Volunteer Spotlight: Topher Smith
What made you decide to volunteer at Camp Hendon and how long have you been volunteering?
My sister Kari had been coming to camp for years, first as a camper, then as staff. She had initially asked me if I could come up and DJ the dance for the kids, which I told her I would be happy to do, but then mentioned that they are always looking for male counselors to stay the whole week, so I offered to do that as well! I have been volunteering since 2017 and will keep doing so as long as I am able!
What is your role at camp?
I am a counselor and den leader, former messy games coordinator (I passed that torch to Hype Team Josh and Paige this past year, and they did an AMAZING job!), as well as resident camp DJ and pirate!
Why do you come back year after year? What do you get from camp or how has it impacted your life?
Camp is amazing. Like I tell my new counselors every year, camp is what you make of it. If you allow yourself to be fully present and participate with the kids, there is potential for very real, life-impacting magic to happen. There is something truly special about Camp Hendon. They call it The Best Place on Earth, and it is more than just a clever slogan. There is an instant and very real bond that forms between the campers… Some of them come from places where they might be the only kid with T1D in their school or even in their town. When they are given the opportunity to be around other kids who know and understand their struggles, and to be in a safe environment where they are free to just be KIDS, it is a wonderful and amazing thing to witness them open up… The amount of growth that can take place over 5 days is truly remarkable. My first year, I made a promise to my campers that I would keep coming back and follow them from den group to den group as they got older until they aged out. In 2022, all the kids from my first year as a counselor will be in the oldest group, and I am proud of each and every one of them. I hope to see them come back as staff in the future!
What is your favorite activity at camp and why?
Oooooh, this is a tough one! I would have to say a toss-up between messy games and the dance. Messy games is one of those experiences that is totally unique to camp. All pretense of adulthood as well as any stress or problems that campers and staff who participate might be going through just goes out the window and you get to see pure, unadulterated kid joy on the faces of campers and staff alike as we chase each other with water guns and get blasted with shaving cream. It is one of the things I look forward to every year! As far as the dance goes, I am a professional DJ and I have done a lot of club gigs and weddings, and I genuinely love both… especially weddings. At weddings, there is a palpable undercurrent of joy that underpins the entire event… It is like that at camp as well. I love watching the kids having fun and dancing to their favorite songs!! Much like messy games, it is an opportunity for the kids to let go and just have FUN!
What are some of the things you have learned or taken away from camp?
Camp has helped me learn to be present in the moment in my day-to-day life. It is so easy to let the stressors and problems of adult life wear you down… Far too often, we find ourselves just going through the motions every day while our brain is focused elsewhere. Being a counselor and den leader at Camp Hendon has helped me to remember to stay present in the moment in my day to day life as well… To see and appreciate the little bits of magic that can happen every day if we are fully present in the moment and open to them.
What do you do in your real life when you’re not giving your time to Camp Hendon?
In addition to the work I do as a DJ, I am also a part-time install technician for security and surveillance systems, I am a cast member of Dinner Detective Louisville, which is a largely improvisational dinner theatre comedy and whodunnit mystery show, I am a regular cast member with Theatre In Motion and their official Captain Hook at the Louisville Zoo each year at Halloween, I am active in the local theatre community and perform in as many plays and short films as I can! I am also a musician, vocalist, and producer, and have the most adorable dachshund on the planet… His name is Sinatra! I am also very proud to have brought my amazing girlfriend Erin into the Camp Hendon family this year :)
Do you have any skills or talents that many may not know about you?
I think I covered most of those in the previous question when listening my hobbies! I think the only thing I didn’t mention is the fact that I can say the alphabet backwards in under 3 seconds as anyone who participated in virtual camp in 2020 can attest to!