Meet Natalee -- a Camp Everytown alum living with Cerebral Palsy. This is her story in her own words of the impact that Camp had had on her life.
Camp Everytown literally changed my life. When I think back to Camp Everytown I remember moments; moments that defined who I would become, as well as my purpose in life from that point forward. So how do I play into Camp Everytown? I have mild Cerebral Palsy on the left side of my body, which affects my arm, hand and leg. Cerebral Palsy is a form of paralysis that is caused by brain damage during birth. Because of this, I do a lot of daily activities one handed and have taught myself how to adapt to different situations. Although I had adapted to my disability at an early age and learned to speak up when I needed help or needed to make my challenge known, I still had trouble facing my misunderstood peers all the way through my high school years up until Camp Everytown.
Before Camp Everytown, I was confident in who I was and the ability that I had with the help of having a spot on the mountain view high school volleyball team as a designated server, but there was a part of me that still felt like an outcast and that feeling grew stronger anytime a classmate or peer would rudely remind me of my physical difference. Living with a disability made me become accustomed to feeling like I didn’t belong and that’s how I felt much of the time in high school. But I always had this gut feeling that I was meant to do something greater than myself. I always knew I was meant to do something to help others, and that became apparent during and after my experience at Camp Everytown.
Every single minute of my time at Camp Everytown was a moment of impact that affects me still to this day. If I had to describe the kind of affect camp had on me with one word, I’d say powerful. From the very first activity we did at camp, to the very last activity, the experience affected me emotionally, mentally and physically. I remember thinking to myself as I lay in bed shaken up, but amazed after the first night of activities, “How am I going to get through 2 more days of this?” I was physically and emotionally drained…stunned at the heartbreaking but moving revelations that resulted from the evening. During my time at camp, I came to the realization that every single person, disabled or not is different and struggles in different ways and that can’t be understood by judging what someone looks like on the outside. The hardest day of camp for me was the day we did the disability simulation lunch. During the activity, students are given disabilities by either having their hands tied behind their back or are blind-folded and have to eat lunch that way. Watching other people go through lunch with a “disability” hit home for me and brought up feelings of inferiority and defeat -- the kinds of feelings that I feel often when facing daily activities that are a challenge. What really affected me the most was watching everyone walk away from lunch without a disability, while I still was stuck with mine. After that lunch was the first time I would ever cry about my struggles with living with a disability. It struck me that no matter what anyone thinks or says, I have a disability and no one can say anything to undermine how living with Cerebral Palsy makes me feel. Luckily, my brother Wesley was there to hug me while I bawled my eyes out. My former English teacher, was also right there to console me in that moment. However, what I realized in that moment is that maybe people, high school students especially, wouldn’t feel the need to judge others such as, people with disabilities, if they had more knowledge of what it’s like for people who are different. I became determined to show them that a disability is just what happens to someone, and doesn’t a person’s ability to love, think and feel.
With being able to let those tears go, I was able to grow stronger. I feel after that moment, I became determined to make an impact on my peers by telling my story. It was that moment that gave me the courage to get up in front of everyone at camp the next night during Cultural Pride Night and talk about my disability and how I’ve overcome challenges in order to secure my place in society. I told everyone about a time in 6th grade when I was discouraged by my P.E teacher. We were taking a push up test that day in class and she told me no when I was about to do the test along with my classmates. She didn’t give a reason for why she said no, but it baffles me still to this day that a teacher made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. Telling that story gave me such an adrenaline rush, probably fueled by frustration and anger, to drop to the floor and pump out twenty pushups to show everyone at camp what my teachers words drove me to achieve. It was that moment that gave me the drive to take my new found purpose even further and create a disability awareness day at my high school in order to bring a little bit of Camp Everytown back to the rest of my fellow high school peers. And even further than that, write a book about my own life as someone with a disability. As I stated earlier, Camp Everytown literally changed my life. When I think back on my experience I remember life changing moments, moments that lead to even greater life changing moments that gave me what I needed…a purpose in life. I will always remember Camp Everytown and I will always be grateful for what it stands for.
I’m not a genius. I don’t have super powers. What’s so special about me? I grew up a privileged child. And that’s not fair. What distinguishes me is not what I have done, but what I have been given. I feel that I owe my accomplishments to the many that haven’t had the kind of privilege that I have.
My parents both came from small, tight-knit Kansas towns. Neither parent enjoyed a childhood of luxury. They studied hard to climb the socioeconomic ladder. They became doctors and they moved to California.
Palo Alto is a beautiful, idyllic place to be a child. As a child here, you’re offered Math Academy, children’s theatre, after school youth programming, and tutoring of every kind. In short, it’s the perfect place to grow up.
This is the world into which I was born. Growing up here, it was not uncommon to see Steve Jobs at my sister’s softball games. I thought nothing of it. As a young person, you don’t realize the overwhelming peculiarity of the situation you’re in. It does not occur to you that other people have different experiences, perhaps less happy ones. It does not occur to you to compare what you have with what others have at all.
Camp Everytown really solidified for me the idea that I was much more fortunate than others. We did one particular activity that drove this point home. I ended up physically separated from everyone else — the extreme point on a spectrum of privilege — and it was a solemn and hard-hitting moment for me.
It led me to completely acknowledge that to grow up in a place like Palo Alto is very rare. My opportunities make me incredibly lucky. The idea that “we are privileged because we are special” seems to prevail here, but I know that the opposite is true. We are special because we are privileged.
I also came to accept that I am the problem. I’m no more responsible for their misfortune than my own privilege, but while I have opportunity, countless other children of my generation live without. For me, this understanding comes with a sense of responsibility. I must ensure that what they have been robbed of is not squandered on me.
Obviously, the experience I gained at Camp Everytown has driven me to live my life in closer observance of my privilege. I think that the value of a place like Everytown, where no topic is off-limits and where people feel safe, is that everyone can stand to learn and gain from it. In fact, I would say that the people who gain the most from it are precisely those like me, who come from a world where opportunities abound. But we cannot have this experience if it is only us at Everytown; it is crucial to have a diverse array of attendees. It is crucial to maintain the diversity that inspires students to acknowledge their differences, and then leave them behind to converge over their common humanity.
Meet Duy! Duy is a proud Camp Everytown alumnus. As he reflects back on his Camp Everytown experience, he states:
"I was, for the most part, disempowered. That however, all changed when I experienced my first Camp. I became exposed to a new way of thinking, opening my mind and my heart to the concept that we are all one. For the first time, race, ethnicity, what people wore, or how they looked didn't matter, for I learned that everyone has a voice. And, I learned that in order for me to better my future I had to change who I was and my thought process. Thanks to Camp, I did change for the better."
Since graduating from high school, Duy has continued his involvement with the program as a camp facilitator and is now:
“…proud to say that I am married and have a bi-racial daughter to whom I plan to pass on my open mindedness, compassion, and acceptance of others."
Your support has helped us to change the lives of people like Duy. Because of you, we are building a community with more empathy and less prejudice. Thank YOU!!