Gail Johnson’s Happy Place – Volunteer Spotlight

Gail Johnson’s Happy Place – Volunteer Spotlight

By Elizabeth Dirnbeck

Gail Johnson has a love for Camp Ondessonk that is known by many. She was first introduced to Camp when her grade school teacher, Mr. Barker (now known as Father Brian), shared a presentation with her class, telling them all about Camp O. The first time Gail attended Camp was with a large group of classmates, and she describes her experience as “instant love.” As she continued her journey with Camp, Gail went through the C.I.T. program in 1993 and was a staff member in 1994 and 1995, just before starting college. She chose to go to SIUC for college without ever touring the campus, simply because she wanted to be near Camp.

Gail’s first summer at Camp

Gail’s relationship with Camp was rekindled when her children were introduced to Camp by a group of friends. When her daughter, Jaycie, was old enough to attend traditional camp, they decided that Gail’s volunteering would not interfere with her experience, so she jumped at the opportunity to do so. Jaycie followed in Gail’s footsteps and fell in love with Camp, sparking the motivation to volunteer together. “A week [at Camp] was just never enough for either one of us,” Gail explained. Now Gail and Jaycie volunteer at Camp every opportunity they get!

At Camp, you can find Gail volunteering as a full-time nurse, a photographer, and a helping hand in the Health and Media Centers. She loves being a nurse at Camp – helping the kids and staff stay healthy and safe – but being behind the camera taking pictures is her favorite volunteer work. She glows with pride when she captures the smiles of campers who are enjoying all that Camp has to offer.

One of Gail’s favorite Camp memories was the first time she drove to Camp by herself. Before she left home, her stepdad tried to show her a map and explain where to go, but she refused to listen. In her mind, Camp was huge, like Disney, so she assumed there must be signs and it would be easy to find. However, when she looks back on that drive years later, she has no idea how she made it there. Her only explanation was Jesus took the wheel.

Another Camp memory that Gail loves to share involves her signature on a wall at Camp that she does not even remember signing. A volunteer sent Gail a picture of her signature on the wall with her favorite quote at the time. Years later, Gail’s daughter found her signature and signed, “That’s my mom!” below it. To Gail, this memory seemed to come full circle and is happy knowing that her and her daughter share Camp Ondessonk, the place that Gail now calls her “happy place.”

Gail’s true motivation to stay involved at Camp are the people of Camp Ondessonk! She explained that “the staff work hard to make sure the campers feel the same magic that we did at their age.” As a volunteer, she feels that it is her job and honor to do whatever she can to support the staff in their mission to make Camp a place where children gain new experiences and witness God’s true love. “The most important work that Camp does is that which is unseen,” Gail explained. “Camp teaches that God has made each one of us unique and special and reminds us that we deserve to be loved and accepted.”

Gail Johnson’s Happy Place - Volunteer Spotlight
Photo of Gail and Jaycie’s signature, explained as one of her favorite Camp memories


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