A Volunteer’s Retrospective


Volunteer: Trish

One never knows where life’s journey will lead. I grew up in Las Vegas, NV, in an upper middle class family. I had everything I needed and could want. I had opportunity for a top education, but I chose to explore and learn outside of the classroom. I did attend college for two years in California but grew restless. I decided to become a Flight Attendant.

After a short time in Denver and Texas, I moved to Hawaii, which had been my dream. I learned much about the Polynesian way of life and how to surf. I was flying to Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Bali and the Philippines. I was meeting people and learning so much. Four years later my company closed its base in Honolulu so we transferred to Newark and flew to Europe and South America. New cultures, people and languages. Wow!

I didn’t live in New York or New Jersey at that time though. I wanted to live in the country so I tried Northern Vermont for a while and then on to a cabin in the woods of Colorado. The closest store was 15 miles away! I camped and flew hang gliders for two summers before I moved to NYC. Different cultures on every block, right up my alley!

I have been very lucky. I have seen a lot and met so many different types of people. I have learned to respect people’s differences. And although we are all very different, one thing we do share is the need for love and respect.

I would someday like to continue my formal education, but find the longer you wait the harder it is to get back into it. However, I do know that anything is possible if you want it bad enough. There are no excuses. The resources are out there. I have seen people escape the prisons of their circumstances, be it economical, physical, or political and become happy, successful and truly fulfilled in life.

Keep dreaming!


A key to the success of a non-profit organization is a strong core of volunteers. Well-trained volunteers gain skills at a reduced financial investment from the agency. Furthermore, the relationships that grow between volunteers, staff, and clients help make the world a better place in which to live and work. Volunteers learn about communities they otherwise may not have encountered. Clients and staff are inspired by the altruism of volunteers.

GDS volunteers, serving as counselors, provide caring support and guidance to the teens. Volunteers begin their service as counselors at Camp Excel and continue throughout the year to assist with the Excel Program as well as mentor the teens. They are recruited from graduate schools, colleges, volunteer organizations, and corporations, and now include former program participants. All volunteers are recruited, screened, and interviewed by GDS clinical staff. The volunteers receive in-depth and ongoing training from GDS so they can act as positive role models to the teens.

Selection Criteria

To be eligible for Camp Excel volunteers must

  • Be at least 21 years of age.
  • Complete an application and medical form.
  • Submit a resume and three letters of reference.
  • Be willing to uphold the philosophy and rules of Camp Excel.
  • Be motivated and enthusiastic about contributing to a positive Camp Excel experience for all teens.
  • Be in sufficiently good health and able to participate in all camp activities.
  • Be willing to abide by all camp rules, including the prohibition of cell phones, tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, and sexual activity while at Camp Excel.
  • Exercise sound judgment.
  • Set and maintain boundaries with teens and fellow volunteers.
  • Be level-headed and self-aware.
  • Be willing to be supervised by GDS Staff.

Following the interview a potential volunteer is notified of his conditional acceptance.  Candidates are required to attend and successfully complete the volunteer orientation program. Final acceptance as a volunteer is evaluated during the orientation program. Volunteer candidates may be counseled to withdraw their candidacy as a volunteer based on their interaction during the orientation program.

All volunteers will be evaluated during Camp Excel and throughout the year. These evaluations will focus on developing each volunteer’s skills for future involvement with GDS programs. Evaluations will become part of the volunteer’s personnel file.

Volunteer & Staff Orientation

All staff members and volunteers must attend a mandatory orientation at Camp Excel at Camp Mariah at the Fresh Air Fund. The orientation will last the entire day.

New Volunteers are required to attend a special orientation session prior to the formal orientation.

In the case of absence, individual arrangements for reviewing the orientation materials must be made.  All volunteers are expected to read and have a clear understanding of the contents of the Volunteer Manual.  Volunteers must agree to follow all the rules of Camp Excel and sign the Agreement Page at the end of this manual.

Expectations of Volunteers

  • Provide the safest possible environment for all teens.
  • Follow all rules of Camp Excel.
  • Offer respect, dignity and compassion in all interactions with teens, volunteers, and staff.
  • Observe rules of confidentiality.
  • Participate enthusiastically in all Camp Excel activities.
  • Encourage and motivate teens to participate enthusiastically in all Camp Excel activities.
  • Seek support and back-up when necessary.
  • Deal appropriately with teen misbehavior.
  • Be on campus during the entire Camp Excel week including orientation.

What You Can Expect from GDS Staff

  • Support and supervision throughout Camp Excel.
  • Accurate and current information at orientation sessions.
  • Respect, dignity, and compassion in all interactions with teens, volunteers, and staff.
  • Confidential communication with all volunteers, staff, and teens.
  • Full participation in Camp Excel activities.
  • Adequate precautions for health and safety of all teens, volunteers, and staff.
  • Evaluation of job performance and acknowledgement of a job well done.
  • The provision of materials and equipment needed.
  • Performance feedback during and after the week of Camp Excel.
  • A manual of rules and policies of Camp Excel.

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