Laborers of love

Volunteers such as Dana Grantham keep coming—and giving— back to Ability First

One of the things that makes the Ability First Youth Sports Camp special is the contingent of loyal volunteers. Some are disabled, some are not. Some come alone, some with their families. Some come for a few hours, some for entire days. Many return year after year.

Like Dana Grantham.

Grantham just completed her ninth year working at the Ability First camp, her third as volunteer coordinator. She has served as evening recreational specialist, as personal assistant to co-director/head nurse Rashell Brobst, and early on as “plain old regular volunteer.” Grantham is so camp-savvy and can-do that she even helps out the counselors on occasion when they need an extra hand to, say, change a camper’s undergarments or give CPR.

At last month’s session, the cheery, bespectacled, auburn-haired Grantham was literally everywhere. One moment she was hustling around Esken Hall during check-in, then at Shurmer Gym observing volunteers work with campers playing “Power Soccer,” before trotting over to Acker Gym to check on the happenings at the indoor climbing wall. She hung out at Pizza Night, and helped out—and performed—at Skit Night.

In perpetual motion across the Chico State campus, Grantham saw to it that the hard-working volunteers who cycled through camp on a daily basis were, as she succinctly put it, “doing the right things.”

Photo By Sophie Speer

“I’ve got to make sure that there aren’t 20 volunteers at the tennis courts or only two somewhere else,” laughed Grantham, taking a rare break one evening on the lawn in front of Esken Hall. “There are at least 40 volunteers here throughout the day. …

“I’ve had 18-year-old Megan Libby for at least 10 years; she’s my star volunteer. She’s very responsible, she knows what to do and when, and the coaches and kids really like her. A couple of core kids stay all day. Lindsay Duke, for instance, is here from sunup to sundown.

“I’m here 24-7, all week long.”

Like so many others who return year after year, both in paid positions and as volunteers, Grantham organizes her regular job around her week at camp. The 33-year-old Vallejo resident has worked as a recreational therapist at the Sonoma Developmental Center for the past seven years. (She earned her B.S. in recreational therapy from Chico State, where her academic adviser was Ability First camp co-director Laura McLachlan, a therapeutic-recreation professional.) Grantham plans her annual vacation time around the camp schedule.

“I love watching the same kids, year after year, as they grow and change,” reflected Grantham, with a touch of emotion in her voice. “I see them get stronger, develop an individual mind-set.

“It’s especially interesting as they go through puberty. Because I don’t have kids, this whole puberty thing amazes me. Some years the girls go through four boyfriends in a week, or there’s the 13-year-old boy who hits the girl on the head because he likes her.” She chuckled, then added: “But, actually, the kids here are more mature than the average. They’ve had to be …

“It’s very inspirational. I come here every year and have a little soul-cleansing, and then I can go back to my regular life.”