Kristen Kolombatovich is currently the Communications Summer Intern for Special Olympics Project UNIFY. She is a junior at Hofstra University, where she is majoring in Public Relations. Kristen is originally from Hopewell, New Jersey.
“We didn’t know what to expect, we were 17.”
Last week, Special Olympics staff members had the opportunity to hear stories from some of the original Camp Shriver counselors. As Anne and Mary Hammerbacher share their experience from the first day of Camp Shriver, the visual of the buses pulling in and children stepping off starts to form.
It was not only the first day of camp, it was the first day of a movement that grew into what today is known as Special Olympics.
As the Camp Shriver counselors spoke about their experiences with the children, I realized that these stories were not much different from my own. Anne and Mary recall a small boy named Tiger who would jump off the bus every day and shout “Where are the girls!”
Listening to their stories, you got the sense that the overall goal of camp was to have fun. Of course it was important to build the abilities of the campers, but overall, the children were there to ride ponies, go swimming, shoot archery, and just enjoy the summer time with their new camp friends and counselors.
I sat listening to their stories reflecting on my own experiences as a present day Camp Shriver counselor. My first exposure to Camp Shriver and Special Olympics New Jersey was when I started volunteering at 15 years old. I struggled my first year to understand my interaction with the athletes, especially because they were twice my age and towered over me. I found myself as more of a follower within my group, learning from the head counselor and watching the tactics they would use. After two years of observing as well as participating, I decided to apply as a counselor. My nerves were eased by my previous experience and I was ready to take on the coaching position. I was now the teacher.
I was fortunate enough to serve as a camp counselor for three summers. This camp was where I found my passion for this organization. My state president spoke once to all the counselors and said, “You will have that moment, when you understand why what you are doing is so important”.
Ian was that moment.
My second year as a counselor I was approached by his father after the last day of camp. He told me how Ian had not been well and ever since he had been attending camp his father had not only seen an improvement in his athletic abilities but his health as well. With one last “thank you” and a handshake, Ian’s father left me feeling overwhelmed. I had made a difference.
Whenever I am asked where I found my passion for Special Olympics, I tell my story of Ian. It is the 50th Anniversary this summer of the beginning of Camp Shriver and bridging the gap between these two generations of counselors could not have been a better way to celebrate what Eunice Kennedy Shriver started that fateful summer in 1962.