Elle Burrage, Volunteer
Meet Elle Burrage, a volunteer who stumbled upon camp one evening at home in her living room and hasn't look back since. With all of her time at Over The Wall, the SeriousFun camp in the United Kingdom, we asked Elle to tell us why she's stuck around. These are her words.
"Every camp session has taught me something about myself and helped me develop as a volunteer and person."
What led you to become a volunteer at Over The Wall?
I’d just left a job working with children to begin a career in social work. I was on the lookout for a volunteering role that would allow me to continue working with children when I saw a piece about Over The Wall on TV show and instantly fell in love with what the charity does! I opened up my computer and navigated to their website before the show had even finished. As someone with a long term health condition, I really identified with the children who went to camp; I wanted to be a part of creating the positive experience they gained from Over The Wall.
How is volunteering at camp different than other volunteer experiences you've had?
The support that you receive is fantastic. I’ve never had a volunteer role where everyone is so positive and welcoming; the volunteers really do feel like a family. The staff even make an incredible effort to keep volunteers involved throughout the year, beyond the summer camp season. Over The Wall really makes you feel valued, and is responsible for some of the most life-changing volunteering experiences I’ve had. Every camp session has taught me something about myself and helped me develop as both a volunteer and person.
How did volunteering impact your life, career path, or direction?
Camp has had such a positive impact on my life. Aside from the fact that I’ve met some of my closest friends at camp, it’s helped me develop as a person and build more confidence. Camp encourages you to reflect on experiences. I believe that doing this increasingly has helped me develop resilience and a more positive attitude.
Reflection tools, such as “Warm Fuzzies” (notes volunteers write each other about positive things achieved at camp) mean that if you are having a stressful day or feeling down you can look back at a positive moment and put some perspective on what’s happened.
Camp has also had a positive impact on my career. I was recently selected to be a part of my organization’s talent program, thanks in large part to being able to speak so positively and passionately about what I value, including my time spent at Over The Wall. The talent program has opened up new and exciting development opportunities at work.
"I've never had a volunteer role where everyone is so positive and welcoming; the volunteers really do feel like family."
What skills did you learn or improve by volunteering at Over The Wall?
Camp has made me more aware of how to be fully inclusive of everyone involved, as there are often small changes you can make that instantly transform an environment or activity into a more accessible one.
From this, I’ve developed the ability to adapt—this includes adapting how I communicate activities I lead, adapting how I approach tasks, and improving my ability to think on the spot. As I work with adults with physical and learning disabilities, this has really helped me improve the quality of life for the people we support.
I’ve developed my team work skills, too. Over The Wall has given me an opportunity to meet a variety of people. Working with people from such a wide range of ages, cultures, and backgrounds really helps you experience different team dynamics and see that everyone can play a valued role on a team!
How do these skills relate to the other aspects of your life?
I use the skills and models I learned at Over The Wall in my role as a manager, to ensure that the people I manage feel valued and empowered. It’s helped me to better identify the roles people play on my team, as well as to help them understand that everyone has a valued role. Thanks to camp, I can reference real life examples about improving team work and morale that my colleagues can fully get behind.
What is it about Over The Wall that made your experience so special?
All of it! It is so hard to put the experience of camp into words. The fact that you have the chance to witness so many magical moments is the greatest thing about camp.
You see, everyone at camp achieves something every day—whether it’s a camper reaching the top of the climbing wall or a volunteer leading a song for the first time. Being able to say ‘Well done. That was really brave,’ or ‘That was really kind of you,’ more times in a day than you can count is what makes camp so special.
"My advice is this: Remember that there is a role at camp for everyone."
How have you continued your relationship with camp?
I try to get involved as much as possible. My work is supportive of my involvement, so I’m usually able to volunteer at two to three camp sessions per year. I also assist with new volunteer interviews, fundraising, and awareness events when possible. And I leverage social media a lot to spread the world about Over The Wall!
What advice do you have for someone who is deciding whether or not to volunteer at a SeriousFun camp?
My advice is this: Remember that there is a role at camp for everyone. I think some people can be put off by the photos of people in costumes and face paint, or think that they need to be really loud and outgoing, but that isn’t the case. Not every camper responds to singing and dancing. For some campers, their favorite moments are playing a quiet card game with a volunteer or doing an arts and crafts project. Every team needs a variety of characters and there really is a place for everyone.
What are three words that describe your experience as a volunteer?
Positive. Energizing! Inspiring.
Thanks for sharing how you found growth, community, and passion at camp, Elle! To share your own camp story or learn more about SeriousFun Children's Network, visit www.seriousfunnetwork.org or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd love to hear what camp means to you.