When learning to throw a frisbee means more than just that
Bill Furman grew up in Orange County, NY and graduated with the class of 1974 from Warwick High School. After school, he got a job as a direct care worker at the Pius XII Youth Services with the teen boys who were mostly Office of Children and Family Services involved kids. Bill found his calling in this work and so began his career in social services. Bill is now at The Foundling working with the developmentally disabled adults as the Recreation Director. Many thanks to him for this blog.
For the past six summers I’ve taken a break from my work with developmentally disabled adults and worked with the kids at Camp Felix for 3-4 weeks as their Athletic Director. It’s really great to have the opportunity to work with young people again through Camp Felix, because I spent so much of my earlier career doing that. It brings me back to “the good old days” when I’m up there. I just love working with these kids.They call me “Coach Bill.”
I went to Boy Scout Camp when I was young, and it was great, but for these kids, it is such a new and different experience than it is for suburban kids. They really feel safe at Camp Felix, which, unfortunately, for many of these kids might be a rare feeling. The staff is excellent at making them feel at home and gives them tons of attention and helps them deal with emotions. They know this population is sensitive and needs individual and personal care.
Camp experiences teach kids the value of friendship, positive relationship building, trust, teamwork and skills that are not to be taken for granted (like swimming!). Kids who grow up outside the city, or in the city with greater privilege, learn to swim, know what poison ivy is, understand how to be safe around a camp fire, play games on real grass instead of turf/cement, understand what wild animals to be frightened of and which won’t bother you – these kids wouldn’t have these experiences or knowledge without Camp Felix.
One of the skills I’m really proud that we teach the kids is how to accept losing graciously. It’s very easy to win at something, but life isn’t always about winning. We help them learn to look back at the kickball game they may have just lost and realize that it was fun anyway. It’s an important life lesson that sports can really help these kids learn. It also helps them develop a system of coping with these types of things in day to day life, and be ready to handle loss.
Every part of camp is great, but my one of my favorite parts is when the children first arrive at camp. The arrival time is one of the most exciting parts of camp because all the staff gathers under the trees to wait for the buses to drop off the kids. We can hear them coming and everyone gets excited. The Camp Director announces the campers’ names and their assigned cabin as they get off the buses one by one and we all welcome and cheer for them. The kids expressions are priceless, especially those who are new to camp. They are apprehensive because they really don’t know what to expect from this experience, it’s unlike anything they’ve done before. It’s really fun to see them react to everything and the returners are great too because they know all about this and how fun it is. They have a totally different look on their face, no fear at all, just total excitement. The kids look out for each other and take the new kids “under their wing” and that is really nice to see, they remember their first time at camp and how that felt but assure the new kids that it is going to be the time of their lives.
After six years of camp, I have dozens of stories but one sticks out for me and always has. Matthew was an 11 year old boy, not very athletic and a little heavy when he came to camp. He was always friendly but you could tell he had very low self-esteem, he never wanted to participate in any of the sports and I got the feeling he had been picked on a little in life. I never force a kid to do anything they don’t want to, but usually when a kid sees the other kids playing the game, they quickly want to join in. Not Mathew, he always wanted to watch and not wanting to make him unhappy, I let him. Day after day he sat on the sidelines and I was racking my brain to think of something he might like. Finally, I threw a Frisbee toward him, and it fell to the ground. I told him to try to catch it and tried again – he caught it! In the next few days I made it a point to play Frisbee with him one on one and help him learn. He caught on quickly, got quite good and you could tell he loved it. Matthew felt good when he played and it did wonders for his self-confidence. He came up to me at the end of camp, gave me a bug hug and said “Thanks Coach Bill, for teaching me to throw a Frisbee.” It was one of the most meaningful things to me because it was such a small thing, but made a big difference for this boy and sort of wraps up my whole philosophy about recreation in one story.
I can honestly say that in my 34 years of doing what I do, working with kids and developmentally disabled adults, hands down, Camp Felix is the best experience for me and the kids who participate in it. It is an amazing, wonderful place for all.