One year ago, Sarah Johnson jumped feet first into her role as President and CEO at Roundup River Ranch. Looking back over the year, her accomplishments have been groundbreaking for the organization and positive for the team. From building a culture of hope, to spending a week as a volunteer counselor, and continuously striving to make things the best they can be, Sarah has been a bright light, leading us to the future of Roundup River Ranch.
To sum up her first year in one word, Sarah chose the word “inspiring”.
“The power of our campers, generosity of our supporters, commitment of our volunteers and dedication of staff are incredibly inspiring!”
Along with feeling inspired, Sarah said another feeling she had – both on her first day, and today – is curiosity! Staying curious as she looks at the past, present, and future of Roundup River Ranch allows Sarah to learn and gain understanding while considering endless possibilities!
“Our ability to serve more campers in meaningful ways in creative spaces has me incredibly excited for the future!”
One of Sarah’s top highlights of her first year was her entire week as a volunteer counselor in the Willow Cabin! She said this experience “reinforced how important this mission is for our
campers. RRR is their community of hope, friendship, and fun! The week inspired me to do more, be brave and bold in our work, and never settle for good enough. These campers deserve the best and are always #1!”
Naturally, we had to ask Sarah a few of her favorite camp things!
Favorite Camp Dance: Favorite dance? Maybe chameleon? I have a lot of favorites! I also discovered this year that it is important to stretch before camp dancing!
Favorite Activities: Friendship bracelet making as it allows for creativity and conversation at the same time, archery since it is a favorite of the campers, and the challenge course for the feats of greatness and support that happen there.
Favorite Camp Meal: Dessert first, no-hands spaghetti dinner for sure!!
Favorite part of your job: Working with and learning from RRR staff and volunteers.
As Sarah’s first year wraps up alongside our camp season and theme of “Shine On”, she said, “To me, Shine On means finding the best and brightest in every person, connection, and experience we have at camp.”
It has been a year filled with growth, excitement, and hope at Roundup River Ranch with Sarah leading the way. We look forward to the years to come with her curiosity, guidance, and passion for camp.
Read below Sarah’s full reflection on being a Summer Camp Counselor that was originally published in The Mighty:
It’s hard to believe, but we’re at the end of another remarkable summer. Soon, we’ll say goodbye to campfires, activities, time on the water, and our cabin friends. As I reflect on this past summer, I can’t help but think about community. After all, the goal for every camper’s experience at Roundup River Ranch is to build a community that supports each camper’s need for belonging.
For many of our campers, medical labels become their identity. From “chronic fatigue” to “staring spells” and “tremors that look like seizures,” our campers have battled diseases that would leave even the strongest adult overwhelmed.
But at camp, they can connect with others on a similar life journey, be vulnerable, and have fun in a meaningful and supportive environment. In fact, one of our camper’s biggest takeaways was that there are lots of other kids like her – but that they’re also just kids who love to play and have fun.
In the process of helping our campers experience the joys of camp, I found myself growing and learning alongside them. Here are a few of the lessons this year’s Summer Camp experience taught me.
Ask a lot of questions
In one cabin we had a veteran camper with a prosthetic foot. But to her, it’s a “super foot.” Within 30 minutes of this camper’s arrival, another camper sought her out to ask about care for her superpower. The connection that was fostered between the two of them is exactly what our camp experience is about. As camper Maggie says, “I used to feel like it was unfair, but now I know that I’m not the only one with medical challenges.”
Our Candle Chats were another memorable moment. By asking what seem like silly questions (would you rather have the ability to time travel or teleport) we were able to share and reflect on some deep moments. One camper, for instance, shared that she would elect to time travel to see her parents’ reaction to her diagnosis.
By asking questions, we give these children the space to have tough conversations about the reality of their world. But we also help them realize they can just be kids and have a Summer Camp experience, regardless of limitations.
Enjoy the experience
At camp we have a “Book of Firsts” that memorializes firsts that happen at camp. One camper got to experience boating, archery, ziplining, and sleeping away from home all for the first time.
Camper Maggie got to rock climb and zipline, despite her Neurofibromatosis Type 1 diagnosis. For her, camp is a place where her disease doesn’t define her and instead, she gets to spend time outdoors, meet new friends, play and try new things.
Activities like these allow our campers to set goals and attain them, regardless of obstacles. Watching our campers gain confidence and cheer one another on was inspiring. It helped me remember that there is always opportunity for growth and resilience if you’re just ready to embrace to experience.
When you ask Maggie if she was scared the first time she went away to camp, her answer would be absolutely. Being away from your family for so long can be nerve-wracking for any child. But at camp, Maggie, and other campers, learn how to do things on their own and that instills a sense of pride. Camp also allows them to build courage by trying new things and stepping outside their comfort zones.
Ultimately, Maggie’s experience shows me there’s no need to be nervous. By taking a leap of faith, and getting a little silly and messy along the way, you could end up having an amazing experience filled with immense joy and opportunity.
Remember the magic in ordinary things
Our ultimate goal is for illnesses to take a backseat to our campers just being kids. We want to be a place where our campers can just be themselves, where they are seen, heard, and understood.
For me, the ordinary moments were some of the most extraordinary. We branded Roundup River Ranch logos onto wood cookies and the campers and counselors signed the other side, among laughter and tears. We sang Taylor Swift songs, canoed in the lake and spent far too long saying goodbye.
I already know the power Summer Camp has on these kids, but it really hit home when I got to share my experiences and reflections with one of the camper’s dads. It was there I realized, through tears, that we got to be the creators of everyday magic for incredible kids – and that is such a privilege and responsibility that I can never take for granted.
This summer forever left its mark through the unbelievable volunteers and the amazing campers. I got to see the magic of thoughtful, creative, passionate, wise, outgoing, friendly children living their lives fully.