I have been at CAP for 3 months and 13 days. It sounds like such a short time and I still feel like I just arrived. I am still learning my role here--it’s no simple thing to transition into volunteer life. I am still learning about the people, both in CAP and in Jackson County, as well my service and the best way to accomplish our goals with the kids we serve. I am definitely still learning about myself and my gifts and my struggles. Still, I have been here for 3 months and 13 days, so I have already learned a few things.
I was struck by how nice everyone was upon my arrival. My first day in the Jackson Volunteer House I was hugging people and laughing. The next day, I came to start at Camp AJ and the CAP Leadership Team was there for a meeting and retreat. I ate lunch with them and they were all friendly. I spoke with the CEO and he told me about his grandson’s summer camp experiences. That day, the camp staff were all smiling. They were obviously glad that their new volunteer had finally arrived. This welcome was similar to past experiences I have had with being the “new person,” but this time, the welcome was more personal.
I kept waiting for this niceness to wear off, but that has not happened yet. There is a spirit of gratitude and generosity that has permeated this place. I am just waiting for it to fully permeate me and my own spirit. In the Jackson House, people are always thanking each other for basic deeds. This level of gratitude was so strange at first. I would be in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher and someone else would come in and help. The help was nice, but then they would thank me. The first week, this startled me. The second week, I was thanking people for doing things too. When my mom came to visit, she helped me prepare a dinner for the house. I thanked her for helping me cook. The surprise in her face made me wonder about the way I was before I came here. Sure I said “Thank you” sometimes before I came to CAP, but it was more out of habit and politeness than gratitude. Usually, my thanks was reserved for strangers and big swooping gestures. Often, it was an afterthought--something to be checked off a to-do list.
My first few weeks at camp were spent on orienting myself to the service I would be doing and going over expectations with my manager and coordinator. They told me over and over to keep them updated on how things are going and to let them know if I had any problems or concerns. They let me know that channels of communication are always open. Our camp caretaker also showed an interest in making sure that I was adjusting and finding things I needed. This concern and openness applies to all the employees across CAP. I have yet to meet an employee who is uninterested in helping volunteers, or a volunteer who is uninterested in the rest of the CAP community.
One day, I was coming to camp from school after doing my morning tutoring at one of the elementary schools. I stopped at the Jackson House to pick up a lunch, and then I was going straight to camp. I went inside, and grabbed my lunch. Then I realized that I had left my car keys inside the van and I only had my house keys. I panicked a little. I was worried about wasting time and bothering people and what if I could not find the spare key? I started hiking over to camp, mentally beating myself up over doing something so stupid. Then I remembered that people at CAP are nice. There was an easy enough solution; we would get the spare key and maybe someone could take me over to the house to get my van so I would not have to waste so much time.
I walked out of the woods on the trail and someone shouted a greeting. They were happy to see me and interested in how my morning went. I told them that I had done something stupid; I locked the keys in my van and it was stuck over at the Jackson House. I was right, they were not mad that the keys were locked inside the van. They were unhappy that I had not called them from the house to come bring me the spare keys. They explained that any one of them would have been happy to come over and help.
So you see, these people at CAP are super nice. Their generosity and gratitude is inspiring. Every person here at CAP is an awesome person. I cannot wait to be one of these awesome people. I just wonder if one year is long enough.
Anna P. is a long-term CAP Volunteer serving as an AmeriCorps Camp Educator/Summer Camp Counselor at Camp Andrew Jackson. She is a member of the Jackson Volunteer Community and is a graduate of Bellarmine University.