To say that Hands to Love changed my life is an understatement. As an undergraduate student at the University of Florida, I was introduced to the organization that fostered my love for occupational therapy while introducing me to a network of individuals that have become my family- a home away from home. Before serving as a first-time volunteer for Hands to Love’s annual Hand Camp in 2017, I had little exposure to the community of individuals with upper limb differences. However, after my first weekend as a volunteer, I was captivated the resilience, the determination, and the love that radiated from the children, families, and staff that crossed my path. Each obstacle course, family dinner, campfire song, and arts & craft activity resonates in my mind as an impetus to return each year and experience the magic all over again.
What started out as a volunteer opportunity turned into a lifelong friendship with my designated camper and her family. I returned the following year as their Family Pal, but with a twist, their new babysitter. My unique relationship to my camper and her family provided me with the opportunity to watch her grow, learn, and blossom throughout the course of two years. I watched as her confidence increased and her smile grew wider. I was there to share in all of her impromptu dance sessions, gymnastics practices, art projects, and even her Kindergarten graduation. She taught me that difference does not equal disability; that no obstacle was too tall to climb, and that nothing was going to hold her back from her wildest dreams. While I have left Florida to pursue my graduate education in occupational therapy, I am drawn back to the Sunshine State each year to attend Hands to Love’s annual Hand Camp. After all, it was the weekend that changed my life!