(Guest blog by Gina Wiezel , MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate with Missoula Parks and Recreation)
The Montana CampusCompact Summer VISTA and AmeriCorps Program offers Montana students and residents the opportunity to serve in their local communities, or across the state, to help run summer learning loss prevention camps, summer feeding programs, and summer college prep camps. This summer 53 national service members participated in diverse activities to help Montana community organizations fight local poverty, including increasing tutoring and mentoring resources, managing various summer activities and support services for children and families, supporting feeding programs to help alleviate hunger within the community, mobilizing hundreds of volunteers to assist with events, developing programs to help literacy rates among disadvantaged youth, and planning for future VISTA members’ efforts. We’d like to highlight one particular story from a member serving with the MissoulaParks and Recreation REACH MORE program.
The overall goal of our program is to support youth with disabilities in recreation summer enrichment programs to increase the chances of succeeding in and outside the classroom. Our program is incredibly successful. We serviced 130 youth in the REACH MORE program, our 10 week summer program, that might of otherwise struggled to find summer enrichment programming appropriate least restrictive learning environments and abilities. Research has found that people with disabilities often fall within poverty guidelines. Providing community based inclusive summer services has proven to enrich and increase their school and social behaviors and lead to a stronger likelihood for job placement.
During my time serving with REACH MORE, a Missoula Parks and Recreation camp for children of all abilities, I had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of children. One boy came to our camp for multiple weeks. Every week we have our campers do a ropes course. The first few weeks that this boy was in camp he didn’t want to climb at all, preferring to just watch. After two weeks of him not engaging and not participating in the ropes course the other counselors and I decided that we would push him a little to try climbing the rock wall. We told him that he only had to take 2 steps and after that if he chose not to climb for the rest of the day he didn’t have to. That day and he only climbed two steps, but last week we had him try again. We had a great group of kids and they all cheered for each other. With everyone cheering, he climbed about halfway on the wall.
I think this kid got stuck in a pattern of believing himself incapable of doing certain things, but once he had people believing in him, encouraging him to try his best he discovered that he was capable of climbing more than just the two steps we were challenging him to. With everyone cheering he pushed himself to go higher.
This experience taught me that it is important to have people that support you to challenge yourself and that when you decide to challenge and believe in yourself you can accomplish a lot. Too often we focus on what we can’t do and forget how much we truly are able to accomplish. We put limits upon ourselves and don’t appreciate our capabilities. We fall into patterns and routine and don’t push ourselves or try situations that test our abilities. I believe it is important to challenge ourselves to things that may be difficult or scary, because when we challenge ourselves we discover capabilities we might not have known that we possessed.
The ropes course in general taught me that it is important to challenge myself, to not compare and weigh my successes against others, that it is okay to step back from a challenge, and that if I don’t succeed or go as far with my ambitions the first time around that I can come back and perhaps will go further or accomplish more. I also learned that it is okay to not get as far as I wanted or expected. What is important is not how far you come, but how much you tried and how much effort you put into getting to where you are.