How a GAP year shaped one student's future

After graduating high school, Heidi spent a year working at Camp Horizon in Canada, for people with disability or serious illness. What was supposed to be just a year in-between has ended up shaping her plans for future study, and even her career. In this article, Heidi shares some life lessons she gathered during her year away and advice to school leavers considering a GAP year of their own.

Most of us spend our whole lives trying to figure out what it is that makes us happy and how we can incorporate that into a career. But by taking a GAP year, one high-school leaver got much more than she bargained for: adventure, fun, friendship, future plans and an insight into the more important things in life. This article delves into the life of one incredible GAP student working at Easter Seals Camp Horizon in Canada - Heidi.

About Heidi

Heidi grew up in rural Western Queensland in the small town of Charleville. Her final years at high school were spent as a boarder. These long stints away from home prepared her well for her soon to be GAP year experience in Canada; like most school leavers, Heidi was struggling to decide where and what she wanted to study, let alone whether she was actually ready to study at all. Luckily for Heidi, the influence of two older siblings who had both travelled extensively after graduating high school inspired her to see the world while she was still young. So she took the plunge and signed-up to work at Easter Seals Camp Horizon in Alberta, Canada – with absolutely no expectations of what she had gotten herself into. What she did know was that this was a chance to rely on herself rather than others, something we often take for granted as teenagers.

Heidi had never thought much about people with disabilities or serious illness, like most of us in our adolescent years who unknowingly prioritise ourselves and doing what makes us happy. In May 2012, this aspect of her life began to change.

About Easter Seals, Camp Horizon

Easter Seals is a not for profit organization that supports more than one million children and adults with disabilities and serious illnesses across the United States, Canada, Australia and Puerto Rico. Easter Seals in the United States affiliates itself with Ability First Australia, a national body of leading disability organizations who work together to give Australians living with disability endless opportunities to assist in making their lives as enriched and full as possible.

Before starting her work at Easter Seals Camp Horizon, Heidi described herself as oblivious to how people with disabilities or serious illness live. She was unaware of how exclusive society could be, and that just a little extra effort on the part of the community could make a significant difference in allowing people with disabilities to participate in the same day-to-day activities as everyone else. “I was careless in how I labelled people and the effects that can have. As a whole I was unaware of the disabled population that surrounded my life and me. Looking back I am not proud of any of this, but I’m happy that I have been able to change.”

Heidi described her daily routine at camp as eventful and ever-changing. “There is always something different going on. From dressing up in bizarre costumes, to skinning porcupines, to riding tandem bikes, hiking mountains, playing on ropes courses, singing karaoke or just hanging out chatting and laughing. Every day is memorable.” Each week at camp Heidi had the privilege of welcoming and regrettably farewelling groups of amazing children and adults with mental and physical disabilities, people with Diabetes, kidney disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Ostomies, burn survivors, and the hearing impaired. During their week at camp these people have the opportunity to participate in the camp’s white water rafting program, mountain biking, tackling the high ropes, zip lines and giant swing, swimming, playing games, hiking, camping, and so much more. Each of these activities is completely accessible and everyone has the opportunity to participate; no one is left out at Camp Horizon. Accordingly to Heidi, “the days are long and the pay is low, but the good times significantly outweigh the bad. These are some of the most amazing people I have ever met.” Acting as a primary carer for the campers is no small responsibility for a 19 year-old, and Heidi’s work has inspired her friends and the people around her – as well as challenging her own ideas about herself and her capabilities. The experience is something that Heidi will carry with her for the rest of her life- something that can’t be taught in a classroom.

Future Plans

Working at Easter Seals has given Heidi a completely new direction for the future. Before coming to Canada and working at camp, Heidi had felt a little directionless. “I had a few ideas purely based on decisions that I had to make when I was graduating high school. Having the opportunity to work and experience life before studying definitely gives you the opportunity to find out who you really are and what your strongest skills and passions are. Working with people with disabilities has become my new passion, and when I return to Australia I plan to do further study in this area and continue to learn and develop my skills.”

Advice to other School Leavers

It was a humbling experience to interview Heidi and hear of her passion and love for not only her job at Easter Seals Camp Horizon but her unwavering will to give others an enjoyable experience even for one day. I asked Heidi to offer some of her worldly advice to others. “My advice to future school leavers would be to definitely get out and experience the work force and real life before starting further study. Even if you know exactly what you want to study, being able to get some experience of what life is like out of school is so beneficial.”

When asked to reflect on the lessons she has learnt at camp, Heidi modestly described her experience to me (which I haven’t edited at all, in order to do her response justice): “I have learnt a lot about myself since leaving Australia and living in Canada. I have basically discovered my true self. Leaving the only life you know and moving to the other side of the world, to go somewhere you know absolutely no one, or anything about the place, other than what you have researched on the internet is one of the most valuable experiences any school leaver could have. It gives you the opportunity to start a whole new life where you can be whoever you want, and the people you meet don’t know any different. You truly learn to be yourself. I have discovered skills I didn’t know I would ever be capable of, a completely new passion and purpose, how to grocery shop (harder than I thought), how to manage money, how to be completely independent and a surprising love for country music!”

Find out More

Ability First Australia

Ability First Australia employs over 3500 people nationwide each year, with an equal amount of volunteers. For more information regarding organisations in your local area and how you can get involved, check out their website at:

Easter Seals

Easter Seals runs summer camps all across Canada and the United States. Easter Seals Camp Horizon, in Southern Alberta, Canada is always accepting donations and loves having staff and volunteers from all over the world. To learn more visit their website at:

Working with people with disabilities is not limited to only the Easter Seals organisations. Do some research and see what programs run in your local area that supports the different abilities in your community.