Last summer, my sister Carly had a volunteer experience that truly changed her life. It was through her encouragement that I applied for a camp counselor position this at Camp ReCreation, located at the MaryWood Center in the Orange Diocese.This week-long camp program, which began in 1978, is for adults with developmental disabilities, including Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and autism. It provides a break for the parents and caregivers — and, more importantly, an amazing week of fun and spiritual learning for the campers.The camp is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and Catholic Charities and relies heavily on private donations and volunteers. During this week, special needs adults are "buddied up" with camp volunteers who range from high schooler to young adult. It is the volunteer's job to ensure that his or her "buddy" has the most amazing week of his or her life. We are partnered to eat, sleep, play and pray together for the entire week. All of the attention is focused on creating an environment of unconditional love and acceptance. As our buddies arrived for the first day of camp, I immediately understood what this week means to them. We greeted them with open arms and cheers and in return we received a wave of smiles, hugs, and enthusiasm. It was obvious that the buddies had been waiting for this week with great anticipation. The excitement was infectious and I welcomed the challenge with a renewed purpose.But to adequately describe Camp ReCreation is an impossible task. For if you have never seen the smiles, felt the embraces, teamed with peers, given unconditionally to a group that is entirely dependent you, you just cannot grasp the magnitude of this life-changing week for both buddy and camper.The day-to-day routine at camp involves games, arts and crafts, music, dances, Masses and prayer services every day. But you can best see the impact made on all who participate by looking closely at what happens between the activities. You will see buddy and counselor holding hands providing comfort and companionship. You may witness a counselor consoling a buddy, or encouraging them to try something they've never done before. I soon realized that these “little things” are, for our buddies, really quite big and may potentially change their lives forever.Through the process, you begin to realize that Camp ReCreation is an "equal opportunity impact maker." I personally was inspired by campers with cerebral palsy who struggle with simple tasks, yet persevered. These observations made me grateful that I am blessed with good health and opportunities. When I talked with buddies who have Down Syndrome or autism, I learned to see past the physical differences and listened closely. I realized that they are loving, caring and compassionate. As I watched those counselors give so much energy and love to their buddies, I couldn't help but do the same. I was the unsuspecting recipient of positive peer pressure.Volunteers come from many local schools, all working selflessly for a common good. Many of these volunteers have reached milestones of five, 10 and even 15 years of service. It was truly an honor to watch them work and to know that I worked alongside of them to create a special experience for our buddies.It's important to note that Camp Recreation is a Catholic organization that places a heavy emphasis on spirituality. There are Masses every morning and prayer services at night. These Masses are extremely high energy and are planned with plenty of interactivity to keep the campers involved through song, sign language and skits. It was obvious that the love of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit, surrounded us during Mass and lifted us up during the week to give us the energy, and compassion we needed.This truly was an amazing experience for me. I learned so much from my time at Camp ReCreation, especially the power of positive peer pressure. When everyone around you is doing such incredibly giving things, it inspires you to do the same. I met great people during this week — campers and volunteers, all of whom I will keep in touch with. My expectation of the camp was that I would be of service of people in need, but in reality those special people helped me grow and develop into a better person. This was, without a doubt, one of the most rewarding yet challenging times of my life, and I am definitely looking forward to doing it all again next year. Riley Laines attends St. John Bosco High School, Bellflower. {gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0819/camprecreation/{/gallery}