Mina Michota is a volunteer from the Mission Viejo YMCA and Camp Oakes, nominated by YMCA employee Dorain. This is her story.
Dorain’s Story: I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Mina this past summer as she volunteered for our resident camp program. Immediately, Mina fit right in with the other counselors and quickly became part of our camp family. While up at camp Mina brought all of her spirit and enthusiasm her- which always makes for great counselor! For a first timer- you couldn’t tell, Mina was so eager and open to everyone, and everything. As someone who’s attended camp for a while, you can sometimes forget and it was amazing to be reminded of that! Mina stood out above the rest, dealing with teen-age cabin and challenging issues; she always rose above and set an amazing example, not only for the girls in her cabin but for the rest of the counselors as well! She makes it look so simple- and keeping it simple is always the best way to go, with Mina, what you see is what you get- a gentle and genuine soul.
Mina: I am not a risk taker by any means. I enjoy my comfort zone with very little deviance from my routine. Staying inside the box is safe… but also very boring. Day after day I was faced with the same schedule: Get up, go to work, go home, go to bed. Occasionally there would be a grocery run, a laundry day or even a spontaneous visit to see the family. But all in all, my life was becoming monotonous and stagnant. I wanted a change. No. I needed a change.
Camp Oakes provided me with that new direction, not only in life, but in character as well.
I knew the moment I stepped off of that charter bus, I knew I was in for an unforgettable experience. With wobbly legs and songs from the “Little Mermaid” stuck in my head, I realized that I had been transported to a completely different world. I was no longer stuck in my cubicle prison. I felt freedom. There was no cell service (a tragedy to my 14 year old girls), no television, nor a 4th wall to our cabin. We were in the middle of nature with only our activities, learning experiences and fellowship to entertain ourselves. And entertain ourselves, we did.
At first, I was skeptical at the age group I was given. These were not children, but young ladies that are entering one of the biggest changes and obstacles they will ever face: high school. The needed someone to look up to, to confide in and feel safe with. Such a responsibility was daunting and had me more anxious than I cared to admit. But watching the girls interact, I realized that I was not so different at their age. I was boy crazy, spent way too much time getting ready (still guilty of that), and giggled myself to sleep when surrounded by my friends. And the more I could relate, the more I was able to give them the guidance I would have benefited from when I was their age. Every single one of those girls was a gift to me. For not only was I able to make a difference in someone’s life, but they inspired me as well.
Through interacting with my cabin, I learned the importance of being patient, nurturing, a good listener, but above all: confident. Knowing that I was influencing these girls, gave me more self gratification than any accomplishment at work. We learned the power of encouragement through supporting one another during difficult activities such as the rock climbing wall or the zip line. We recognized the importance of bravery when encountering a rattle snake on our hike as well as in our cabin. We indulged in the camaraderie of spirit while waving our flag and screaming camp songs and cheers until we were hoarse. But mostly we embraced the beauty of friendship and trust during times of devotions and sharing.
I grew as a human being around those girls, and the most rewarding of all these experiences was counseling a few for their rags. The YMCA ragger program was somewhat new to me. I understood the concept, but it wasn’t until I decided to take up my own rag did I see the beauty in it. The rag wasn’t just a piece of cloth that hung around your neck with “rag swag” lanyards and trinkets hanging from the. It was a tangible reminder of the individual’s constant growth to better themselves on their terms.
So often, we are told who and what to be. Our goals are often someone else’s, and if ever achieved, we will still never feel fulfilled. The ragger program praises us for our individuality, prides us on our accomplishments and celebrates us with the support of others. It was such an honor to be chosen by some of the girls in my cabin to tie their first rag, and I will never forget the gift of such unbridled trust.
With a new found confidence, self worth and new fellowship of friends, I was able to face my life with new eyes. Volunteering for the YMCA wasn’t just for a week of campfires and crafts in the mountains. It was the moment I needed in my life to find myself again, regain new confidence and not be afraid of a little risk. I came back to my monotonous life eager for those little adventures to call to me and I now answer back with a resounding “yes.”
Mina Michota, Nominated by Dorain Cassell
Mission Viejo Family YMCA & Camp Oakes