AEO Building a Better World Volunteer of the Month: Joely, Assistant Merchant – AE Women’s Footwear

AEO associates share our commitment to doing better, being better and building a better world. We’re proud to spotlight our people who are making a real and lasting impact in their communities.

Meet Joely, Assistant Merchant on the AE Women’s Accessories, Fragrance and Beauty team. Joely brings support and smiles to grieving youth for a week every summer, volunteering as a bunk counselor with Experience Camps.

Tell us about your volunteer service!

I am a bunk counselor at Experience Camps. This means I spend a week living in the bunk with my campers; together we do activities like rock climbing, tubing on the lake and arts & crafts. We also have daily time allotted to talk about grief, allowing both the campers and counselors to build trust and share deeply personal information about the hardest times in their lives. Being a bunk counselor allows me to support my campers through their grief journey. I have had the same campers throughout my years volunteering and have watched them process their grief through different stages of their life, as well as grow into inspiring young adults. The bonds created through one week at camp have been some of the most important I have made in my life.

Why is volunteering important to you?

Experience Camps is life changing!  The campers and the majority of counselors have experienced immediate grief– losing a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. I decided to volunteer because I grew up going to camp and wanted these campers to experience the love of camp that I had. Seeing the love and friendship between campers from the instant they arrive shows how essential Experience Camps is. Children who have experienced loss need a community of people their age to both talk about their experiences with their grief, but also understand that they can just be kids for a week and make lasting friendships.

How many years have you been volunteering?

I have volunteered with Experience Camps for three years and plan to continue for years to come. No matter what is going on in my life, I will always find a way to make it  to camp for an unforgettable week and eventually hope to grow into a leadership role. I also help organize fundraising activities throughout the year and sit on the Regional Advisory Committee for New York.

How do you think that being an active participant in your community helps to Build a Better World?

I like to believe that volunteering has a positive impact on the organization, my campers and other volunteers’ lives. Every summer at camp, I try to be the best counselor, finding the balance between being a shoulder to cry on and a bundle of energy trying to put smiles on everyone’s faces. Experience Camps has shown me that there are many layers to grief and that although awful, there is also a lot of love and compassion in a grieving community. I could not be more grateful to have met my campers, friends and peers, let alone have made any positive impact in their lives.

What are some of the benefits you have found in volunteering?

One of the most beautiful things about camp is that although campers come from different walks of life, through grief they come together. These kids may have never met in the real world, but through one universal experience, they make forever friendships. My campers are profound with their understanding of the world and process life in a way that has inspired me. I feel like I have had a new outlook on life since joining the community and try to live every day to its fullest. I have also made lifelong friendships with other volunteers who I consider some of my best friends.