On Thursday morning I woke up early, with bags packed, and made my way to Tullamarine Airport for my next adventure. I was making my way to the United States to start my job as a summer camp counselor at a camp called the Texas Lions Camp in Kerrville, Texas catering for special needs populations. The flight, totaling three separate flights and stopovers over 27 hours, was a long and boring one, with the main highlight being my stopover in Auckland where I was able to have some L&P. The long flight meant it was 12:45am by the time I arrived at San Antonio airport, where a staff member from the camp was waiting to drive me to the camp, approximately one hour away.
Upon arrival they gathered me some bed linen, took me to my bunkhouse and I headed straight to sleep. In the morning I had time to explore the camp. The first thing I realised was how huge the camp was, and the amount of facilities they had. I hiked up to Inspiration, one of the camping spots, which gave a great view of the whole camp and surrounding area. Everyone I walked by was really friendly and I was already meeting so many new people. It truly was the start of another summer for me with the sun shining down on me and the weather nice and humid.
Over the next week I spent my time in the varying training seminars, learning everything from bunkhouse behaviour to the specifics of caring for children with special needs. The days were packed with most starting early at 8am with breakfast and ending just before midnight. While they were highly informative and educative, they were also mixed in with lots of laughs, cheering and random dancing. TLC is not the place you can expect to keep your voice for long. One of my favourite parts of training week was learning sign language, which, although mine is still quite scratchy, I feel I have got the alphabet, 1 to 20, and some basic words (including camp songs) down quite well.
When class wasn’t in session, we were busy having fun with our theme for the week. The staff training week theme was Hunger Games and we were the “Power” district, meaning we had to do the best we could to challenge the other districts in going as far out with our theme as we could. This included our “Power of Love” wedding at breakfast (keeping in mind our bunkhouse is all guys, we had to improvise with the women), dressing as powerful Greek gods and generally chanting “Power” and “District 3” (our district) at any chance we got.
Some other highlights of the week were the staff talent show, with each district presenting a cool and funny show. Our show consisted of a range of powerhouse singers, which included some cross-dressing and back up dancers. We also had a big range of staff games in the paddocks such as throwing chips on people’s heads that were filled with cream and going through crazy obstacle courses.
When the opportunity arose to head out of camp, we visited Walmart (too many times) where I stocked up on all kinds of things I needed, and I also had my first Sonic, a cool American drive-in store where you can get a range of milkshakes and food. My cookies and cream milkshake was pretty damn good!
On Wednesday night we headed for camp out at Inspiration where we made some “hobbo packs” – a range of meat, vegetables and herbs wrapped in tin foil and cooked over the campfire. Later in the night we made some s’mores, crackers with chocolate and marshmallows, my first s’more experience, which were pretty tasty. That night it was my first time sleeping under the stars, and although it got very cold (I’ve bought a proper sleeping bag since), waking up at 4am and seeing more stars than I’ve ever seen in my life was really cool.
On Friday the Hunger Games theme continued with a public calling for tributes to come out and have all kinds of things poured on them from water to old breakfast leftovers. Just like in the Hunger Games books, there were even some volunteers for other tributes. In the night we headed back out to Inspiration where everyone had a chance to tell everyone about their reasons for coming to camp and a bit about themselves, as well as sharing their wish for camp by throwing a stick they had chosen into the fire – a ritual that campers also perform on their first night of camp. It was great to hear everyone’s reasons for being at camp and to get to know a bit more about their wishes for their at camp.
After an exhausting week, Saturday was finally time for some time off. I had a nice long sleep in before we went out to pick up some items from Walmart and hung out with a friend for the rest of the day, which included checking out more of the camp and going to see some of the animals in the nature lab which included rabbits, snakes, scorpions and lizards.
On Sunday it was the big day as the kids were due to arrive. We started off with a final briefing then made sure our bunkhouses were ready and waited for the the campers to arrive. We had eight campers in our wing and helped them settle in with choosing and making their beds and packing their clothes away. We also covered the wing rules and helped them make some name necklaces. After the campers had their first dinner in the dining hall for the week, we practiced some camp songs, had a fire drill and headed to the amphitheatre for opening campfire.
At opening campfire we started with some songs and dancing before each camper had the opportunity to approach the campfire and throw their stick with their wish for the week into the fire. We finished up the night with some final songs before the kids returned to the bunkhouse having settled in and survived their first day. The next day there was plenty of upcoming fun with heaps of activities for all campers to get involved in. But that is for next blog! It has been a great week so far, one of the best things I’ve been a part of, and Texas Lions Camp is a place I am going to love being a part of for the eight weeks.