experiences. Unfortunately, some students only see volunteering as a burden or an asset to their college applications and forget about the real reason we should be making service commitments,” Sophia said. “Having a negative mentality doesn’t help yourself or the people you are working with. It actually hurts the experience for people who want to be there, especially the campers who are there to have fun and have an experience they wouldn’t otherwise be able to have.”
Because of their work at Camp Krem, Christian and Sophia will be featured on the October 29 episode of “Chicken Soup for the Soul’s Hidden Heroes,”a series that airs on CBS at 9 a.m. that showcases the goodwill in our world by capturing heroes in action.
Christian and Sophia enjoyed their initial volunteer experience (during the summer between their sophomore and junior year) at Camp Krem so much that this past summer they spent a month volunteering at the camp. “It’s such a nice environment. Everyone is really accepting of one another and wholeheartedly embraces each other’s uniqueness,” Sophia said.
What’s especially nice, says Christian, is Camp Krem’s philosophy of planned permissiveness. “Basically the campers are able to do whatever they want as long as they are safe. It’s really cool because a lot of times in our society those with special needs are judged and limited. But at Camp Krem they are free to be themselves.”
Sophia strongly encourages others to branch out from the familiar volunteer experiences. “It’s a lot better when you get out of your comfort zone instead of doing something that is convenient,” she said. “And don’t look at service as an obligation. Consider it an opportunity.”
Christian and Sophia’s mom, Debra says she couldn’t be happier seeing her children reach such an epiphany.
“I will always have O’Dowd to thank for helping form their young adult lives, making them even better people than the first day they walked into the school’s doors,” she said.