Friday, October 05, 2012

My Sister, The Other Flying Squirrel, Shines For Amputee Children

Doing trapeze! 

In Hawai'i for one of our brother's wedding.

At AAC, looking over the kids.

Playing big sis to one of the kids at AAC.

There are few people I look up to and admire. My Mother being first, is by default. If I could write a book on her, I would.

But then there's my sister. If she were older than I, it wouldn't seem to out of the ordinary. I think she'd tell you she looks up to me. But as the older sis, I've found myself in quiet thoughts, analyzing her life and how vastly different we are. In a good way.

When I was asked to nominate a woman for Yahoo! Women Who Shine program which celebreates extraordinary women doing life-chaning things, it took me no time to throw my lil sis, Karen in the sphere. Yeah, she's younger, but in so many ways she plays the older sister. Not really sure how that happened. While there are many facets to her jovial and almost child-like personality that make her shine and attract a complete stranger, the single action which stands out the most is her unparalleled love for children and their well-being.

Karen goes beyond the natural affection and care an adult, parent or not, would have for small children. Hers is a gift from God. I've always stared in amazement of this scenario: We're clad in the same exact outfit, down to the hair color; that's when we look strikingly alike. We enter a large room full of children and few adults. We stop and introduce ourselves, briefly. Our voices are a slither different. We've both questioned our own voicemails as we try to decipher who's who. We stand still. Within seconds, all the children, with perhaps the exception of 2 (let's say out of 12) will flock to her knees... All of them. Every single time. This has happened over the entire course of our lives, from the children in our family to close friends' kids to strangers. I tell this story simply to establish her gift.

Her motherly instincts as a single woman have garnered her attention from colleagues, mentors and professors. While in graduate school for her Doctorate in Physical Therapy, Karen joined Adventure Amputee Camp (AAC), a national non-profit organization that hosts 30 kids for five days in July, as a counselor. The camp is dedicated to the active freedom of young children living with amputations of any degree. Nestled in the cozy mountains of North Carolina, the 5 day program is replete with an over the top itinerary ranging from horseback riding to gem fishing, Olympic relay races, a raw talent show, zip lining and a full day of intense water sports. The children are there to be free of any scrutiny, harassment, mockery, questioning or other uncomfortable sidebar consequences of being an amputee or wearing prosthetics.

After 3 successful years as head counselor, the camp founder entrusted my sister with directing the entire program. For the first time in the camps 15 years, the responsibility of managing and producing the entire program was shifting from someone other than the founder. Karen quickly jumped on the opp and went all the way in. I think she underestimated the amount of work involved, but in her tremendous  work ethic, she has given it 200% of her soul and energy. Not only does she take off 5 days from her demanding work as a Physical Therapist to the elderly, but she also works year round,  pulling in 50-60 additional hours per week to ensure the camp is bigger and better every year. All unpaid. She manages 15 counselors, 6 staff volunteers and all the children. Because the camp is an adventure-themed one, the most important element is ensuring the 5 days are full of interactive and physically engaging activities. Karen spends the entire year securing sponsorships and donations from organizations that laud the cause and support the mission. Not to mention managing legal, administrative, logistic and financial components to the success of the camp. Ultimately, she's responsible for the children's comfort, safety and health while under her supervision

I could go on and on about how amazing the camp is and that but not for her energy and commitment to seeing the children live normal lives, even if just for those 5 days, the camp wouldn't be the same, but I'll let you explore on your own. I've attended camp and I left a changed person and sister. On closing day the year I went as a counselor, as the children were being awarded certificates for the various accomplishments, I was touched by their enthusiasm, gratitude and love for my sister. In different ways, each one of them expressed love notes and in due fashion, threw themselves around her petite frame shouting "Ms. Karen, please come back next year!" I cried... watching my lil sis literally impact and change the lives of these children. Some have been with her for 6 years, others come and go and new ones get to experience the emotion I felt as she hugged each one as they boarded their bus.

Truly one of the most selfless souls I know; always doing for others at the expense of her own rest and ease. I pour my heart into all I do. But I admire the unnatural yet beautiful spirit my little sister extends when it comes to the betterment of children. For this single reason, she's a Woman Who Shines!

Please take a second to VOTE for Karen on Yahoo's page! We'd love your support on this campaign! Karen is excited about donating a portion of the 10k to the camp! Follow the link here and vote now through Oct. 28th. Thanks a million times over.



Find out more about Adventure Amputee Camp and their mission.



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5 comments:

Comiendo en LA said...

Lovely pictures!! I can't wait to see you girl!

Sujeiry said...

Lovely post! Funny, my sister and I have the same dynamic. She is older by a year and a half and considers me her rock. She definitely has that older sister Type A/sometimes bossy vibe, but she looks to me as her rock emotionally.

Will vote for your sis now. You two really look alike!

Presley's Pantry said...

She seems nice. If I was a child I would be drawn to the soft side that she seems to exude. Wishing your sister all the luck.

Mercedes LaGuardia said...

Great choice in your nomination! She sounds like an amazing person. Those children must adore her. I hope she soars high and wins this! I'll be voting.

www.JusticeJonesie.com said...

Wow- she is well deserving of the recognition for sure! What a great testimony to giving selflessly. Thank you for sharing!

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