Editor’s Note: This post is less about Daxko and more about a team member and something they do that they hold near and dear to their heart. It’s important to see our team members outside of work and learn about their passions, motivations, and how they give back. So… read on!
When I’m not busy being a Project Manager at Daxko, I find myself drawn to a lot of different things, many of which can be attributed to my parents. I’ve been playing video games since I was a kid, when my parents purchased the original Nintendo Entertainment System. They bought it for themselves, but I quickly latched on and before long, I was stomping on goombas and destroying the robot masters with the best of them. They thought (perhaps hoped) I’d grow out of that…but they were very wrong. On a daily basis, I’ll find myself digging too deep into a dark cavern or attempting to talk myself out of a zombie apocalypse. Somehow, I always manage to come out unscathed.
What I am most thankful my parents passed along to me (even more than Zelda) is something called Special Session. This week of summer camp takes place at wonderful, wonderful Camp McDowell (located near Nauvoo, AL, which is somehow smaller than it sounds). This year was Special Session’s 20th year, and I am very proud to say I’ve been involved from the very beginning: I started as a staff brat, being my parents’ tagalong before graduating to driving golf carts, then to being a counselor, and finally joining the ranks of adult staff. We had two separate weeks of camp this year, our first-ever time splitting it, and by all accounts it was an incredible success.
Special Session is an intentionally regular week of summer camp, complete with pool time, arts and crafts and pie-in-the-face bingo, with one small exception: the campers are mentally and physically handicapped. I choose the word small here with purpose: everyone has disabilities, and while some people’s disabilities and special needs are more obvious than others, this does not stop us from having a good time. We celebrate our differences and are thankful that we are exactly who we are, how we are.
There is a theme that we roughly adhere to (this year being Willy Wonka and his World of Pure Imagination), but usually we offer the same activities every year. Above, you can see my friend Shea riding on a horse and absolutely loving it. He rides on a horse every year and beams with that happiness every time. Below, Dennis has his whistle ready to go in case someone needs saving at the pool (while the real lifeguard sits to the right).
Both Shea and Dennis have been coming for years and are some of my oldest friends. They’ve seen me grow up and have helped form the person I am today. They’re old pros at Special Session, so when we have a counselor (who are normally in the mid-teens to early twenties) who might be nervous about how the week will go, we let Shea or Dennis, among others, hang out with them for the week. The campers don’t need any help, but the counselor might: we know these two will take good care of them.
Another highlight of the week is the Talent Show. What happens on that Special Session stage is magical and is tough to explain in words. We have all kinds of talent showcased, from singing and dancing to extreme smiling and coat hanger twirling. Dennis will often grace us with his harmonica playing, and we get to see Michael Jackson’s songs come to life. We’ve had Pokémon battles, we’ve had arm wrestling competitions, we’ve had a guy tell us all about his cats at length: we’ve had everything.
And the crowd goes wild for it. On Talent Show night, every single person is a star on that stage. You can feel the energy as Geoff walks on stage to tell us on exactly what day of the week any random person was born, or the rapt attention as Jurdy reads us a poem she wrote. Breath is held as we wait to see which of the four contestants will be this year’s most extreme sitter or if Jeremy is going to be able to make his bed in that perfect way that he does. If there was more excitement in the room, the air would crackle with electricity.
The other heavy hitter of the week is the dance, which is the final night. This year, as our normal musical talent was unfortunately ill, I was volunteered as someone who might be able to DJ. What if I mess it up? What happens if I play the wrong song or someone doesn’t like my tunes? I’d never done this before and was nervous: I’ve come to Special Session for twenty years and the dance is the single most impactful moment of the whole thing.
The first image in this post is of that night, right as a conga line is breaking out as I play one of the Soul Train themes; you can see me to the right finding the next song. My fear evaporated as Dennis, Shea, Moose, Philip and this large cast of characters I’ve come to know danced and cheered with each new song; as I should have expected, they took good care of me. It is at the dance where the underlying message of the week is most apparent: it is more trouble than it is worth to discern who is a camper and who is a counselor. We are all loved, we are all special and we are all incredible.
It’s hard to stop talking about Special Session. It’s a bittersweet feeling knowing that I’ll see all these people again in a year, knowing that I must wait a year. Life returns to normal and the most we can do is hope we hold on to the special parts of the week. You would think I would have a lot of practice but it is still sad to see my favorite week of the year, every year, pass by once again.
There’s always next year though!
A very special thank you to the incredibly talented Allison Kendrick, who took the photos. Check out her other work on her website: http://www.allisonkendrick.com/.
McKee S. is a Project Manager who loves playing video games and kickin’ around a hacky sack.