Mauara, Cranberry, with CampersCamper-turned-counselor relishes life-changing moments of self-discovery

Growing up, Maura Donnelly was a shy kid who struggled in school. She cried lots of frustrated tears, especially about math. A learning disability made it hard for her to wrap her head around numbers.

It wasn’t until she spent a week at Camp Sealth the summer before fourth grade that she ever thought she could be good at anything. She sang camp songs like a pro, caught fish, and hit the bull’s eye the first time she drew a bow and arrow. She’d never had such an easy time making new friends.

“At camp, I was good at everything,” Maura says. “It gave me a real confidence boost.”

Maura later moved up to become a counselor-in-training. The last summer, she discovered her passion for working with youth who have special needs while working in our Shooting Stars program for kids who are on the autism spectrum.

Shooting Stars CampersPaired up one-to-one with a young teen who needed extra support, Maura first feared she was in over her head. But in one short week, every challenging moment they navigated together taught them both new ways to trust one another.

“That week changed me so much. It really pushed me out of my comfort zone. Both of us cried when she left,” says Maura, who goes by the camp counselor name of Cranberry and is pursuing her college degree in childhood and family studies.

Maura worked with many youth this past summer as one of Camp Sealth’s two inclusion specialists, helping campers with special needs speak up for themselves and make strides toward socializing with new friends and experiencing moments of self-discovery – just like she’s experienced so many times herself.

Maura hopes to run Camp Sealth’s inclusion program someday and has her career sights set on working with nonprofits that help children with special needs thrive.

Be sure to read the other articles from the most recent issue of The Torch!