How many people can claim to have more than one life-changing experience in a single summer? Northwestern State University sophomore Dalton Randolph can. He spent the last month touching dozens of lives at summer camps for children with disabilities through the Build America Xperience, which is a project of the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity’s philanthropy, The Ability Experience.
Randolph participated in a special version of Build America, a six-week team event where Pi Kappa Phi members travel the country promoting accessible recreation for people with disabilities. From the construction of accessible amenities at camps to wilderness adventures with athletes with disabilities, the Build America team is dedicated to proving true human ability. Throughout the summer, the team logs over 4,000 man hours, save camps and communities $50,000 in labor costs, over $30,000 in materials expenses and impacts the lives of thousands of people with disabilities.
For the month of July, Randolph spent a week at each of three camps in the Midwest. “There was a lot of driving screws, pouring and mixing concrete, making measurements and cutting materials,” he said.
At Camp Wawbeek in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin, the Pi Kappa Phi members painted and reorganized a sensory room, as well as constructed a 32-foot stationary train for a playground. Team members restored parts of a thousand-yard nature trail in Rocky Mount, Missouri at Wonderland Camp. In Martinsville, Indiana, the Pi Kapps built a horse run to provide shade for campers and their horses.
After each full day of work, team members gathered with campers for dinner and other camp activities. Spending quality time with the very people who are benefiting from their hard work is what Randolph says was most rewarding. “Most of the time, the campers would put a smile on my face before I could put one on theirs. They were all there to have fun and to enjoy camp. It didn’t matter to them what abilities they had or didn’t have. They just wanted to have fun and be goofy and be silly with us.”
These shared experiences at camp helped forge lifelong friendships in a short period of time. Randolph says he’ll never forget Seth from Wonderland Camp, a 21-year-old camper with Down syndrome. “He was constantly arm wrestling us and trying to not go to his cabin so he could spend more time with us. He loved Alvin and the Chipmunks, which was his talent for the talent show. He loves dancing and is always smiling. His constant silliness and grin made me feel so honored to be there that week.”
Build America also provided a great amount of self-reflection for Randolph. “I really learned that I have a heart and passion for all people and all abilities. After visiting Courage League Sports in Des Moines, Iowa, a center where kids with disabilities can enjoy playing and competing in sports, I was inspired to one day open a place of my own — a place where kids with disabilities and those without can interact and play sports together.”
Once back in Natchitoches, Randolph hopes to inspire his Beta Omicron chapter brothers at NSU to become a force for change and build awareness in the community. “People with disabilities are really no different than anyone else. They want to have fun, be accepted, hang out, go to camp, play sports, and be loved.”
Randolph’s summer break has been one of experiential learning. In June, he attended the highly-selective Pi Kapp College for Emerging Leaders, a transformative leadership institute for members of the fraternity. There, he learned how to identify and capitalize on his strengths as a leader.
The Ability Experience, formerly Push America, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that serves people with disabilities. The Ability Experience was founded in 1977 as the national philanthropy of Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity with the purpose of instilling lifelong service in its members and enhancing the quality of life for people with disabilities. Although the organization is still fulfilling the purpose for which it was intended, The Ability Experience has grown into a nationally recognized nonprofit with numerous programs educating undergraduates, alumni and communities about the abilities of people with disabilities.