Joshua Simon | Photo credit: Will Austin
During college, Joshua Simon worked at camps run by SeriousFun Children’s Network, which serves kids with medical conditions. “It was just the most amazing summer experience. Once I realized this organization operated year-round, I knew this was the career for me,” says Simon.
Right after finishing graduate school, Simon and his wife, Kim, packed up their car and moved from Michigan to Washington state, where he began working at Camp Korey, which offers children with serious medical conditions and their families an escape from the endless medical treatments that have overshadowed their childhood. Now the camp’s director, Simon loves that Camp Korey gives the kids it serves a place to belong.
“Not [just] fit in, but a true sense of belonging, with people who understand what they are going through. The connections they make with their peers and positive role models translate to a transformation between the first and last day of camp. Campers come out of their shells. They become more independent, self-determined, autonomous kids, and they build resilience [to withstand] the hardships they are facing in their daily lives,” says Simon.
This transformative experience derives from intentional planning. “We create this environment through endless thinking, creativity, planning and structure. Every activity we do has a purposeful intention, from learning about yourself to forming deeper relationships with others,” explains Simon.
Planning finesse is just one of the skills that Simon brings to his role at Camp Korey. “Josh is great at his job because he is able to connect with every individual. He is a fantastic advocate for the staff, but is also a mentor and friend to our campers. So many of our kids look up to Josh and look forward to seeing him every time they return to camp,” shares Amanda Doell, a child life specialist at Camp Korey. “I love working with Josh because he sees your potential before you even realize it yourself.”
Who is your personal hero?
My wife. She’s always thinking about others before herself. She teaches me kindness and patience and makes me want to be a better person. I also admire Paul Newman. Not only was he a very talented man, but he was also incredibly philanthropic; he started this great organization that I am in love with. [Camp Korey is part of SeriousFun Children’s Network, which was founded by Paul Newman.]
What do you want people to understand about your work?
People often think Camp Korey might be a sad place to work, but it is actually the happiest place on earth. Kids are putting their medical condition in the back seat and focusing on just being kids. You see a lot of amazing things come out of that. Our campers face a lot of barriers, but at Camp Korey, we set them up for success in things we may have taken for granted when we were kids — like archery, fishing, boating. Kids who have never slept outside before are camping for the first time!
What’s one small action our readers can take in their own lives to make positive change happen?
At camp, we practice having an attitude of gratitude. We appreciate anything — big or small — that we see in other people, particularly their strengths. We write warm, fuzzy, specific notes: We describe and label, and then we praise.
What one thing did an adult or mentor do for you as a youth that helped you succeed?
A teacher of mine connected me to writing opportunities at local newspapers and encouraged me to start a newspaper at my school — but she made me do the work. She taught me self-reliance, how to identify a goal and the steps needed to achieve the goal. She also taught me to get really specific about what I want.
Best advice for kids with big ambition?
Write down your goal and keep it visible in front of you — like on a mirror or above your desk. Also, someone out there has experience with what you want, and they can help you. Goals are never something you have to achieve on your own. A professor told me it usually takes 21 years of research before a new invention can be implemented. So, don’t get discouraged; it’s worth the work and the wait. Most good things don’t happen fast.
If you could dine with anyone, living or dead, whom would that be and why?
I would dine with Dave Matthews. His music has been an inspiration to me for so long. I admire him as a person and artist, and he seems like such a happy jokester. He gives you something to connect with and his shows [envelop the audience] with a sense of camaraderie.
Fill in the blank:
What the world needs now is more friends.