Bright days, brighter futures

Bright+days%2C+brighter+futures

Jamie Glenn

From speech language pathology and outdoor recreation to social work, Northern students are putting away their textbooks for the summer to work at a local camp for youth with disabilities and to make life-changing memories for the kids and for themselves.

Bay Cliff Health Camp, in the town of Big Bay 25 miles from NMU, is a year-round, nonprofit therapy and wellness center for children and adults with physical disabilities. Bay Cliff’s main program is a seven-week summer session serving children with orthopedic, speech, hearing and vision disabilities, to help the children work toward goals of increased independence and living a fuller life. Through the years, many NMU students and alumni have served on its staff.

Northern students add to the overall camp environment at Bay Cliff, bring- ing a positive atmosphere, said Associate Camp Director and NMU alumni Ben Carlson.

“NMU students being counselors… [campers] look up to them,” Carlson said. “Having these counselors who are in college, the idea of education and seeing what these counselors are pursuing can rub off on campers when they look to their own careers. They are in the frontlines with the children, achieving goals.”

This summer season kicked off June 1, and since then staff members have been gaining experience in the health, education and service fields. Working at Bay Cliff, NMU students also find chances for career advancement, such as networking with and learning from service field professionals.

“One of the unique things about Bay Cliff is we hire about 20 professionals on our staff and they stay on-site,” Carlson explained. “You get a good mixture of those who are in the field. It’s an opportunity for students to see if they want to work in a service field.”

Colten Stevens, an NMU junior social work major, works as a Bay Cliff camp counselor and has benefitted from the first-hand experience.

“It helped me understand more of what was being talked about in my social work classes,” Stevens said. “It’s honestly one of the first social work- type jobs that I’ve had, so it’s made it easier to understand what I could be doing or who I’ll be working with.”

Bay Cliff isn’t just a summer job opportunity for university students, it also offers a chance for staff members to reflect on their own lives and see the world through the eyes of someone with a disability.

“It’s made me realize that there’s bigger challenges in the world than what I face, and that I really take some stuff for granted that I shouldn’t,” Stevens added.

Zackary Jutila is a junior majoring in special education. He was a camper at Bay Cliff in 2004 and has been a camp staff member at Bay Cliff for the past four summers.

“[Having been] a camper for one year, I was able to connect with the kids, able to think on their level,” Jutila explained. “A lot of the campers looked toward me for comfort. I was able to reassure them over the summer when they were homesick and missing their family.”

NMU students who have worked at Bay Cliff can apply the social leadership skills they’ve learned at the camp to classroom activities and in their careers ahead.

“I’ll be going into special education, and a lot of the students that I will be working with will have some type of cognitive impairment. Having that experience and being able to solve different situations that campers are in will help,” Jutila said.

Thankfully for the campers, many student staff members are majoring in speech, language and hearing sciences, he said, which is training that can help the children better overcome their communication obstacles.

“A lot of our kids need the encouragements of speaking and being confident in their voice,” Jutila said. “I think that everybody has a voice. It’s great that the kids are able to express them- selves. Since the Northern students are here, they are more comfortable.”

Staff members like Jutila will never forget their time at summer camp.

“Working at Bay Cliff is the hardest job you’ll ever love,” Jutila remarked. “It’s my home away from home. I love Bay Cliff, it’s provided so much for me. It’s given me support and strength when I felt I had none. It’s given me a voice. It’s really a magical place where everyone feels welcome and has support.”

NMU alumnus and Bay Cliff counselor Steve Trombley is shown with a camper at a birthday party.