Arms Covered in Cheddar

Describe a setting in which you have collaborated or interacted with people whose experiences and/or beliefs differ from yours. Address your initial feelings, and how those feelings were or were not changed by this experience.

Grasping the knife, I made deliberate cuts. Mumbling, I couldn’t focus on what I was doing. Looking outside at the bleak clouds and parched grass, I felt groggy. Gray cinderblock-like bags tugged on my haggard eyes. The leaky kitchen faucet’s “ka plunk, ka plunk” pierced the room’s bedlam. My shirt was disheveled and my shoelaces untied. My arms were covered in…cheddar?Making cheese sandwiches is a seemingly simple task. Not so. Especially when there are hungry autistic children tugging on your jeans and smashing mayonnaise in your hair as you try to slice the bread. Try spreading cheddar on one sandwich in that situation, much less over thirty. My volunteering at Camp Summit, a retreat for mentally disabled individuals, has led to even more bizarre experiences. Early on, feeding hungry children and assisting them in messy bathroom situations (I won’t elaborate) caused me to see special-needs children as a burden. My first day at camp, a kid cut off chunks of his hair. Another mushed chocolate between her toes. Another tried to call 911. Although I had some very well-behaved children, a few rowdy ones were enough to create my distaste for this volunteering.After this inauspicious beginning, you’d think I would avoid anything to do with these children. However, as time passed, I saw past the unmentionable bathroom experiences and cheesy arms. Each time I visit, I’m received by jovial smiles, kids tugging on my jeans, and animated camp “gossip.” Although the campers and I have shared many awkward experiences, I’ve coped by changing my attitude towards them. The children have taught me to look for people’s strengths, rather than getting caught up in their faults. The campers here are genuine. When I coordinate exhilarating activities, from classic games of “Capture the Flag” to games of my imagination like “Anteater Frankenstein,” I see their honestly gleeful grins or grumbling grimaces.I’ve come to enjoy volunteering at Camp Summit not because it has changed me, but because I’m part of a community free from inhibition. I’m not expected to tiptoe around conventional norms, discuss politics, or create a facade. The campers’ disregard for established mannerisms has liberated me. Campers of dissimilar ethnicities, experiences, and ages spontaneously hug each other, throw tantrums, and do as they feel. Although society sees my campers as “disabled,” I’ve learned that its members are “disabled” in their inability to freely express their emotions. Although people may think I volunteer to benefit others, that is only one part of my reason. I dutifully spread cheddar and swing my nose in “Anteater Frankenstein” not only to serve my campers but also to gain perception for my own life. In the end, I like to think that I accomplish both.

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