Four years, four weeks, five days a week, 24 hours a day; the dedication is clear as senior Matt Neumann continues to return to volunteer at Camp Hapitok, a children’s speech and language camp, for the fifth summer.
“I really enjoy how much energy the kids have and how much fun I have getting to know them,” said Neumann, who quickly bonds with his campers over hanging out and just being guys together.
He originally went to camp in the summer of 2010, when he was making the move from eighth grade to high school, because his younger brother was attending as a camper, and Neumann wanted to make sure he wasn’t as homesick. Neumann has returned every summer since.
“Camp is my summer, I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t go,” said Neumann, who loves how he gets the feeling of a fresh start and new goals with every camper over each summer. Neumann also looks forward to his final summer at camp this year, due to an age limit of 18, with a bittersweet mix of feelings.
“Being a fifth year at camp is like being a senior at school, you’re older than everyone and you get to pass your knowledge along to others,” said Neumann, who hopes to one day be on staff, as the male intern.
Neumann’s mother, Amanda, loves that her sons were able to spend more time with each other and the positive attitudes of everyone at the camp.
“Not only did the time together at camp strengthen their bond as brothers, it helped them learn and appreciate different skills and talents that they each bring. They compliment each other well,” Amanda said. “Camp Hapitok is a magical place where young kids who maybe feel a little different and sometimes alone are anything but.”
Camp Hapitok, in commission since 1970, runs out of the Rancho El Chorro Outdoor Educational facilities, which are operated by the SLO County Office of Education. Twenty-eight elementary aged campers are paired one on one with a teen volunteer for the four week camp, Monday through Friday.
Neumann, or Stone, as he is referred to at Camp Hapitok, is a TIGR, a Therapy Individual Goal Reinforcer, and he is paired with a younger camper for the whole summer and helps them throughout the weeks. Camp names are chosen by the TIGR or the camper to give them a new identity solely for camp, separate from their home and school lives. Throughout his four years so far, Neumann has had five campers.
After his third year at camp, he was particularly close with his camper and even hung out that summer after camp was over. He attended his birthday party at the Ravine, and even went bowling with his family.
Each day’s activities include taking campers to breakfast, attending events such as PE, the Adventure Zone, along with arts and crafts, and themed field trips, all while keeping track of the camper’s individual speech and language goals. These specific goals include saying their ‘R’s correctly at the end of words, answering questions in full sentences, or just having slower and more clear speach. Campers are required to fill out one grid for every activity they attend throughout the day, each grid is 25 punches, a punch for each time they complete the “grid goal” correctly. Each day, the speech therapists meet with the camper and give them new goals to work on throughout the day.
“I struggle with trying to do a million things at once. As a counselor, I have to think about my camper’s safety, scheduling, entertainment, homesickness, and basic needs, all while trying to prompt him for good speech sounds throughout the day,” Neumann said.
Amber Eye, a 2013 graduate, doesn’t see his troubles with multi-tasking. “What makes Stone such a good TIGR is his ability to watch what his camper needs and role with it,” said Eye, who was also a five year TIGR. “Over the years he has simply grown into an amazing person and an Amazing TIGR. I am grateful for getting to see his transformation from a shy TIGR into an adult and a strong, brave person,” said Eye, who added that Neumann is one of her best friends and views him as one of the best people she knows.
Neumann’s dedication these past years have been shared with his family as well. Aside from his brother Will, who first attended camp in 2010 as a camper, Neumann’s other brother, sophomore Jeff Neumann, attended camp as a TIGR beginning in 2012. Neumann’s mom, has seen the positive effects that this child’s camp has had with all of her sons.
“The confidence and maturity that he has gained through this experience was invaluable,” Amanda said. Neumann does believe that one thing camp has greatly helped him with was speaking out or being able to talk to large groups of people, at camp you do silly skits in front of the whole camp, which has helped make things easier for Neumann.
Neumanns favorite part about camp is the end of the year banquets where the camper and the TIGR both dress up nicely and eat a nice meal and give each other handmade gifts. “It closes the summer and concludes the year nicely,” Neumann said.