As I stumbled across this image on my Ipad, the Ansel Adams quote “a true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words” sprang immediately to my mind.
To the ordinary person, this photo probably looks like a group huddle or gathering of teenagers however words cannot describe the love, laughs, tears and joys which lie beneath this poignant image from the 2014 Doire Michaela girls summer camp. It was with great honour and privilege I took on the role of assistant camp-coordinator at this year’s Doire camp in St Patrick’s Primary school Maghera.
So before I go on, who am I, where did my journey to assistant camp-coordinator start and what have I gained from my experience as a Michaela Foundation volunteer?
My name is Aóife Redden and I’m a primary school teacher from Derry city. I trained as a teacher at St Mary’s University College Belfast where I met Úna Kelly, the current Operations Manager for the Foundation. Úna spoke fondly and passionately about Michaela and the set-up of the Foundation so as our conversations became more frequent, my interest and enthusiasm expanded also.
As with many other volunteers, I could relate aspects of my life to the life of Michaela’s which I feel attracted me to become involved. In 2013, Úna had mentioned the prospect of bringing one of the summer camps to Derry and I knew immediately this was my opportunity to become involved directly with the Michaela Foundation. Like many other volunteers, I applied for some of the positions hoping that my application would be good enough and fortunately I was accepted as part of the faith team. My own faith had become integral to my life, so I knew from the onset my placement in the faith team was part of God’s plan.
Although I’d been reassured by Úna on many occasions that I’d no need to be nervous, I made the journey to Maghera for the first meeting nervously. On arrival to St Patrick’s Maghera, I was met by friendly faces, lots of chatter and the unstoppable noise of laughter. In the initial stages, I knew the camp was going to be a success and that id meet special people on this journey. Each and every volunteer had a special reason for being there which was clearly evident. The faith team, which I was delighted to be a part of, made strong bonds straight away and I knew it was going to be a fun and special week. The girls during this camp had such a zest for life and really taught me the importance of living out the motto of the Foundation of “ Life Without Limits.” As the week long summer camp drew to a close, I knew the photos, memories and friendships were now strong foundations for campettes and volunteers alike to continue on their journey.
I believe the saying “when one door closes, another opens” is true in all aspects of life and with the Michaela Foundation this is also a poignant statement. As the 2013 camps drew to a close, the 2014 preparations got underway with the feedback from campettes, volunteers and parents being closely analysed to make the new camps bigger and better.
At the beginning of 2014, I was asked would I be interested in taking on assistant camp co-ordinator in Maghera, Derry. I was delighted to be asked however doubted whether this was the right position for me as id really enjoyed working as part of the faith team the previous year. As a teacher, organising and planning are integral to my life so I thought why not? Sure I can put more of my habits tendencies to practise! Although my role in the Derry camp 2014 took on a very different role, the experience was similar to that of the first camp with many volunteers returning for a second year.
A whole camp training weekend in Kildare started off the experience in which again, I met a lot of very special people who touched my life in different ways. The fun-filled weekend in Maynooth was another stark reminder of the importance of building old and new friendships and “living life without limits.” It was a fantastic opportunity to be a part of the Derry camp for second year running and also visit other camps. I am grateful to the Foundation, particularly Úna and everyone else involved who made my experience such a memorable one.
On a closer look at the photograph above, the lyrics “take a look at yourself and make a change” from Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror happened to be playing when the moment was captured. I’m sure that many Michaela Foundation volunteers would agree with me when I say working with the Foundation has changed their life.
It is very difficult to put into words exactly what I have gained from the experience but I know I don’t speak in isolation when I say that working with the Foundation has changed my life in many ways. It has afforded me with the opportunity to develop personally and professionally. It has reminded me of the importance of living life, of treasuring moments and believing that there is hope in every situation. Futhermore, it has highlighted that working with teenagers can only have a positive influence on your life, there is a lot to learn from our young people and they are a pleasure to work with.
As I mentioned before, words to describe the memories, images and experiences from the Foundation events are hard to find as it is indescribable. I’m excited about the new prospects within the Foundation and look forward to the new challenges, opportunities and memories that lie ahead for everyone involved. If you have thought about volunteering for the Foundation but feel nervous or don’t think it’s for you, do not hesitate as I can guarantee it will open doors, give you a range of experiences and help you live your “life without limits.”
“Life is like a cup of tea, it’s all in how you make it!”
When I first heard about the Michaela Girls’ Summer Camp I recognised it was a special and unique organisation and I knew I wanted to be involved in it.
I began volunteering with the Michaela Foundation in July 2012, at Glencull Co.Tyrone. This was the first year of the Michaela Girls’ Summer Camp and it was such a privilege to be part of something so life changing. As a Faith element leader, it was such an honour to be a witness to so many young girls wanting to grow and develop their own faith journey and recognising the importance of faith in their daily lives.
I volunteered as a Faith leader for two years at Glencull. With the success of the Michaela Girls’ Summer Camp at Glencull, additional camps were introduced throughout many counties in Ireland.
In July 2014, I was Head Camp Coordinator at Loreto Grammar School, Omagh, Co.Tyrone. This was an exciting opportunity to meet new enthusiastic Michaela Foundation volunteers who all shared the aims and values of the Foundation; to educate, inspire and support young people.
A lasting memory from the Michaela Girls’ Summer Camp, was to observe how the young campettes developed in confidence. The Michaela Girls’ Summer Camp is one of the many successes of the Foundation as the camps provide young girls with the opportunity to grow in confidence, self-esteem and self-belief. Through well organised and sensational activities focusing on Fashion, Well-Being, Failte, Faith and Fun, campettes were encouraged try new and exciting opportunities and to approach all aspects of camp life with an open heart. All leaders would agree that the campettes are true ambassadors of the Foundation’s ethos of living a ’life without limits’.
From being a volunteer with the Michaela Foundation, I have grown in confidence in myself and am even more eager to try new and exciting opportunities. I have met some amazing and inspirational people from all walks of life who have made a lasting impact on my outlook on life.
I firmly believe that the friends both leaders and campettes have made from camp experiences, will be friends for life as we are all connected in one special and unique family…from the moment we put on a Michaela Foundation jersey, we know we are part of something extraordinary!
I have thoroughly enjoyed and cherished my volunteering experiences with the Michaela Foundation to date and I am so looking forward to being part of whatever the Michaela Foundation has in store for the future!