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Bruce Fowler: Camp Counselor for Special Needs

Working at Indian Trails Camp gave this neuroscience major the opportunity to learn first-hand about how individuals live and cope with their disabilities.

Bruce Fowler at Indian Trails Camp with a camper.Bruce Fowler at Indian Trails Camp with a camper.Bruce Fowler spent his summer break impacting youth and adults with special needs by being a camp counselor at Indian Trails Camp near Grand Rapids.

A neuroscience major from Zeeland, Bruce learned about the opportunity through another Alma College student, Christopher Espinoza, who also worked there. Bruce saw it as an opportunity to learn first-hand about how people live with their disabilities rather than from a book or classroom setting.

“It enabled me to work with people of the special needs community who have disorders that I have been studying for years,” he says.

ITC is a home-away-from-home for many of the campers, says Bruce. The amount of time they spend there ranges from one week to the entire summer, but they always enjoy their stay. Everyone is encouraged to be themselves without judgement.

“This beautiful place takes individuals who are commonly believed to be disabled and make them realize their true abilities and how amazing they are,” says Bruce. “I took this job to make a difference in people’s lives, and ITC is an amazing place for that.”

His days at camp would often start early and end late. The mornings included having to wake up campers to get them ready for the day and to breakfast on time. Throughout the day, they would engage in activities such as boating, swimming and rock climbing. Occasionally, behavioral issues would come up when campers would refuse to transition.

Indian Trails CampAmong the skills Bruce learned that he believes will help him in his future are communication and compassion. He practiced communicating important information related to camper safety, such as allergies.

“Since I worked at ITC, I’ve been able to look at life through a different lens,” he says.

A large take-away for Bruce was that even when people cannot speak, they have a lot to say. He frequently interacted with campers who had speech impairment. He often was impressed by their ability to express themselves in other ways, such as through electronic devices.

“My favorite part about working at camp was the everlasting bonds that I made with both campers and staff,” says Bruce. “Everybody there is genuine and wants to be your friend.”

There were challenges to overcome, but Bruce says it got easier as the summer went on. He continues to work respites, which is a weekend of camp, as time allows.

On campus, Bruce is involved in many activities. He is the vice-president of the Neuroscience Club, trombone section leader in the Kiltie Marching Band and a member of the varsity League of Legends esports team.

After graduation, he is contemplating pursuing a career that provides therapy opportunities for people with disabilities.

Story published on November 12, 2019