Why running around with kids was a summer to remember

by in News

By Jacqueline Marquis

Contributing columnist

Going into my fourth year at Cal State Fullerton, I decided I wanted to spend the summer in Southern California instead of going home up north. Making that decision meant I needed to find a summer job. I’d heard about the Titan Youth Sports Camp from a friend who worked at the Student Recreation Center on campus.

Cal State Fullerton kinesiology major Jacqueline Marquis spent the summer as a counselor at Titan Youth Sports Camp. (Photo by Pauline Welker)

As a kinesiology major, I wanted to find something that could get my foot in the door for a possible future career. I thought working with kids might be that avenue — one that would look good on my resume and appeal to future employers. But crazy kids, outdoor sports and summer heat? I wasn’t sure the job was for me, but I decided to apply.

Initially, pursuing work as a camp counselor was just an opportunity to make some quick cash and a reason to stay in Southern California for the summer, but it quickly turned into much more.

I had never worked with kids (I’m the youngest of three siblings), had no real sports background, and was really just looking for any job that would not bite back. However, this summer ended up bringing me not only fun-filled experiences that I will never forget, but friendships that I know I will keep for a lifetime.

The nine-week summer camp on campus consisted of interacting with kids in hourly activities, including basketball, soccer, archery and swimming. Without any prior background in sports, I had to wing it most of the time, but I made sure the most important thing was being accomplished — that the kids were having fun.

Each week, the camp counselors are assigned to an age group. The kids range from 4 to 12 and, luckily, I started off with the youngest kids. As mentioned before, I had no prior experience working with kids. I wasn’t even sure I would like them that much, and while there were definitely moments that reinforced my doubts, the good moments always outweighed the bad ones.

On the first day of camp, two parents and their 6-year-old son came up to me asking if I was going to be their son’s counselor. After I said yes, they introduced me to their son and explained that they were from China and that he was very shy. It was clear he was not comfortable around all the kids, so I made an effort to get him out of his shell by asking him questions about his favorite food and what sports he liked.

As the weeks progressed, he really opened up. I even saw him one morning walking with his parents on Commonwealth Avenue, and he greeted me with an enthusiastic “Hi, Teacher Jac!” By week eight, he was a completely different camper — so energetic and anything but shy. I’d like to think I played a small role in helping him break out of his shell.

There were less-than-ideal moments: from kids spitting on the counselors during daily temper tantrums to getting hit by sporting equipment. It’s safe to say there were ups and downs. Still, seeing all the smiles and feeling the electric energy from the campers made my job that much easier.

Among the most rewarding moments for me was seeing the campers’ reaction when the counselors walked into the gym every morning. The look of excitement and joy as they ran up to ask what we had planned for the day is something I will never forget.

Over the course of nine weeks, we watched these kids grow up before our eyes and formed real bonds with them. I never thought I could have an impact on anyone in such a short amount of time and vice versa. Not only were they excited to see me, but I was just as excited to see them.

Working with kids is definitely not a one-person job, and without the camp’s professional staff, I don’t think I could’ve maintained my sanity. I believe it takes a certain type of person to willingly apply to work with kids in the direct sunlight for nine weeks during the summer in Southern California. And out of the hodgepodge of people hired, I found many I wanted to spend all my time with.

You might think working together for eight hours Monday-Friday would be enough, but we all consciously made the effort to hang out outside of work too. From taco Tuesdays, to helping each other move in, to nights out at the trampoline park, we basically found every reason to hang out. The friendships we made with one another are definitely not seasonal and will stick with each of us for a very long time. I’ll also remember the hugs goodbye from the kids on the last day.

Titan Youth Sports Camp brought me some of the best memories I could ever imagine and some of the greatest people I have ever met. I will be forever grateful for all of what Titan Youth Sports Camp gave me and, if the future permits, I just might return for another summer as a camp counselor.

Kinesiology major Jacqueline Marquez returns for her senior year at Cal State Fullerton on Aug. 25. Originally from Elk Grove, she aspires to become a physician assistant in Southern California after graduating and attend graduate school. In the fall, she will participate in an internship program at St. Jude Medical Center.