Recreation major finds her calling at Easterseals internship
During an excursion to Roundtop Mountain Resort earlier this summer, Ashley Buffton faced a challenge from a group of kids: Climb into an inflatable contraption known as an OGO Ball and roll down a hill.
“The kids were calling me a chicken, so I knew I had to do it,” says Ashley, a rising senior at York College of Pennsylvania. “It was really scary, but it was fun.”
Believe it or not, the wild ride was part of Ashley’ summer job with Easterseals. The nonprofit organization provides services, education and more to people with disabilities and special needs.
The youth who dared Ashley were attending Camp Kidet, a program for children whose parents serve in the military and may be deployed. As a therapeutic recreation assistant, Ashley was tasked with helping them cope with any stressors through fun activities, including riding an OGO Ball.
“You could tell we were helping them forget about what’s going on at home, even if only for a few days,” Ashley says.
While that was gratification enough for Ashley, the York College student also earned valuable experience, a resume builder that will prove important after she graduates.
Finding her career path
Considering she’s studying Recreation and Leisure Administration, with a focus on Recreational Therapy, Ashley found the Easterseals job a natural fit. She worked at three camps throughout June and July, including one for young men with high-functioning autism, another for adults with disabilities, and Camp Kidet.
“It was honestly the best experience I could have gained,” she says.
Ashley has wanted to help people with disabilities ever since she joined Best Buddies during her freshman year of college. It’s another nonprofit that works with people with disabilities by providing them with one-on-one friendship, as well as employment and leadership development.
As Ashley’s buddy underwent physical and occupational therapy, she realized it was a career that would make her happy. She says she would like to earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy and one day aims to create a nonprofit that provides recreational therapy to sexual assault victims at little to no cost.
The Easterseals opportunity arose when Matt Ernst, a vice president of programs and business development at the nonprofit – as well as a York College adjunct faculty member – spoke in one of Ashley’s recreational therapy classes last spring.
“As he was talking, I just knew that it was a place that I would love to work,” she says. “It’s just such an awesome organization. I could not have picked a better place to get experience.”
Learning on the job
The work experience left many lasting impressions on Ashley, but one in particular stood out.
During the final camp, the program for young men with high-functioning autism, one camper fretted, saying he really wanted to leave. Ashley talked with him. He agreed to stay if she would help him with his social skills, an area that can be particularly difficult for those with autism.
Ashley kept her promise. When it came time to play volleyball, she made sure the camper had a chance to serve the ball. And she’d hit the ball his way, too, so he could stay involved. By the end of his stay, the camper was having a grand time.
“Giving someone a fun activity to get through their hard times or their struggles just helps them come out of their shells,” Ashley says.
Along the way, Ashley says she felt her own confidence growing as she compiled hands-on experience that will be helpful during life after college. She saw first-hand how activities impacted individuals differently, a point that drove home the fact that each case its own unique circumstances.
By the end, she found herself truly admiring the people she was tasked with helping, even if they were daring her to take an adventure in an inflatable ball.
“What stands out the most is just how positive the people I worked with were,” she says. “It makes a difference and puts your life into perspective.”