One by one, each camper popped into the virtual campground. Even the separation of participants, states apart, could not hold back the excitement that flowed through the Zoom waves. What had once been one person’s dream and then weeks of planning and navigating, had finally come to reality, virtual reality that is.
Steven Allen, President of PolicyWorks, had been looking to host a networking camp for young adults with disabilities. With the dawning of Covid-19, his idea quickly shifted so that it did not have to be cast aside for a completely different idea. Camp NetWorx! may have been different than it was originally intended but what came to fruition was a beautiful sight that will be remembered by all and hopefully replicated again for more to enjoy.
Camp NetWorx! is a place of security and growth; what was said at camp will stay at camp, but what happened at camp will go far beyond the screens of each camper’s electronic device. From exploring who we are, that we are more than our resume, and from being able to describe ourselves with verbs to improving our Zoom skills and making connections with people across the states, these learnings will carry on for our lifetime.
Evoking the themes and feel of a “summer camp,” Camp NetWorx brings together youth and students with disabilities into a peer mentoring community designed to guide each participant to:
- DISCOVER + CREATE their own story
STRENGTHEN their communication skills, and
- SHARE their personal narrative with friends / family, associates / educators, and new connections
- BUILD their community, professional and business networks
Funded by Citibank and coordinated by PolicyWorks, the camp was a collaboration among:
- Peer MentoringWorks Community of Practice
- EIN SOF Communications & Lights! Camera! Access!
- ForwardWorks Consulting
- Work Opportunities Unlimited
Occurring over a 5-week period, campers would come together twice a week – first for a learn session and then two days later for interactive workshop time – or cabin time with other campers and their cabin peer mentors.
There were some common threads that helped connect those who attended camp. We learned that many people have a love for the arts. Comics and sports also made the list of common ties at camp. And, most importantly, the isolation we were all feeling was recognized and shattered by our weekly gatherings.
Sam shared, “I was really happy to meet everybody and to learn everything new about people and to learn what they like, and to learn that people have the same skills or I like things that they like or have the same personality.”
Overall, the campers really flourished in the ability to share who they are, their vulnerabilities, and their interests. At the camp finale, so many campers expressed their gratitude for this opportunity to grow and meet so many new people.
John said that, “…mostly it was the people that I got to meet and I will say I’m glad that Andy and Gabby requested [camp] for me. I was on edge about it at first, but it’s been really fun. I would definitely do another camp like this in the future.”
Even the counselors loved camp!
“Oh, I definitely really enjoyed it. And I think we all learned something from each other. I know I definitely learned a lot from everybody else,” expressed Alexia, a Work Opportunities Unlimited mentor.
We also met some pretty incredible humans. The campers, counselors, and staffers not only built bonds with each other but we each had the opportunity to meet icons in the disability community, Comedian Maysoon Zayid and Zack Gottsagen, The Peanut Butter Falcon.
Meeting people, making connections, building our skillset, and self-reflection are all things that each of us experienced. Camp NetWorx! was an experience that each participant will remember. It was a mirror that allowed everyone to see who we really are. In fact, each participant inventoried their skills, passions, objectives and more and produced a tool to help build their confidence moving forward. Check out the below image to view the boxes we built in camp on top of the campers’ certificates!
One by one, each camper left the virtual campfire, but the fire that was lit at camp will continue to glow on. The tools they gained to share their own stories and develop their own networks will last long after the camp’s end.
The Camp NetWorx! Administrative team would like to thank everyone who made camp possible! Thank you to Citibank for funding this amazing opportunity as well as to the coordinators and mentors from Work Opportunities Unlimited. And of course, we could not have done this without our amazing campers!
Thanks to everyone … we can’t wait for our camp reunion to catch up with everyone!