By Tony Gigli, Hear Indiana Board Member
Many years ago, an e-mail came to me asking for volunteers at Hear Indiana’s weekend camp at Bradford Woods in Martinsville, Indiana. As Josh Wade, Camp Director at the time, remembered at that long ago Friday night check in, “We needed an extra guy. We didn’t know what we were going to do. It’s like you came down from the sky”.
What we didn’t know at the time was that Hear Indiana Camp would forever alter the course of my life. I found my voice and my calling to help young people. For too long, I had wandered aimlessly without any deaf or hard of hearing role models to look up to. The closest example, for my generation, was Heather Whitestone McCallum when she became Miss America in 1995. That weekend, at camp, I bonded with the young attendees and thought, “These folks are going through life with struggles like I did. How can I change that?” I became a big kid myself that weekend. Had the absolute time of my life. We did so many activities in the span of one day, and everyone left on Sunday morning tired – but it was a good tired.
The attendees started asking about what it would take to make the weekend camp a weeklong program. Through reaching out to donors, we were able to make that a reality. The next few years saw rapid changes as the program went from a weekend camp to a weeklong program. Through endless hours of work, stacks of papers, and planning that would make a party planner blush, the program flourished into what it is today. The week truly flies by. I never want the program to end. The kids must agree, because each Friday, no one ever wants to leave after the slideshow.
After camp ends each year, planning begins anew for the next year. We would think “What can we do to make this stand out for the kids?” We kept pushing to make it better.
People have asked me, “What does camp mean to you?” It means being myself. It means leadership. It means formulating lifelong friendships. It means the world. It also reminds me: today, not even the sky is the limit. We can achieve greatness and our potential – a dream once unspoken. We can find ourselves in a truly happy, welcoming place that is Hear Indiana Camp.