Claire with Anna, one of her campers.

The school year is a little over half way over, and the summertime hype is already beginning. For most high schoolers, this means trip planning, bikini body ready-ing, and day dreaming of days starting at noon and ending in the wee hours. But for some (a.k.a. me), there are no such preparations being made.

For me, summer means early rises, early falls, and a lot of packed lunches. Most people at the age of 15 can be self-centered — unintentionally, maybe, but self-centered nonetheless — trapped in their little world of gossip, tweets, and “does this make me look fat?” Few of us have ever had to know what it is like to live for others, to see no point in life without the laughter of others fueling our way through the day. But for me, there was never any alternative.

For almost all of my life, I have been a caretaker for George, my twin brother who has autism. My parents got divorced when I was very young, and from that point on it was my wonderful mother, George, and me against the world. And that was enough, for a while. It was enough until I turned 11 and began to realize that the three of us were not the only people in this world; there were other people out there that needed help and needed to be saved from their own nightmares. At this point, I shifted my mindset from “against the world” to “for the world.”

That summer, I began volunteering. And not your pansy, once-a-week-homeless-shelter-college-application-padding volunteering. No, it was the I-just-lifted-a-girl-my-age-but-twice-my-weight-three-times-today volunteering. I spent every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with people from age 5 to 21 with special needs, ranging every diagnosis and severity. I put my heart and soul into making those kids smile and making them feel like they belong somewhere. And often when I do so, I don’t even realize that that is exactly what is happening to me.

Going on field trips and getting to watch a little boy that is almost nonverbal jump up in down and joyously yell “COWS COWS COWS” when you pass a farm, watching a little girl with Down syndrome make friends at the park, hearing the laughter of a girl with cerebral palsy getting splashed under a bucket at a water park all because she had someone to carry her — this is what I live for. I like to believe that everyone is here for a purpose, that everyone has a thing that they are put on this Earth to do, and this is mine.

Were it not for the campers at UCP, where I have spent the last three summers, I would not be the person I am today. When I am at camp, I feel whole; nothing and no one can bring me down. I feel important. I know that I am truly wanted and that I need to be there for those kids and families. Not only that, but I now have a clear vision of what I want to do with my life. I will continue volunteering there until I go off to college to become a board certified behavior analyst. I want to be able to help people — specifically those who cannot help themselves — and UCP has given me my chance to do that.

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