Camp Cando 2016
It is amazing what you CANDO with the right people and the right attitude.
Last week our MD Steve Hodges took some time out of the office to spend some time with one of our favourite charities. This is his account.
For a few years now Astro has supported a fantastic charity called Camp Cando which takes children and young adults with a range of complex special and behavioural needs away for the week, based in an activity centre in Kent. Camp Cando simultaneously provides their parents and carers some respite while exposing the children and young adults to experiences and activity that entertain, develop and enhance their journey though the world. It is an incredible grass roots charity. Small but perfectly formed, run by volunteers and funded entirely by donations. The impact that it has had on these children and young adults in a very short period of time is immensely visible – and when you see it in action first hand, it stops you in your tracks.
A couple of years ago Steve Smith (Astro CTO) and I shared a week between us as volunteers and I did a little fund raising with a 10k run. Last year our two award winning apprentices, Joe Wing and James Tuck, had a week at camp between them as part of their CSR activity for their apprenticeship. This year, I have just been back to camp. What astounded me this time was the recollection by these youngsters of my involvement over two years ago. I work every day with people that have trouble recalling instructions or conversations from two weeks ago and here I am having detailed discussions with a 15 year-old with significant learning challenges about the minutiae of a conversation and a game of badminton from over 24 months ago. ‘Camp’ as it is known, has such a profound impact on these young, complex minds that the experience overcomes some of the physical and mental barriers to imprint every detail of their time here firmly in their mind.
“…when needed in the heat of the moment the guys can instantly recall and respond which is what makes the volunteers so amazing.”
My experience at Camp provides an appropriate recap and almost a ‘joining up’ of a recent blog article by Steve Smith about thinking positively and my last contribution about what can be achieved by well-functioning teams (as set out in Gung Ho and demonstrated on a sailing trip). I thought it was interesting to reflect on how Camp binds these two feats of human brilliance together (effortless positivity and organisational leadership) to produce an event that has a profound impact on so many lives – campers, carers, parents and volunteers. The group of people pulled together to achieve this are from every walk of life, many different professions and the most diverse of personal circumstances. But regardless of their personal circumstances, the desire to be able to overcome any challenges and inconveniences in order to ensure they can look into the eyes of the youngsters and know that they have made a difference is fantastic.
Challenges here are different to anywhere else in life. Being bitten and punched, cuddled and high fived by the same person within the same 15 minute window is a wonderful feeling – honestly. Knowing which child is likely to try and ‘go walkabout’, which one likes it to be quiet, who likes the feeling of loud music pumping out of a speaker, who needs to be let to run around and who needs the routine of eating the same food in the same seat every day, takes times to learn and longer to remember. But when needed in the heat of the moment the guys can instantly recall and respond which is what makes the volunteers so amazing. It looks effortless to an outsider – almost second nature. However, nothing here can be completely instinctive as it is far too complex and too varied. But this just serves to highlight the mentality here and how the volunteers all think about things. Nothing is ever really a problem or ever a crisis for them. Contrast this with the fact that I am surrounded by people who think the world has ended when the traffic is bad on the motorway or a customer wants to change the time of a meeting and it is mind-blowing. At Camp, running repairs to buildings (or people); dealing with emotional or physical outbursts by hearty 16 year olds with severe behavioural challenges, or contending with torrential rain on the day that a trip to the farm for 30 people is scheduled, just washes off these guys with no greater level of distress than having to fill up the kettle.
“It is amazing, dare I say inspiring to watch it in action, and at the same time witnessing the impact is humbling and heart-warming.”
And I can see two reasons for this, both of which many of us – me included – could learn from. Firstly, the ambient level of engagement from the volunteers is SO incredible that they don’t want to focus on the ‘issues-de-jour’, they want to make the experience as positive as possible, so their deletion filter kicks in and they forget about the tough moments and they focus on capitalising on the positives. And what is brilliant, it is done without thought or debate, it is just how they see things. Secondly, I believe, is largely down to my favourite subject of ‘leadership’.
Camp Director Steve Smith (MBE, and a different Steve Smith to my CTO) is calm, composed and collected. The leadership team around him are super organised and the preparation is military-like and the entire team of volunteers are just great. Steve is brilliantly qualified and experienced in how to run camp and deal with every eventually but he delegates (actually empowering the future development of Camp volunteers and leaders) much of the day-to-day or ‘in the moment’ stuff to ensure he can keep a broad view of everything that is going on and then be wholly engaged should there be an actual situation to deal with. It is amazing, dare I say inspiring to watch it in action, and at the same time witnessing the impact is humbling and heart-warming.
I had a very short time with these people this year, but I will treasure every moment. And in October I will don my running shoes to raise some much needed cash for these guys by doing the Maidstone Half marathon. More details at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/SteveHodges. But more than that, I will be ensuring that next year Team Astro cover at least a whole week here between us, as well as making a helpful contribution to the running costs. The picture below shows me looking after my new friend Bradley. Bradley is an incredible little guy whose company I have very much enjoyed this week, even while he was restructuring my face.
If you would like to donate to my run please feel free, if you would like to donate directly to Camp Cando then you can do so by visiting the Virgin Money Giving website here, and if you would like know more then please visit the camp website www.campcando.org or get in touch with me.
Feeling tired, inspired, humbled and very impressed.
Thank you Steve for a very enlightening account of your time at Camp.