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Jul 19, 2012
11:50 AM

Light at the End of the Tunnel for a Teen at Summer Camp

A bright freshman with sensory challenges, Abby was terrified to jump into a group activity. A kind friend – and hands-off parents – made all the difference.

Light at the End of the Tunnel for a Teen at Summer Camp

My Abby is a ninth grader at Ferndale High School. She is an honor roll student, she plays viola in the orchestra and loves to read and write. Abby also has autism, epilepsy, sensory integration disorder and some other neurological issues. Academic success comes pretty easy to her, but knowing what to say or do around her peers does not. Often, she appears shy and withdrawn. Not because she doesn't want to participate, but because her fears and anxiety get in the way.

Last summer, Abby went to a team building camp with her orchestra to Sherman Lake YMCA in Augusta, Mich. The point of the weekend was to make the orchestra students more of a family – for students to have more self-awareness, compassion towards others and develop problem-solving skills.

They did a lot of team-building exercises. One day was spent doing a low ropes course. And then, there was an exercise where the kids locked their hands together to form a tunnel. Some kids climbed through, while others jumped through with ease.

For some reason, this exercise totally freaked Abby out. You could see her anxiety building the closer it got to being her turn. She stood in line with tears streaming down her face. She was truly scared. A group of us moms that went as chaperones all wondered if we should step in.

As Abby's mom, I wondered if I had made the right decision by signing her up for this camp. Was she really not ready for it yet? We decided to watch and see what would happen.

Enter Jacob Traines. Jacob is a 10th grader at Ferndale High School. He plays a number of instruments and is a member of the orchestra, band and marching band. He is extremely talented. Jake is well liked and respected. He is a hard worker and always makes the effort to do the right thing. He has a fantastic sense of humor and is just an all-around great guy.

Back to the tunnel exercise. The kids are to remain on the course at all times, even when their turn is done. Abby is nearing her turn and getting more and more anxious by the second. At this point, she is really starting to cry and is overwhelmingly scared. Jacob is standing not far from her. It's finally Abby's turn and, frankly, she wants no part of it. All of the kids are being very encouraging to Abby and cheering her on.

We watch as Jacob leans over and says something to her and they exchange a short conversation. Abby is telling him that she can't do this and he is telling her that she can. Jacob decides to make her prove to herself that she can do it. He tells her that she can do it and shoves her through the tunnel.

Abby comes out the end of the tunnel and stands there in total disbelief and shock that, first, Jake just shoved her through – and, second, that she actually did it. The whole thing was overwhelming. She walks off the course and just sits on the ground sobbing.

Now our group of moms is really concerned. We are thinking that maybe it's time to step in. We were wrong. Had we stepped in, we would have ruined a moment that captured the point of the whole camp experience.

Jacob saw that Abby was still upset. He walked off the course and sat down next to her. They exchanged a short conversation. We could see that she didn't want to continue to the next course. Jacob stood up and Abby still sat on the ground crying. Jacob then decided to physically pick Abby up. Once she was standing, he gave her a huge hug and said something else to her. He wiped her tears off her face and grabbed her hand and pulled her back on to the course. She smiled and went right along with him.

To this day, I have no idea what Jacob said. But whatever he said was kind.

Jacob was the perfect example of what the camp was all about. He went out of his way to be kind. He didn't have to do or say what he did. Because of Jacob's choices, several things happened. I think Jacob realized just how influential his words and actions can be to others. Abby realized that although it's all right to feel afraid – don't let it stop you from trying new things. I would hope that all the other kids that saw what happened realize that their words and actions can make a difference in someone's life, too. Our group of moms realized that we are too quick to step in, we could have ruined something special.

Over the last year, Abby is trying new things out of her comfort zone. She is taking on more roles where she is the one doing the encouraging and helping others. It's good for her. She needs to see that her actions and words have influence on others, and it's just the right thing to do to help someone else out. It's about giving, not about receiving.

Jacob is still doing what Jacob does best – being a great friend. If you ask Abby what she likes about Jacob? One of the first things she says is, "He makes me feel safe." Having a friend to count on at the end of the day is something you can't put a price tag on.

Jacob's act of kindness was life changing. He gave Abby the gift of believing in herself. Jacob doesn't see what he did as a big deal. He thinks that being kind and showing compassion is just the right thing to do. The world needs more Jacobs.

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