Billy Bennett has been a Male Residential Counselor at our three summer campferences in 2014 and 2015 and his impact on the Next Step community has been astounding. We recently sat down with Billy to talk about his volunteer experience at Next Step. Read his story…
1. How are you involved at Next Step?
During the summer conference season, I act as Lead Male Residential Counselor for all three Next Step Campferences. In this role I serve as a consistent supportive presence in the cabins and dorms, set up conference space for use by our youth, facilitate activities, act as a first-line of support for the youth, and in the words of our fearless Kepler, I try to be “the best party host in the world.” For the rest of the year, I stay involved by helping to facilitate workshops and group sessions at Next Step Central, as well as taking part in fundraisers and anything else I can get my hands on!
2. Why do you support the Next Step mission?
Like many programs, Next Step provides the time-honored service of accessible fun and support to youth with chronic and life-threatening illness. But as if THAT wasn’t enough, Next Step goes above and beyond to provide substantive, real-world skills that youth can use to be impactful within their own life and their community as a whole. That extra piece helps transform youth who might have been told all their lives what they can’t do into adults who are able to answer for themselves what it is that they can and will do. The fact that Next Step is so successful at meeting this mission, and can do so while effectively providing a fun, accessible environment, inspires awe in me all the time.
3. How is volunteering at Next Step different than other organizations?
Walk through the doors at Next Step and you’ll notice that you’ve instantly been transported to the friendliest, most positive, most supportive place in the universe. Between the youth participants, the full-time staff, and the volunteers, everyone at Next Step seems to have boundless energy, positivity, and cramp-free smile muscles. No matter what kind of day I’m having, entering that happy space makes it fuller and brighter, and helps remind me of the person I aim to be all the time. On top of it being a happy place, I find the level of support at Next Step to be useful for everyone involved. Staff help youth, staff help staff, youth help youth, and most impressively, youth help staff, all the time. My involvement means a lot to me on one level because it allows me to give back and to feel closer to my community. But moreover, I feel supported in my own development as a facilitator and a professional. I think I gain as much from my involvement at Next Step as the youth do, because the Next Step family takes as much interest in me as I do in it.
4. Do you have a favorite moment at a Next Step program?
So many moments come to mind, and they’re all so unique! Perhaps my fondest memory involves a participant with ambulatory challenges who seemed a bit uncomfortable and disengaged during one of our conferences’ famous Karaoke Dance Parties. While most everyone was up and dancing, this youth was off on the sidelines. I remember going up to him, sitting down and bobbing my head up and down to the music, making a fool of myself. After a few rolled eyes from my motionless partner, he started to giggle at my goofiness and then joined in the odd way I was wiggling in my chair. We danced and sang together next to each other and I saw his mood improve drastically. His happiness was unbelievably contagious, and the smile I elicited in him quickly jumped to my face, too. I fondly call upon that moment all the time.
5. What is the most important lesson you have learned from interacting with Next Step teen and young adult participants?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned in being a good resource for teens and adults alike is that sometimes it doesn’t matter whether you’re able to solve the problem that someone brings to you. In many cases, it serves better to show that you’re there to listen and to show you understand someone else’s perspective. I’ve learned that even when a problem isn’t solvable, the simple acknowledgement of that fact from another person can help to free your mind from it. There have been times at Next Step where I’ve been so wrapped up in providing a solution that I’ve missed the opportunity to address the most important part – that someone understands, and that having issues is normal. Providing a place to feel understood is, after all, one of the main pillars of Next Step’s work.