We Are Randox | Amy McIlwaine’s Camp Wakonda Story
Randox’s Public Relations Executive, Amy McIlwaine, tells us about her time in New York State, working in Camp Wakonda (Homes for the Homeless)
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We were discussing our most inspiring moments with Amy McIlwaine, Public Relations Executive of Randox Laboratories, this week. She told us a story of her time volunteering with children in New York State that we knew we had to share! We hope her story inspires you as much as it did us:
Here is Amy’s story:
“During my years at school and at University I worked as a part-time lifeguard in a local pool. I’ve always been quite ambitious, so, when the time came to graduate and I decided to do some overseas work, I applied to be Waterfront Director at a camp in New York State, called Camp Wakonda.
When I say the words ‘Summer camp’ to people they usually picture expensive facilities with music suites, maybe some horse stables and jet-skis, with a love-able rogue Joe Jonas lookalike thrown in for good measure, but Camp Wakonda wasn’t quite like that!
Camp Wakonda is a Summer camp that is run by the Homes for the Homeless organisation, and accepts children between 6 and 10 years old who are homeless and living in New York shelters.
The camp has limited resources, cabins with no electricity, and various (sometimes) friendly camp companions such as bears, chipmunks and rattlesnakes (we were in the middle of the woods). Children came to camp with very few belongings – sometimes even without a decent pair of shoes. But in spite of all that, it’s one of my favourite places on this earth. Being free from the stresses of everyday life (mind you, working with 90 children at a time brings a different kind of stress!) is wonderfully liberating and living in the middle of nature brings a certain serenity.
Although we had such limited resources, we had the time of our lives! You learn to be really creative – we had themed days throughout the summer like a Harry Potter banquet, a ‘Fairytales of Wakonda’ pantomime, and even Christmas on the 25th July! That one was probably my favourite – some of the children had never had a real Christmas before. I’m happy to admit that I welled up when I saw how incredibly excited they were at receiving just one small gift.”
Smiling from ear-to-ear, Amy went on to highlight the importance of the camp she worked in, in offering homeless children from New York the opportunity to just enjoy being kids, and how this inspired her:
“The spirit of the children, and the counsellors, at Camp Wakonda is something that I had not come across before, and have not come across since. For children who have had such a difficult upbringing, they came to camp with the biggest smiles on their faces, and the smallest things like three hot meals a day meant the world to them. It was great to see them free from the stresses of their unfortunate circumstances. For me, as their swimming teacher, nothing made me smile more than when a child came running up to me shouting ‘Miss Amy, I learned how to float today!’ or when a camper who had been so scared of the water finally got in and had a beaming smile from ear-to-ear when I handed them a swimming certificate. Many of the children had never left the city, and so had never experienced some of the things that we take for granted – like being able to see the stars in the sky at night.
I lived and worked in Wakonda for three months during 2014, and went back again in 2015, as Unit Leader of the older girl’s unit. I was responsible for counselor training, and the welfare of both the girl campers and the female counselors. When you’re practically working 24/7 for three months, the children become your entire life – everything that you do is with their needs in mind. Because of this, the children are so grateful of the time and attention that the counselors give them.
The work that Homes for the Homeless does for those kids is amazing, it really makes a difference to their lives, and I’m so glad that I have been part of it.”
Find out more about Camp Wakonda in this NY 1 News coverage video, here.
Randox wouldn’t be the innovative and caring healthcare company it is today without the hard work of young people with fresh perspectives and world experience like Amy – so we’re delighted that she has brought her enthusiasm to our team! We hope her story inspired you to take part in your community through volunteering. For us, we never stop. We’re helping to improve healthcare and diagnostics through consistent hard work, because for us, this means saving lives.
If you’re looking for a career in Business, Science or Engineering, let Randox be the next step in your adventure!
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