Emily Harris is currently a senior at Appalachian State majoring in Recreation Management with a minor in Special Education. Read below to see how she was able to find an internship that combined her love for the outdoors with her desire to work with children with special needs.
My internship was working as part of the outdoor field staff for SOAR, which is an outdoor adventure camp for kids 8-18 years old with ADD/ADHD and learning disabilities. SOAR has multiple base camps across the U.S. and offers so many awesome opportunities and experiences. With a minor in special education, my goal was to find a job that combined both my love for that population and recreation itself. I set out determined to nail down an internship that was unlike anything I’d ever done before. I wanted something totally out of my normal element. I wanted it to be something that I could thoroughly enjoy and also expand my knowledge and experience within the field. An internship at a camp seemed like a good avenue to explore since camp was brand new to me.
When I was first given some information about SOAR, it seemed like a perfect option for me. I researched the organization some on the internet just to get the general overview/understanding of the organization and what they try to do with these kids. The balsam base, which is where I worked, was 45 minutes from my hometown, and the ASU Recreation Management program already had a good relationship with SOAR. When I decided to apply for the internship, I got the director of operation’s contact information at the balsam base and emailed her about setting up a time to further discuss the position at the upcoming ASU outdoor jobs fair. At the jobs fair, I came prepared with my professional resume, letter of recommendation, and a cover letter. Laura, my eventual boss, and I sat down in the student union for about an hour and had a full blown interview. I was nervous, but Laura was very inviting and super easy to talk to. I felt confident in my performance at the interview and crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Less than a week later, I got an email from Laura saying I had gotten the job. I was so thrilled to have landed the position so I accepted the offer. I immediately imagined a wonderful summer ahead full of adventures.
The internship turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, and it was definitely the best summer that I had had in my life. It was life changing in a way for me. The friendships that I made with the staff, the directors, the kids and their parents really impacted me in a positive way. I felt like I was a part of a family at SOAR. The things I got to do and experience with the staff and kids, and just working with that population of kids, really made me step back and take a look at my life. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I loved doing work like this. It filled me with a genuine happiness that I had never felt before. The summer wasn’t always filled with sunshine and roses and there were times that I was tested, but overall I wouldn’t trade a single thing that happened that entire summer. I felt like a completely changed person when I came back to school in August for my senior year. I was driven in my studies, excited for my future, and ready to put my skills to use. What it boiled down to was that I had a new found sense of confidence that I had never had in myself before. I came back with a whole new mindset and I was legitimately happy. I was even sad to leave SOAR because the three-month summer didn’t seem like long enough.
The aspect that I enjoyed most about the internship was being able to see and experience break-throughs with kids. Seeing them make a climb even though they were terrified of heights, take leadership of a group during an activity, or even just befriend another kid in the group was truly amazing. Most of the kids were completely different from when I met them on the first day to when the course ended. At the debriefs at the end of a course, I was so excited to share with the parents what strides and accomplishments their child had made throughout the course. It had such a big impact on some that the parents actually cried on me and thanked me and my staff partner for what we did. There’s not a better feeling than seeing improvements in a child who is normally just told about the things that he/she is not good at or can’t do.
What surprised me most about my internship experience was how much I loved it. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. Even during the rough times or not so good days, I still laid down at night and in my heart, I still truly loved it. I learned more about myself than I could have ever imagined. I learned that I am extremely flexible in terms of dealing with situations and working with different people, patient, hardworking, physically and mentally tough, and that I have the ability to be a leader. I also learned that I want to work with persons with disabilities in some sort of outdoor setting for the rest of my life. It brings me so much joy!
My advice to other students looking for internships is don’t set the bar low for yourself. Set it high and go after something that will be totally new and be outside of your comfort zone. If you allow yourself to stay in your comfort zone, you’ll never really know what you can learn about yourself. Also set out hungry to nail down something. Don’t procrastinate and let opportunities pass you by.
As for me and my future, I am working again with SOAR this coming summer out at their base in Dubois, Wyoming. It’s been a dream of mine to get out west and this is my chance! I loved working for SOAR so much last summer that I decided that I wanted to work with them again this summer. I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do after camp ends in August. I have a couple ideas that include continue working for SOAR, applying to an adaptive sports center somewhere out west and do different seasonal jobs, or find another special needs camp to explore. To me, the options are endless and I am excited to explore them!