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“It comes down to loving people.”

Kelly Jo McLendon undergoes training before each camp to help manage campers who panic or worry. SUBMITTED BY KELLY JO McLENDON

Kelly Jo McLendon hasn’t spent her college summers lingering in her hometown or working on softball pitching mechanics. Instead, the East Texas Baptist University student has taught children with special needs how to catch fish or has calmed their nerves as they waited for a turn on a zip line. For the past three summers, McLendon has worked at a camp devoted to developmentally disabled children. As a cabin leader, she has helped a handful of campers get out of bed, get dressed, take their medication and, most importantly, feel loved and accepted throughout the day’s activities.

McLendon, who earned a kinesiology degree in December and is now in grad school, hopes to parlay the experiences into a career teaching special education. Though the children she works with are often boisterous, McLendon says she has savored the quiet moments she’s spent with an autistic girl who doesn’t speak and struggles to sleep. Late at night, McLendon watched the girl hop and dance around the room or simply sat with her, ensuring she was not alone in the silence. “It’s a joy,” McLendon says.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.