A note from Kirstin Webster on how she found Recreational Therapy. Kirstin Wesbter is the Impact and Internship Manager at Higher Ground.
There are moments in life where exact right thing appears at the exact right time. You may have barely grasped onto an idea thirty seconds ago, and yet, you are so sure about it you know that it will define the direction of your life. Discovering recreational therapy was like that for me.
I started college as an “Exploratory” major (fancy way of saying undecided), and when my freshman adviser’s career “advice” included informing me I was just a Jack of all trades and a master of none, I took matters into my own hands. I started combing through the descriptions of all the majors related to health sciences and helping professions. I stumbled upon “Therapeutic Recreation” and as soon as I finished reading the description, I knew it was what I would do for the rest of my life. Helping people with disabilities? Incorporating my passion for recreational activities not only into my career, but being able to help others enjoy those same things? Serving a variety of populations in limitless ways? Requiring a personality that’s supportive and helpful, as well as eclectic skills and interests? It fit my personality and passions to a “t”; it was perfect.
My sudden clarity was reinforced a week later when my mom came home from the local YMCA with a phone number of someone looking for an aide for her 10-year-old with Cerebral Palsy. I spent the next nine weeks at a not-so-inclusive, and definitely not ADA compliant summer camp, helping this boy to engage in everything with his peers. We swam twice a day, played kickball with him on piggyback, participated in all the silly camp games, and got creative accessing the second floor with a non-existent elevator. I could not have asked for a better introduction to the field of recreational therapy (and probably could have used some of the skills I would learn in the next few years of school during that summer). Regardless of my preparedness, my heart was stolen not only by my adorably positive companion, but also by the concept of the profession as a whole.
Fast forward fifteen years and I’m still as certain about recreation therapy as I was in that moment I first read about it – whether whitewater kayaking with veterans, using ASL to teach skiing to kids from Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind, or interviewing our next round of intern candidates. If ever in need of a career-based pick-me-up, I reflect on my experience that first summer. It represents so many reasons that our profession exists: providing access to people with disabilities, helping them to participate in age-appropriate activities with their peers, promoting learning and fostering independence, advocating for individuals’ needs, celebrating individual strengths and abilities, and cultivating a desire to engage in recreation about which each individual feels passionate. All great reminders about why we do what we do!