Imagine a place where everyone is accepted and everyone cares about everyone else. Imagine a place where you feel loved for being who you are, with all your faults and all your differences; where you know you will always be welcome. Imagine a place where everyone can come together in harmony, connecting with others and bonding in timeless friendship and love.
There is such a place, and it is far from imaginary. This place is Camp ANCHOR. ANCHOR is a recreation program for children and adults with disabilities on Long Island, NY. As a teenage volunteer I thought it was magical. I still do today. The nine summers I spent there continues to influence my life today.
Life includes a jumble of positive and negative emotions, all gently prodding every choice we make and every action we follow. Fear, insecurity, and loneliness often prevent us from being ourselves, causing us to act differently than if we felt unconditionally accepted.
I currently work as a speech-language pathologist. Many of my clients have autism and so I spend a lot of my time working on “appropriate behavior.” Appropriate behavior is dictated by societal rules. If any one of us breaks a rule, we risk humiliation and rejection.
Society judges people based on preconceived notions of what is good and bad. We befriend those who share our interests while avoiding those who are different. Go to any high school and you will find a microcosm of society: groups of teenagers with shared interests but with a measure of fear and intolerance of those who are different.
At ANCHOR everyone is accepted; EVERYONE. I am not sure how it happens. Campers, volunteers, and staff all put their fears and insecurities aside. They don’t simply tolerate individuals who are different but befriend them. There is no pity, no hate, and no intolerance.
At ANCHOR, I saw many people take joy in life and in each other. I saw joy when a child in a wheelchair swam at the beach for the first time. I saw joy in the volunteer who helped. I saw joy in a wheelchair bound man who returned to camp when he didn’t think he could and joy in the teenage male volunteer who climbed into his lap to welcome him back. I saw joy when a painfully shy boy went on stage for the first time and joy in his mother’s face as she cheered him on.
Knowing a place like ANCHOR exists gives me hope that somewhere out in the world there may be other places like it. Places where everyone is accepted and loved for who they are; where people are kind to each other no matter what.
In my mind, ANCHOR is the most perfect place in the world. I believe that if this perfection, this place of joy, acceptance and love can exist at a camp on Long Island, and then it can exist elsewhere in the world and maybe someday, all over the world. This, I believe.
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