Face paint, early mornings and the “camp spirit” – volunteer, Chloe speaks to OTW

Over The Wall relies on its team of dedicated volunteers to help support our campers and ‘bring the magic to camp’. Here, we speak to Chloe Emmerson, a volunteer who is in her fifth year of volunteering with us and has so far clocked-up an amazing 16 camps. According to our Head of Volunteering, Chloe “…is extremely popular with campers and is always willing to help out her fellow volunteers – she’s quick to muck-in and goes above and beyond in her quest to volunteer here at OTW”, which is why we recently nominated her for a Room to Reward award…

Chloe, volunteering at a Family Camp in 2019

How do you feel receiving your Room to Reward award and where and when are you planning to go?

I was shocked to receive the award as, in my mind, there are so many volunteers at OTW that deserve this award so it was an honour to be chosen.  There were so many lovely hotels to choose from with the Room to Reward scheme, but I’ve settled on Whittlebury Park in Towcester an look forward to a few relaxing days there before the camp season starts up. 

What made you want to start volunteering with OTW in the first place, and what keeps you coming back?

I was volunteering at Great Ormond Street and I had a fellow volunteer recommend OTW to me.  I had already been looking at Camp America but wasn’t sure I was brave enough to travel to the States – so OTW seemed like the ideal solution.  As for what keeps me coming back it’s got to be the atmosphere and community that camp creates – you are surrounded by likeminded people who are passionate about helping the campers achieve. Being surrounded by people like that means you are free to be yourself and that’s an amazing feeling for both the campers and volunteers.

What do you do for a living, and how do you feel giving up your free time / annual leave to help others at camp?

I am a teaching assistant, so I am lucky enough to have the school holidays which fits in brilliantly with camp. People at work often call me crazy for spending some of my holidays at camp but I really can’t imagine my holidays without spending some time at camp, meeting great people and giving the camper a chance to let go and “raise a little hell”.

What does your volunteer role involve?

At camp I have been both a Team Mate and a Team Leader.  The roles involve being there to support our campers day-to-day.  At camp you are put in a team which is made up of a group of volunteers and a group of campers. This could be a family unit at Family Camp, or a group of similar aged young people at a Health Challenge Camp.  

As a volunteer your job is to make an enjoyable and relaxing environment for the campers. You are with your team nearly 24/7 so you become like a large family unit for your time at camp, you eat together, go to activities together and have down time together.

Chloe with her team at South Health Challenge camp in 2019

This does mean we have some of the less enviable tasks such as getting 8-year olds to bed after an exciting day or making sure everyone brushes their teeth and washes during the week. That said, it really gives you time to get to know each camper and celebrate their successes with them.

During camp you really get on board with the camp spirit – this may involve singing at the top of your lungs, dancing in your pjs at breakfast or being covered in face paint before 9am. But that’s the great thing about camp, you look around and you are surrounded by people doing exactly the same thing.

Tell us about one of your best memories at camp.

During my second camp, I was placed in a team with a group of 8/9 year-old boys. Now as you could imagine, us volunteers were ready for early morning wake-up calls, lots of energy and quite a few fart jokes.

On the first night then, we put them to bed expecting to be woken early the next morning; the morning came and to our surprise there had been no knock at the door and playing loudly in the common room… We got ready and headed to check on the boys. It transpired that they had been up early but instead of waking us they had gone to the common room collected a box of lego and taken it back to their room and played quietly, talking and getting to know each other.

This is not one of my favourite memories simply because we got a little extra sleep (but I won’t knock that!) it’s because after just a day together, these boys felt comfortable and relaxed enough with each other not to need our support – they found common ground and for the rest of the week they were an inseparable group.

This bond was lovely to see grow through the week. Whenever I see them at a new camp, they always take the time to say hello, come up for a chat and reminisce about their first camp as well as tell me about all the things they have done since. I love this as it just shows the effect camp can have on children after camp is over – two or even three years later these campers still remembered our part in their journey and that’s what makes camp so special. 

Interested in volunteering?