Summer Camp has arrived! We are three weeks into it and we served close to 250 campers already. Many happy laughs, smiles and unforgettable moments have been shared already here at Camp K. Success stories are created every day. As I said many times, at Camp K there is no ”can’t”, at Camp K everyone “CAN”. It is our firm belief that everybody with trust, encouragement, support and the right attitude can do anything that they want, or are set to accomplish. People with disabilities grow up being told along the way that they can’t or won’t be able to do certain things, however, they have proved wrong many scientists and doctors in showing them that they can do those things. Our philosophy here at Camp K is to encourage, motivate, grow self-esteem, build self-confidence and self-control, teach persistence, flexibility and adaptability, we instigate curiosity and initiative, and foster communication and collaboration in order to build a “Can Do” attitude. The world is full of excuses. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what has happened to you. At the end of the day you choose your actions, and how you treat others.
Summer camp is an opportunity for children to be exposed to the best of human character. Camp K would not be possible unless every year we would find carefully selected role models dedicated to showing your children how to have fun, learn from others, and make friends in person rather than online. Camp allows kids to meet people with different abilities, from different places, different races, cultures and socioeconomic levels. Camp K staff is coming from all over the country and the world. This year, we have staff from 18 different states and two European countries. I am very proud and humble to have such a diverse team. The number one quality that they have is integrity. They are honest and trustworthy, they are here at Camp K willing to sacrifice and serve. They see work as a cause – as a way to change the world and dedicate themselves to social change – rather seeing it as just a way to get a paycheck.
Our team is comprised of 99% Millennials. There has been a lot of talk about Millennials. What should we expect from them? Are they hard workers? Do they care about their communities? Do they care about social impact? After working with them I can tell you that we have nothing to worry about. They are hard workers, with the intention of doing good, focused on solving problems and helping people rebound more effectively from them. They are dedicated team players that care deeply for their communities and social impact. As more Millennials will enter the workforce they will challenge the status quo which is what we need in order to foster great leadership. They are very concerned with our political system, education system, and very interested to bring social change.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank our amazing staff this summer for their sacrifice and dedication to a higher purpose than themselves. They are all amazing! Thank you!
On Saturday, one of my friends, Cindie, invited me to spend an evening with Carly Fiorina, Presidential Candidate and Former CEO of Hewlett Packard. She delivered an inspirational speech. She talked about the key ingredients in people’s success – which are the same skills we foster here at Camp K. She said that at the beginning of her career, while she was a secretary for a small real estate business, somebody noticed her hard work and dedication, and promoted her. Somebody believed in her. That was all she needed in order to catapult her onto a great career path. That is all we need, for somebody to believe in us. That ultimately gives us wings to fly. She said that she believes we are all equal, and we can achieve anything we want with hard work and dedication.
I had the honor of sitting at the same table with Carly Fiorina, and I had a very good conversation with her. She said that the best leadership quality one can have is to question the status quo. I agree with her 100%. The only way that we can bring change is to question the status quo. We do that here at Camp K with all of our participants. Like I mentioned in the beginning, there is no “can’t” here at the camp. Both our staff and participants are challenged to learn valuable life, social, and “21st Century” skills, including self-confidence, self-control, persistence, flexibility, adaptability, curiosity, initiative, communication, and collaboration. At the end of the evening, I wished good luck to Carly on her journey to become the next President of the United States of America; she said help is better than luck. She is right – we all need help in order to achieve great things in life!
Here at Camp K, we believe in both our staff and in our participants, and we provide them with the help that they need to succeed. We believe that they can achieve great things. Although it is not always easy, they rise to the challenge, and achieve amazing things. We have endless inspirational stories from both our staff and campers. For example a recent story comes from Rachel, Ryder’s mom. She said “Ryder loves his horseback riding lessons. He is Autistic and since he has been riding, he started singing while in the horse saddle. He is now starting to say words. Something magical happens when he’s on his horse. Taylor, his instructor, is phenomenal and is wonderful with children. I can’t sing high enough praises. We will bring Ryder for lessons for as long as we can. I love Camp Kostopulos. Its God sent.”
Another note I received from DeSean’s mom: “I just wanted to take a moment to thank you again for the AWESOME adventure day at Camp K!!!!! Our group had a day we will remember for a very long time. As we were driving home DeSean said, “I wish everyday could be Camp K day!!!!”
Finally this note comes from Carol, Marti’s mom: “Thank you, thank you, thank you! Marti had one of the best weeks ever at Camp K and cannot stop talking about it. There were so many parts that were new for the staff and they handled it all very well. She is looking forward to coming back.”
In the last 50 years, our society has not done enough for people with disabilities and special needs. 50 years ago, Dan Kostopulos noticed that the people with disabilities are marginalized in our community, and didn’t have opportunities to learn and grow like we do. 50 years later, we have barely scratched the surface in regards to what we need to do for people with disabilities, in order to unlock their full potential to live meaningful lives and to be active contributors to our society. UNICEF released the most recent statistics, and over 1 billion people in the world live with a form of a disability. Disability is number one cause for poverty. Until we provide them with the tools they need, help them to develop skills in order to have jobs and contribute to our society, we are missing a huge untapped potential. Camp K now is more relevant than ever before. Camp K is not the cause – children are the cause. Camp K is the solution.
In the past all talent was directed to for-profit corporations. I believe that, as more Millennials enter the workforce with the intention of doing good, the nonprofit sector will be a magnet for top talent, creating a pipeline of future leaders who are skilled at integrating social and environmental goals with the bottom line. I also believe we will be more diverse than ever, not just in terms of women and minorities in leadership positions, but in terms of inclusion. I am very hopeful that we will find solutions to bring forward the untapped potential of people with disabilities and have them be active contributors to our society. This will have a huge impact on saving taxpayer money, and solving Medicaid and Medicare budgetary issues.
We have worked very hard here at Camp K in the last 50 years to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities and special needs through recreation, education, and growth opportunities. We have come a long way since the first summer camp. At that time, there were no paid camp workers, and all of the food was donated. Volunteers and parents used private automobiles to transport participants daily. The volunteers were at great insurance risk transporting campers to and from the camp site in their private vehicles. The camp had a station wagon that served as the vehicle that would gather up supplies, and to take the campers to a nearby swimming pool at the VA Hospital. The campers traveled back to their homes each evening after camp. However, one night each week, they slept overnight, outdoors on the campground’s hard ground. Some of the participants needed to be carried to different activities. The food was prepared at a volunteer’s house each night, and transported to camp each morning. There are no appropriate words to give thanks and express the depth of gratitude to those volunteers who gave up their summer to help. From those humble beginnings, we have built beautiful facilities, we now have great staff and volunteers to help further the dream and vision of one man: Dan Kostopulos.
You might be tempted to say: We did it, we are done with our work. I say: No, my friends, we have more work to do – hard work, uncertain work and unending work, work that may test us, work that may defeat us, work for which we may not get credit for, but work for which our participants and our whole community depends on. Because we live in a very fast paced technological world, the time is short and the odds are long. But I believe we are ready nonetheless, with the love of those who raised us, with the lessons of those who taught us, with the strength of those who stand beside us as we face what lies ahead.
My leadership philosophy can be summed up in one quote by Paulo Coelho: The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion. I say: Let us begin!