Student has very Big Heart for people who need help

Alaina Kemp (center) is a volunteer at Camp Big Heart.

The faded heart tattooed on Alaina Kemp's right ankle seems cliche, but it symbolizes a noble passion of the 21-year-old Augusta State University student: Camp Big Heart.


For many young adults, summer is a time to pack up and head out to glorious destinations, indulge in self-seeking interests and let the world pass without making a ripple, but Ms. Kemp can't wait to head to Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, Ga.

"It's my favorite place in the world," she said.

Fort Yargo is home to Camp Big Heart, a one-week camp for children and adults with moderate mental disabilities. Ms. Kemp has worked there since she was a freshman in high school.

"It's exhausting, but it is totally worth it," she said. "Most people are afraid of the mentally challenged, but I feel if those folks would spend just two hours with one of our campers, their opinions would be changed."

The psychology major said the campers' disabilities seem to bring out qualities of the human spirit.

"They have enthusiasm for everything," she said. "They never complain, and they take nothing for granted. I wish everyone was like that."

The activities are like those of any camp: horseback riding, swimming, crafts.

"We have a talent show night -- that is my favorite. Last year I choreographed a dance to The Village People's YMCA with the boys in my bunk," Ms. Kemp said. "We dressed up and everything. It brought down the house.

"We also have a prom night. Everyone gets dressed up, and we decorate the dining hall. All the campers get to dance with their summer crushes. It's usually one of us (counselors)."

She has turned her passion for the camp into a recruiting tool.

"The first year, I volunteered because a friend of mine was doing it," she said. "The next year, I took my twin sister with me. The next year, we both got our best friends to volunteer, and now Big Heart is a time of year that we all come together to reunite because we are all scattered throughout the state.

"I know it sounds hokey, but we have all become one big family. That includes the counselors and campers. We all cry when it's over.'' This year will be Ms. Kemp's seventh working at the camp, and she has wondered how many more years she can do it.

"It's sad when the older counselors have other commitments and can't fit camp into their schedules anymore," she said. "I hope that I can find a job that will let me take a week off to work Big Heart.

"I could do it for the rest of my life. It really is my definition of utopia."



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