Camp Cando Pirates 2014

The life and times of the Astro Camp Cando Pirates

A rewarding smile at Camp Cando 2014I have worked in the telecommunications industry for over 40 years. Many of us take for granted that we can communicate with people across the globe without a second thought. Our industry does a great job at enabling voice and video communication between towns, countries and continents.

As long-term supporters of Camp Cando, Steve Hodges and I decided this year was a good time to do more than just provide sponsorship. Sponsorship is vitally important to enable Camp to run each year but we really wanted to do more. Many of the teenagers that attend Camp have limited communication. Some are non-verbal, others have vision problems and some a combination of both or have their own way of communicating.

”So Steve Hodges and I decided over a beer or two with two seasoned Camp veterans that we would volunteer”

Mr Smith stealing Mr Hodges ballI have mentioned Camp Cando before in our blog so you can see from previous articles that we ran the Lincoln 10k Road Race this year – OK granted I didn’t actually run it but I was in full support of Mr Hodges from the comfort of my armchair when he ran the race. I even gave him some feedback on the excess weight he was carrying. We also sponsored Camp Cando’s Hadrian’s Wall walk and this time both Mr Hodges and I supported this from the comfort of our armchairs (metaphorically speaking).

So Steve Hodges and I decided over a beer or two with two seasoned Camp veterans that we would volunteer to actually help out during the week’s Camp this year. I hasten to add there always is a beer or two when volunteering is involved, but in this instance there were no regrets.

“…I was way outside my comfort zone and approached (Camp) with a mix of excitement and anxiety while Mr Hodges took a more gung-ho approach.”

Working as a volunteer at Camp couldn’t be further away from our day job where we are working with computers and network equipment rather than people and we are in an industry that specialises in communication. Having said this, my elder daughter is autistic, and although she has the ability to communicate verbally her understanding and choice of words is limited so I am experienced in communicating with someone with limited communication on a day-to-day basis. Mr Hodges had spent some time in the past working with children with emotional and behavioural problems so he did have some idea as to what he was volunteering for too.

More rewarding smiles Camp Cando 2014What was fascinating was that Steve and I both approached Camp from a different perspective. I was concerned that I was way outside my comfort zone and approached it with a mix of excitement and anxiety while Mr Hodges took a more gung-ho approach. However, we both got the same out of the experience feeling that we got more out of Camp than we put in. So much so, for the week following Camp we were both suffering from Camp withdrawal and really missed some of the teenagers that were in our care during the week. Oh yes, and we both came away with a number of bug bites – probably the result of the native woodland wildlife helping themselves to a really good meal – which I must add is a small price to pay for the experience.

”…he should be thankful that it was me and not Mr Hodges that he made the comment to otherwise he may have become a permanent feature of the children’s play area in Drusillas.”

You can read more about my experience at Camp Cando on my personal blog here but to add to this Mr Hodges had an equally rewarding time including a trip to Hastings. While there he spent some time at the fair. As I witnessed walking around Drusillas Park and Zoo with our group a couple of days before, a group such as ours can incite a mix of reactions from the general public, good and bad. While I was at Drusillas a middle aged man walked past me with his family and made a derogatory comment about our group. At the time it made me very angry but that was a momentary reaction as I then felt sorry for him. He obviously had his own fears to deal with and either through lack of experience or lack of education his fear got the better of him and obviously compelled him to make such a comment. Just a shame he is going to bias his own children’s outlook on life. I did think at the time he should be thankful that it was me and not Mr Hodges that he made the comment to otherwise he may have become a permanent feature of the children’s play area in Drusillas. Fortunately it didn’t take too long to restore my faith in human nature.

Learning the ropes at Camp Cando 2014A couple of hours later when we all stopped for a drink we took ownership of almost all of the chairs and tables outside the coffee shop. A rather large family group gradually filtered through our group to sit at a table in amongst us as if everything was good with the world. Through my own experience with my daughter I am used to people avoiding us and I can remember on one very painful occasion when my daughter was in her early teens when a mother removed her child from the other end of a swimming pool. I have also taken groups of my daughter’s friends out to restaurants and ten pin bowling for her birthday so I am used to people avoiding us rather than facing the ‘unknown’. I appreciate this is a natural human reaction.

So, when a large family group from grandparents down to small grandchildren walked through our group and didn’t bat an eyelid I was full of respect. A short while later one of their group noticed one of our helpers was wearing an ‘I walked the wall’ t-shirt and asked about his Hadrian’s Wall walk. Another member of their group asked one of the other helpers who we worked for and when she was told we were all volunteers she just said “I’ll see you at the Pearly Gates.” I’m pretty sure Mr Hodges and I won’t be there but it was great to hear that the seasoned helpers, some of whom have been working at Camp for over 20 years were getting some well-deserved recognition. Having said this, none of the helpers I met did it for recognition. The volunteers worked at Camp because it is such a rewarding experience. In any case, there are much easier ways to get recognition if that was the desired outcome.

”A few minutes later the man approached Mr Hodges and told him what a good job he thought he was doing with the teenagers.”

All is fair at Hastings for Camp CandoMr Hodges had some equally positive experiences during his visit to the seaside. The theme for the week was pirates so very appropriate for a trip to Hastings with the town’s connection with smugglers and their own pirate day every year. Mr Hodges is not one to give out praise lightly, but he does issue praise whenever and wherever it is due. He was very impressed with the staff at the Flamingo Amusement Park in Hastings where the park team were really engaging with the Camp Cando teenagers and high fiving them as they went past on the rides. From my own experience this reaction and engagement is rare so they really deserve a mention and a big high five back from Astro. Also, while in the amusement park Mr Hodges was getting what he thought were rather threatening looks from one of the visitors at the amusement park. A few minutes later the man approached Mr Hodges and told him what a good job he thought he was doing with the teenagers. Mr Hodges breathed a sigh of relief. Not because he was scared of the man, but because he gave him the benefit of the doubt rather than taking him out on his approach in his usual rugby style – or is that Pebble Watch style?

It seems like a really long time to wait for Camp next year and I realise that we still had the relatively easy task of turning up and spending some time with some amazing teenagers while being part of a fantastic team that we really were privileged to be a part of. I also realise that there is an incredible amount of work goes into Camp each year by the organisers who have to raise the funds through contacts and by taking part in sponsored events as well as meet and organise the teenagers and the volunteers to ensure everyone’s needs are met while at Camp. I had intended to write one blog post for my personal blog but there are many reasons why I believe it is an appropriate blog post for Astro. Getting the teenagers on Camp and the volunteers organised so well is a brilliant example of communication. Anyone involved in Camp will realise that it is an excellent example of project management and project delivery. The whole experience was so great any company in their right mind would want to be involved with Camp Cando to learn from the experience.