This is the story of a TCC-er.
I may not be unique. Like most people who work in or with the social sector, I have a personal drive to give back. But volunteering at a week-long summer camp gave me pause – and I will share with you how this experience reinforced how I embody TCC’s values – that is, a client-centered approach focused on learning, sustainable change, and resourcefulness.
For five of the last seven years, I have spent the third full week of July in Ripley, West Virginia – a rural community approximately 45 minutes from the state capitol.
But not just any summer camp. Camp Mountain Heart. A free, overnight week-long life-changing experience for kids ages 8-17 with congenital heart disease.
After a week of fun – crafts, dodgeball, swimming, drama class, building rockets, archery, and more – I took a moment to reflect on why I do this. Why did I spend an entire week with 53 adorable, energetic, empathetic, tenacious children?
While their personalities and love for life alone justifies my choice (in my mind), it really boils down to one thing: I feel I can contribute.
Whenever most people do community service – for an hour, a day, a week – a common afterthought is: I wish I could do more. Believe me, a similar thought passes through my mind every single year when camp ends. These kids need more help. They need ongoing support. They are strong and resilient, but I want to do more.
Yet in contrast to this post-service frustration, I also experience a personal euphoria. Even though all I can give is one week. Hearing from campers – how this camp plays an extremely influential and positive role in their lives – I am overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to contribute. Even if my role is just a sliver in their memory, I still contributed.
This internal drive to contribute; my personal motivation to make a difference, however small – in the context of summer camp – serves as a reminder as to why I joined TCC and emote TCC’s values. I am constantly inspired by TCC Group’s focus on clients as our partners; our drive for greater, sustainable social impact; and our attention to learning.
Camp Mountain Heart serves as a critical safe haven for its campers. With numerous health conditions, countless scars, and childhood memories speckled with hospital visits, life-threatening surgeries, and ongoing medication and treatment, it’s no surprise that many campers are teased and bullied by their peers. Camp is one week of the year where they can feel normal – where they are accepted for who they are, are treated with respect, and build lifelong friendships. They can challenge themselves and inspire one another to achieve great things. Their relationships go beyond the single week – many campers meet up throughout the year and use social media to stay connected.
This sense of community – which supports and inspires collaborative relationships – is the environment TCC seeks to create with clients. We expect clients to come with more questions than answers; with hopeful confidence, a realization they are capable of great things, and a desire to explore, grow, and learn. An effective partnership is one where an organization is provided the time, space, and collaborative support to achieve greater things. We support organizations to ask the tough questions, solve problems, and help our clients effect positive social change – be it through creating a capacity building learning community, launching a corporate citizenship program, assessing their current efforts, or building a new strategy.
My favorite thing about camp is being able to watch the campers grow up. Since my first year as a counselor in 2010, I have watched campers go from being scrawny, shy 8-year-olds to confident teenagers. One former camper recently finished her masters in social work; several graduated college this past May. Another is starting a job as a middle school math teacher this fall. One graduate camper plans to pursue pediatric nursing to give back to kids like him; still another senior camper plans to enter the Marines.
I couldn’t be more proud.
Watching them grow up, they enter the real world with a refined confidence, strength, and unparalleled empathy, having to overcome daily adversities most people never experience until late in life (if at all). Hearing personal stories of how camp has positively influenced their lives makes it clear that camp – for these kids – is a “change moment.” My fellow counselors and I are there to help our campers succeed in life – making the most of the short time we have during the one-week camp.
TCC follows a similar mindset when working with clients. We engage with organizations that are approaching, seeking, or in the middle of a “change moment.” Our engagement with you may be short-term, such as interpreting your unique results from the Core Capacity Assessment Tool or the Foundation Core Capacity Assessment Tool and determining where you are in your own organizational growth. Or our involvement may be long-term – where we manage or evaluate your organization’s programs over several years. Whatever the level of engagement, we are here to help our clients succeed.
This year, I taught the rocket class – something I had never done before. My first day began by diligently studying the instruction manual, to prepare myself for helping 18 kids build their own rockets. With five adults coordinating the spray paint cans, hot glue guns, and instruction manuals – we managed to “learn and apply” in real-time, with all 18 rockets ready for launch by Friday. During the launch, I learned the importance of
secure fins, a seamless launch lug, and why the igniter MUST make contact with the combustion material – all things that were not explicitly laid out in the instructions (well, for the most part). These helpful facts are now tucked away for the next time I build a rocket (which will likely be at camp in 2017).
The entire process of building rockets with these kids (many of whom had taken the class before and were teaching me) made me realize that I was living TCC’s values. I was learning from the get-go, and applying feedback from campers (and the instruction manual) as I went along. The process reinforced the importance of attention to detail. Who knew that a single piece of masking tape around the engine was essential to creating a snug fit within the rocket body? When a few rockets didn’t launch immediately, we reassessed this feedback and were resourceful in swapping out materials to get everything to work.
TCC staff embraces a similar approach to client work. Our efforts center on a learning approach, to provide quality, customized approaches that best suit each client. This attention to learning is also embedded in TCC’s internal context – with staff sharing best practices with fellow team members as well as with the field at large (our latest thought leadership piece guides funders and nonprofits through the legal advocacy space).
Stronger partnerships and better services translate to greater social impact – which is after all, our ultimate goal.
Every year, I continue to be impressed and impacted by the resilience, energy, and selfless love these kids embody. For many, camp is the one thing they talk about and anticipate all year. On the last day of camp, a camper already posted “360 days and counting” on Facebook. One day later, a former camper called me to ask how camp went – sharing his enthusiasm to return next year as a counselor. While I don’t know of any clients counting down on Facebook until our next interaction (if you do, please let me know!) – a majority of our clients do return to us to build upon the initial work we collaboratively established. All of these stories share an underlying desire to contribute – as a camper, as a counselor, and as a consultant.
I am grateful that TCC provides me with the opportunity to spend an entire week enjoying the company of youth – where I feel I can make a difference in their lives. I similarly appreciate my time and role at TCC – where every day my colleagues and I learn from each other, and work collaboratively with organizations to improve their social impact. The fact that both activities embody the same values is a convenient (and intentional) source of inspiration.
Photos by Scott Springer