Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Letter in Support of [camp name]

*As part of an application for a grant to cover counselor salaries for [camp name]'s medcamp programs, I was asked to write a letter of support. Below is the letter that was submitted with this application packet. I am posting it here on the blog because I enjoy the process of reflective-creative writing, and it is a solid description of my feelings toward camp. Plus, summertime will be here before we know it, so I figured this would be a great way to put us all in the summer spirit!*

February 21, 2011

Dear Committee:

In 2007, I toured the facilities at [camp name] as part of the American Camp Association's annual Heart of the South Conference. From the moment I set foot on the grounds of [camp name], I knew it was a special place. At the time, I was a counselor at a camp in Louisiana for children with heart conditions. However, in that moment, I knew I had to be a part of the magic that is [camp name].

The following year (2008), I joined the [camp name] family as a counselor at summer camp. Myself and another counselor from heart camp were surprised by the “Welcome Home” sign that awaited our arrival at [camp name]. We wondered whether [camp name] could ever be home to us, after such wonderful experiences elsewhere. However, I am writing this today because I want to assure you, [camp name] is indeed “home” – not only for myself and my co-worker from heart camp, but for hundreds of other young people who have joined the [camp name] family over the years.

My experiences at camp solidified my interest in pursuing national certification as a Child Life Specialist. While [camp name] does not currently employ Child Life Specialists, I have learned so much about the importance of working with children and families to provide opportunities for holistic development and normalization. In the future, I hope to find permanent employment with a medical camp or similar organization whose mission is to serve youth with chronic illnesses.

In addition, my involvement with camp influenced the topic of my graduate research project. As part of the requirements for completion of my Master's degree program, I executed a nationwide study that addressed the current practices for serving youth with special health care needs in the camp setting. This project is just one way camp inspired me to do my part in changing the world, so that all children can experience the joys of summer camp.

Almost four years later, I am eagerly looking forward to spending another summer at “my home away from home.” Following two challenging years in graduate school, I cannot imagine another way I would prefer to spend my summer than surrounded by hundreds of giggling, smiling faces – all of us, eagerly awaiting the time of our lives.

In fact, when I reminisce about camp, I often share my philosophy regarding the experience of counselors at camp. Whereas camp staff are often praised for their service to campers, I must argue the opposite; we are the lucky ones. It is an honor to have worked with such vibrant, accepting, generous, and aspiring individuals. With that in mind, I ask you to consider supporting [camp name] – not just for the campers, but for the counselors, too. The impact this experience has made on mine and hundreds of others' lives is more far reaching than any of us could ever imagine.

Thanks for your consideration,

Lauren Mouton

Saturday, February 12, 2011

(My) Social Network

Those of you who know me well are fully aware of my stalking tendencies. Quite frankly, while many might be ashamed of this little tidbit, I'm pretty darn proud of my skills, lol. I have to say, though, that I think this is just another mark of my generation and not anything overly unique about me. Let's face it - we're Millennials; we knew AIM/Yahoo/MSN instant messaging before we knew about e-mail, and years before MySpace or LiveJournal, the precursor to today's Bloggers and WordPresses. Most of us even remember the days whenever StalkerBook (ha) was exclusively for college students, originally for the elitest of the elite.

Social media is such a hot topic these days. [In fact, I must take a minute to say that my mind was absolutely BLOWN by the Fb movie, more popularly known as "The Social Network."] With all this chatter about social networking, I have been inspired to do a little reflecting, which ties in quite nicely to a topic I've been wanting to post about.

At our departmental graduate seminar this week, we watched the recorded version of a keynote speaker from one of the professional conferences in our field. The speaker hit on several interesting points related to networking and relationship-building. I say this as a disclaimer for some of the points or quotes I plan to discuss here.

Anyway, in relationships (platonic, or otherwise) this idea of "reciprocity" is essential. As they might say in the business world, we want a return on our investments. In fact, it makes sense to recognize that people will treat you in such a way that is equal to or less than the way that you treat them. I'm not going to draw this out in a model, but you may want think of this as our conceptual framework...for those of us living in the depths of research hell, lol.

Further reflection leads me to thoughts regarding my own reciprocity in relationships. Years ago, I'd say I was pretty good at this practice. I was the person who sent out hand-written cards, and didn't care if anyone ever wrote back as long as I could rest assured that I'd made someone's day simply by thinking of them. More recently, though, I've gotten out of the habit of sending well wishes on birthdays and congratulatory messages, or even the "Smile-It's a happy day," texts. It may be that I am more conscious of this change than the actual recipients (or former recipients) of my efforts, but I do pride myself on these random acts of kindness, if you will...and these days I am slacking. This is definitely something I want to work on restoring after I ditch this time-sucker life that is graduate school.

But back to social networking...I am SO grateful to live in a time and a place where these tools are readily available to me. Many people complain about young people's lack of social skills as a direct result of the technology age, but I have to say that I don't completely agree with this argument. (I'll leave this rant for some other time, maybe.) Technology and social networking has allowed me to make and maintain friendships across the globe. For the last several years, I could have named one person I knew in (literally) almost every state in the U.S., and probably at least 5 other countries. Thanks to Skype, I can be in the same room with someone thousands of miles away, and feel like nothing - not even oceans - comes between us and our friendship with one another.

For practicality's sake, I'm going to come down from my cloud for a bit and tell you about a project I've been working on recently. Many of you are aware of my love for and involvement with the 4-H program. You may also recall that I have worked as a Collegiate Facilitator for the National 4-H Conference for the past four years. This year, myself and a very good friend of mine, are serving as coordinators for the Collegiate Facilitator group. I could write an entire post about our experiences with this conference and how our roles are unfolding as the days and weeks of "Conference Season" roll by. However, I'll direct you to Benjamin's blog for two entries that sum up our experiences thus far ("Teamwork" and "Glimpse into the Future"). Note: You should expect to read more about Conference in future posts.

My reason for mentioning (National 4-H) Conference in this post about social networking is that Conference was one of my first real "catalystic experiences" (is that even a real phrase??) that gave value to social media and networking in my life. One day, I'll write an entire post about the networks - better yet, lifelong friendships - I have formed as a result of my years as a Collegiate Facilitator at (National 4-H) Conference. For now, I'll simply point out that without these networks, I never would have fallen into the position of coordinating a group of collegiate students who are just as passionate about the 4-H organization as I am, as well as the opportunity to do this with a person who has been such a good friend to me over the years, despite our distance across states, time zones, and occasionally - oceans.

Referring back to the conference speaker, I fully agree with the statement, "Your network is your net worth." Your network cannot be taken away or repossessed, it is always with you, even when you'd rather live a life of anonymity. The fact of the matter is that we are at a point in our lives that someone is always watching us, whether we know it, or want it. On the flip side, though, we have to remember that concept of "reciprocity." What are we doing to serve others in ways that we hope will be reciprocated? In what ways can we build networks and provide for others' needs, so that they will want to reciprocate for us? ...Just something to think about...

In any case, technology, media, and social networking aren't going anywhere anytime soon. I think it's important for us to embrace this evolution and recognize the value in interconnectedness. Now, more than ever, "It's a small world;" how are you making the world smaller?

And in honor of 4-H, I'll leave you with this...

"Be Green. Grow everything you touch."

A few thoughts for later:
*Feelings are facts. - How do you make others feel?
*Goodwill is the original viral marketing. - How are you marketing yourself? Is it viral?