National Volunteer Week: Meet Nikki Nguyen

volunteer sitting outside

Finding the time to give back is one of the biggest challenges volunteers face.

Nikki Nguyen, a 22-year-old medical student at McMaster University has been volunteering at Campfire Circle since 2018. Her older sister worked and volunteered at Campfire Circle and encouraged her to give it a try. While having a full course load was time consuming, Nikki always makes time for camp despite her busy schedule.

At the beginning, Nikki had a few doubts about volunteering. She wasn’t sure she would be comfortable being silly with kids and she didn’t have any prior camp counsellor experience. But she still signed up, and during her first overnight camp experience, she had so much fun she’s been volunteering with overnight camp and community programs ever since.

“Everyone was so energetic, so excited to be at camp, it was such a whirlwind of emotions when I got there. It was super easy to fit in and feel comfortable with everyone there because everyone was so welcoming. Even though I was a new volunteer, they truly showed me what the camp experience could be like.”

During the pandemic, when it was hard to volunteer or even meet campers, she joined Campfire Circle’s volunteer social committee. Nikki took part in various programs and events – she even led the virtual ukulele programs.

“I always loved music as a kid. Even though it was on screen, it was nice to have a little bit of camp in my life. At the time, all of my classes were online, and I was experiencing Zoom fatigue, but it was worth it to put a smile on campers’ faces.”

From Mississauga, Nikki has an interest in specializing in paediatrics, and volunteering has deepened her approach to patients in her medical practice.

“Camp reminds me of the psychosocial aspect of a person’s health. When I’m interacting with families, I see how the medicine comes from hospital but the real healing comes from camp. It’s so special and so valid. You can definitely see in some of these kids how camp is able to heal them from their experiences.”

Although volunteering can be a lot to add on top of her full schedule, she describes feeling refreshed afterwards. For Nikki, volunteering is a break away from the real world and a nice reset.

volunteer in mask at camp program

“For me, I always sign up for camps because I have so much fun at them. They are a welcome break in my schedule. I never see it as, ‘I have to volunteer this weekend, I’m going to be so busy and stressed afterwards.’ I look forward to hanging out with friends, kids and their parents, and being able to play games. I get to be a kid again. You can take a break from being an adult and spend time with other people who equally want to have as much fun as you do.”

For those who are on the fence about volunteering, here’s Nikki’s message:

“Volunteering at camp is such a special opportunity that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. When I go to camp, it’s not just for camper families, it’s very much for myself as well. I encourage everyone to try and come out and volunteer for a camp program. It’s a great way to become involved in this community and you’ll meet so many special people through this experience.”

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