HUDSON, Wisc. - In the game of life, people experience highs and lows. And Demetrius Neal, a St. Paul resident, has learned to adapt.
The 23-year-old is a counselor at the YMCA's Camp Day Croix in Hudson, Wisconsin. His first experience at the camp was 15 years ago when he attended on a scholarship. He was only eight. He said the first two years of camp served as an escape from life’s challenges.
“I am the youngest of eight. We stayed in a homeless shelter about two years,” he said. “I have two brothers who passed away, shot and killed due to violence in our neighborhoods. It is not easy to talk about but being here helps a lot.”
Now, at 23, he helps children in the same way counselors here helped him. The camp offered financial assistance through the King Leadership Camp program. Neal works as a counselor to enrich the next generation of youth.
“I am human too. I am not a perfect person,” he said. “It is always inspiring to see people care. All these teens go through their everyday lives and look up to me and ask me questions they don't ask others. It is a bit overwhelming.”
As a camper, Neal said Camp Croix helped boost his confidence level, too.
"You come to this place to be yourself and to do the things you love. Hopefully, I can open up that door for everyone else,” he said.
The day we met Neal, he was leading a game of nine-square with a twist. The squares weren’t on the ground, but above in the air. Neal says life is similar to that game he played with his teen campers.
“You are always working against gravity. A lot of distractions on the way but you got to make sure you are staying focused and keep that goal in your mind,” he said. “You don’t get the instructions along the way but you have to learn by your own experience. My goal has been to run this camp since I was 10 because it has been my home.”
Neal said plans to finish his degree in early childhood education.