Maria bagging sandwiches.Yes, summer ended months ago – but, journey back with me for just a (perhaps, warmer) memory. For many, summer camp is a time for outdoor adventure and memories made in canoes and kayaks, swimming with friends, learning how to make knots you’d never think to use, or some kind of woodsy craft. It was a place where summer seemed to last forever.  

Many get to experience summer camp growing up, a part of treasured childhood memories – but not for me. I have my own summer camp memories as an adult camp leader who, for the past decade or so, has been responsible for a cabin of 15 teenage girls. My first experience as a camp lead was as a 30year old wide-eyed and mystified adventurer, who was clearly out of my element. I took a week off work, flew myself to the nearest airport and got to camp.  

After the week-long camp was over, I took a 16-hour bus ride back home with the group of teenagers. I live to tell the tale of that first-time camp experience. 

No one can really prepare you for all the aches and pains of camp from zip-lining and obstacle courses to the sleepless nights (thanks, uncomfortable bunks) and a slightly different kind of ache: uncovered fears you didn’t think you had. Yet, one thing always made up for those aches and pains – seeing the summer through the eyes of a young person, eager to tackle those fears while seeking new adventures.  

This is the very magic that kept me coming back year after year to lead a cabin filled with our next generation. I looked forward to this week all year – excitedly anticipating its arrival in the same way one does for their favorite holiday or a “real” vacation. 

Then came 2020. Summer camps were all but canceled. Not only was I sad that I would miss that magical week, but I now had a lot of Volunteer Time Off from Cisco with nowhere to go. Cisco’s Volunteer Time Off provides employees 40 hours each year (which was bumped up to 80 hours in 2020!) to give back in ways they are most passionate about and is separate from our normal PTO hours. 

My restless soul, especially given the times, needed that same magic. I needed to experience that sense of hope and joy for the future. So, I took matters into my own hands – and this year, my summer camp’ looked a little different.  

Maria's family helps to package meals.

Instead of one contiguous week this summer, I volunteered over a series of single days – some random Tuesdays or Thursdays – over the course of a few months. My camp crew’ for 2020 comprised of my husband, siblings, nephews and nieces or friends. We would gather around our dining room table to prepare individual meals, and then delivered these meals to our local community to areas where they were needed the most 

On these days the eyes of those who were receiving these meals showed the range of our human condition: sadness, anger, disbelief…but always, a glimmer of hope, and gratitude.  

This year, I was able to extend ‘camp’ over the summer months and into fall – and, now it has become monthly give back opportunities where my family has planned into the winter holiday season. I love that even for a just a day, here and there, Cisco supports me taking the time to wrap bread or portion out sour cream. It has nothing to do with my role as a Technical Solutions Architect for our Collaboration team, but Cisco sees its importance and the value of giving back. I can devote my thoughts and energies to something that’s not on a video screen and can see the world through someone else’s eyes  

These random days of giving back has that same magic as my week-long annual summer camp adventure. For a moment, I step into the tangible, physical world – and not just a virtual give back opportunity, but to truly connect with others. These days leave me energized, with that immense sense of joy and hope, for the future.  

Suddenly, I’m right back at summer camp. No matter the month. 

How are you giving back this #GivingTuesday and holiday season? 


Ready to join a company that gives back? Apply now. 

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Maria Erickson

Technical Solutions Architect