Before senior high school student, Pablo, attended FACES' Common Ground and Camp Everytown, he was an eighth grader who witnessed the change that these programs had on his older brother.
Common Ground, a 4-day summer program asks incoming high school freshmen to come together before they embark on their journey through the next four years of their high school career. During the program, students commit to respecting one another and dissecting the way they form opinions of themselves and their peers. They are challenged to break down barriers that often divide them into cliques. They embrace their commonalities as well as understand the struggles that they all may face.
As a freshman, Pablo's older brother was a Counselor-in-Training at Common Ground. Pablo says that he was amazed when he and his brother both answered a personal family question the same way. He was shocked that he and his brother felt identically about their family dynamics and that they had never discussed it.
Stories from his classmates about what they had endured outside of school astounded him. Because of the stories that he heard, he is much more conscious of the words that he chooses to use and recognizes their impact. He admits that he formerly used derogatory words of which he is now ashamed. He expressed that if he has a daughter he wants to be a great father and will teach her self-worth.
Pablo was so changed by his first year at Common Ground that he decided to go to Camp Everytown and return to both programs as a Counselor-in-Training. He has stepped in as co-president of the Camp-inspired "Be the Change" club at Fremont High. "My goal is to come back in 10 years and see this club thriving."
Next year, Pablo is off to college to study mechanical engineering. We are so excited for him and know that he will do incredible things!
We first met Monica in 2010 at Camp Everytown. We were immediately taken by her enthusiasm and positive attitude. If she never mentioned it, you would never know that she suffers from an unknown viral infection in her brain, which led to legal blindness, full body numbness, and intermittent paralysis of her limbs that can last years.
However, Monica has never let her disability inhibit her. When she went to Camp the first time in 2010, she said that she was forced to face things that she had never dealt with. During the disability exercise, where students are given a simulated disability (eat lunch with one hand, no hands, or blindfolded), Monica was struck by the way her classmates reacted to the exercise. "Having 2 of the 3 disabilities that are simulated, I realized that people didn't understand that just because you have a disability, your life isn't over."
In need of volunteers, FACES reached out to Monica in 2011 to see if she would be able to help facilitate Camp. Her positive energy matched by her compassion, commitment, and strong work ethic made made her our Camp Everytown hero. Coming back as a leader, she was in a better place in her life. She felt more empowered to share her experiences with others.
Monica says that her favorite part about Camp is "getting to hear the students' stories and seeing the changes in each and every one of them; they come in one way and walk out as a completely changed person". In May she joined our staff as the Camp Everytown Logistics Coordinator. "I am passionate about Camp and love what it stands for. FACES has provided a great support system - they are like family."
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.