Volunteering changed Todd Dewey’s life.
Of course, when he got started, Todd didn’t know that would happen.
It was 1988, and Todd had heard about MDA while working as a Deputy Sheriff in North Carolina. He attended an MDA Care Center and visited the MDA Charlotte Summer Camp. Todd was intrigued. So, in 1990, he signed up as a counselor.
The rest is history.
This summer will mark his 28th summer as an MDA Summer Camp counselor.
Over the years, he has also visited practically every MDA Care Center in his area since 1988, volunteered to help plan the MDA Muscle Team Charlotte event, sat on the steering committee for Summer Camp, and supported countless fundraising events over the years, from Bowling for MDA to Harley-Davidson Poker Runs to MDA Muscle Walks.
And every year, without fail, you can find him at the same Charlotte MDA Summer Camp he started volunteering at in 1990.
The camp itself is a no-frills type of place, low on the luxuries but big on nature’s amenities — peace and quiet, a pond to canoe on and woods to explore. There’s a wooden dock, where the kids gather in their wheelchairs, armed with their fishing poles.
“There’s a spirit about the place because of the people that have passed through there, many of whom aren’t alive today,” Todd says.
It’s not fancy, but the memories make it special.
Todd’s first camper, Jeff, lives with spinal muscular atrophy. Jeff told his new counselor exactly what he needed and Todd did as he was told. It was a perfect fit for Todd. He was used to taking orders as a cop.
“He made it easy for me,” Todd says. “He learned to trust me and I learned to listen to him. We became great friends and I helped him for many years.” (In fact, Todd and Jeff are still great friends.)
The campers have had a big impact on this counselor, but Todd has also had a big impact on the campers.
“I encourage them to follow their dreams no matter how challenging they may be. They can modify them as they progress in life, but never give up on what they are passionate about,” Todd says. “I make every attempt that I can to motivate these young kids and adults too, just as I would anyone else, disability or not.”
Over the years, many campers have reached out to thank Todd for being their friend. Most recently, a former camper, who is now married with kids, sent Todd a Facebook message and thanked the volunteer for the impact he had on his life.
It was a powerful moment for the counselor, who always strives to motivate the kids he works with, to bring them out of their shells and to help them make good choices in life.
“When I first got involved in MDA Summer Camp, I’d say that it was cool to help these kids experience these things that I thought they couldn’t do on a regular basis,” he says. “Years later, I decided that I would answer the question of why I volunteer at camps differently. I do it for me. I like it. I like going. I like helping people. It makes me feel good.”
Todd thought he’d pass the torch on to his daughter Sydney, who is also an MDA camp counselor, but that hasn’t happened yet. He just can’t imagine an August without MDA Summer Camp.
Todd’s experience with MDA also changed his professional life. He switched from policing to physical therapy because of the satisfaction he got from his volunteer work.
“I didn’t like the fact that I didn’t feel as though I was making a big enough difference in my community. The sacrifices I was making weren’t worth the outcomes,” he says of his career in law enforcement. “But volunteering for MDA led me to a career, or more appropriately a lifestyle, where I have the most amazing opportunity to work as part of a team with people who often face adversity on a level many of us will never have to experience.”
Todd now works with Numotion, a company that provides complex rehab technology, like power wheelchairs, to people with disabilities, so they can have more independence and a better quality of life. Numotion employees engage with local MDA families throughout the year as a National Partner of MDA Muscle Walk.
In all, the volunteer experience has molded Todd into who he is today; it’s helped make him a better person.
“To me the gift you get back from giving is far better than the one you give,” he says.
Learn more about volunteering with MDA!