Nic King got his start in the Marine Discovery Center’s summer camp program as a camper, but he enjoyed his experience so much that when he aged out of the program, he returned as a volunteer camp counselor.
Now 17, and a senior at Spruce Creek High School, the Port Orange teen just completed his third year of volunteering in MDC’s summer camps. And while he hovers over most of the campers at 6-foot-1 and brings youthful enthusiasm to the program each year, King’s calm personality and reliable presence has also earned him high praise by camp administrators and fellow counselors. Read about Nic King in MDC’s October Volunteer Spotlight with staff writer Lisa Mickey:
Q: Has Florida always been your home?
A: No, I was actually born in Pennsylvania in a place called Littlestown (near Gettysburg), but I moved to Florida when I was 9. I’ve lived here ever since.
Q: Aren’t you a member of the band at Spruce Creek High School?
A: Yes, I play the tuba. I’ve played it for six years. I started in the seventh grade.
Q: Why the tuba?
A: In college, they look for tuba players. It just seemed like a good way to get some scholarship money and have some fun during the school year. I actually wanted to play saxophone because my grandpa played saxophone, but I did the playing test at school and was able to play all the instruments. Because I was always a tall kid, my band teacher suggested that I play the tuba. Tuba is a big instrument.
Q: What are your plans for college?
A: I definitely want to go to an in-state school — maybe the University of South Florida or the University of Central Florida. Right now, I’m thinking about going into computer engineering.
Q: Did your connection with MDC start when you were a kid at summer camp?
A: I went to another summer camp and I did not like it at all. So, my mom found MDC and told me to give camp one more try. I came here, loved it, went to summer camp here for three years, and I’m still going — just as a camp counselor. I aged out of MDC’s camp at 14, so now I’m volunteering.
Q: Why did you want to come back as a counselor?
A: It’s a fun place and a great way to get out of the house during the summer. This was my third summer as a camp volunteer.
Q: That’s a big change from being a kid in camp to becoming a counselor. What has it been like?
A: There’s just more responsibility. You have to be productive, but it’s still fun. And we still get to go on the boat out to the spoil islands and explore.
Q: What is it like for you to see the kids in camp now, knowing that only a few years ago, that was you?
A: I can see myself in some of them. It’s a big group with a lot of personalities coming through. I see some mini-me’s running around at summer camp!
Q: As a former camper, what do you try to bring to MDC as a volunteer counselor?
A: What we do is just as much fun, if not more, than the stuff you do at your own house. Sometimes kids are glued to their phones, playing video games and then they get outside and they are complaining the entire time. I tell them it’s fun to be here and to be outdoors, and to just give it a chance. I never did much social media. I just left my phone, came to camp and forgot about it.
Q: What is it like to give up your time to help others as a volunteer?
A: Here, especially during my first year of volunteering, the other volunteers helped a lot. They helped me out and told me what I needed to do and how to do it until I figured it out myself. There are a lot of nice people here, which is why I like MDC. Now, I’m teaching other volunteers the same stuff others taught me.
Q: Many people don’t volunteer until they retire and have the time. You’re a busy young man with school, band, friends, family and you’re getting ready for college. Why did you want to squeeze in volunteering at MDC?
A: All of my friends either only paddleboard or they are always inside their house. I see my friends who are always in their houses after I leave camp. Most of my friends who paddleboard and spend time outdoors, also volunteer at MDC summer camp.
Q: What have you learned about yourself through volunteering?
A: I’m decent with kids and I can handle larger groups. I didn’t think I’d be very good at that. Before I came to MDC summer camp, I probably would not have been able to take a fish off my own hook and now I’m taking fish off the kids’ hooks. I’m also rigging fishing poles and prepping for kayaking. I know all the wildlife out in the salt marsh and what they are called. I didn’t think I’d pick that up, but it’s been fun.
Q: What stands out for you while volunteering at summer camp?
A: Just the other volunteers who work here. They have become my best friends. We get together sometimes. We go to the same school, but I didn’t know them and didn’t talk to them.
Q: Have you had any cool experiences with the campers?
A: We’ll get campers who come in and they are just great — very well-behaved and interested in participating. This year, there were two kids, James and Gavin, who came every week, all summer. By the end of the summer, we had all become friends. I think they’re 12, but they’re mature.
Q: Did you have any kids who needed a little more guidance and support?
A: Yes. Sometimes on Mondays, it’s the first day of summer camp and some kids think they’re not going to like it. They might be whining or just keeping to themselves in the morning, so it becomes a mission for me to show them that camp can be fun. Most of the campers will talk to the people at their table, but every now and then, you’ll see some who just stay to themselves or only look at their phones.
Q: How do you help those kids who act like they don’t want to be at camp?
A: I just try to start a conversation and see what they like. We had a camper at the beginning of the summer this year who wasn’t talking or participating. I learned that he also grew up in Pennsylvania, so we started talking about that and how we had gone to a lot of the same places growing up. The camper was 10 or 11. His family is actually pretty outdoorsy, but he just wasn’t used to Florida yet.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: I like to paddleboard, scuba dive, build computers and play video games. I have kayaks and paddleboards at home, so some of the stuff we do at camp are things that I do anyway. I fish a little at my grandpa’s house.
Q: What do you enjoy the most about working at MDC?
A: Every time I see MDC banners or the logo around town, that gets my attention. When I volunteer here, it seems small. It’s just our group, but when I go out in the town and see things associated with MDC, it’s super cool because I know that I am part of what we do. I love it here.
Q: What do you think you bring to MDC in your volunteer role?
A: I’m a lot more patient now. When there are some kids who misbehave throughout the week, I try to figure out how to get them engaged with our activities. It ends up that they are not intentionally being difficult. They are just uncomfortable, so I try to make them comfortable. I’m pretty laid back and I don’t get annoyed very easily.
Q: Do you have a favorite activity you like doing with the campers?
A: This summer, we started playing “keep away” with the counselors versus the campers. We would bring a kickball and the game was about whichever team could hold on to the ball the longest. That was fun because it forced interaction between campers and counselors, instead of just us telling them what to do.
Q: Didn’t you play a remora game?
A: Yes. We glued snacks to our shirts and then we would run around the field and the campers would try to chase us down and grab snacks off our shirts like remoras would try to grab leftover food from sharks. We would get something like 10 seconds to start running and then you turn around and there are 20-something kids running at you. That was terrifying!
Q: What changes have you seen at MDC in the time you’ve been coming here?
A: The Learning Lab space has really changed and everything at camp got more organized. When I first started coming here, we would go out to one of the islands and we just sort of did our own thing. Now, campers know what they’re going to do on the islands and we stay in small groups. It’s definitely safer and more structured. Campers end up doing more because they’re not just out there wandering around. The programming has definitely gotten better.
Q: What has been the highlight for you at MDC?
A: The beach days are always pretty cool. We take the campers to Bethune Beach. We get out of the center, so we get to see what kids act like outside of a classroom. They come out of their shells even more.
Q: If you were talking to other teenagers, why would you encourage them to volunteer?
A: Because this place has helped me figure out a lot of things. First of all, it’s a great way to not spend the entire summer in your room, but I’ve also learned some life skills. It’s helped me come out of my own shell a little bit. I’ve learned how to talk to people – not just the campers, but with the adults here. It’s a more professional setting than just being dumped into a part-time job somewhere. Plus, we go outdoors. I don’t know if people go outside enough. I spend the entire school year convincing my friends to volunteer at MDC. People I know are already coming here to help.
Q: Even when you go to college, could you see yourself coming back to MDC to help in the summers?
A: Yes, I’m just going to keep coming back. You’re going to have to kick me out!
Q: Have you learned anything at MDC that will help you in college?
A: I’ve definitely learned about managing workloads. There are things that have to be done during the day. It helps to spread out the day and work at a constant pace, rather than just trying to do everything in the last hour. I’ve also met kids who came in here who didn’t know how to sweep the floor. It’s probably good to know that before you get to college. We also have to throw towels into the washing machine at MDC. These are life skills.
Q: Haven’t you already starting taking classes at Daytona State College?
A: I’m taking three classes at Daytona State for the fall semester and I’ll take another three classes in the spring semester. And I’m taking two classes at Spruce Creek High School. One is also a college class – advanced placement world history – but it’s held at the high school.
Q: Does your high school have football this fall?
A: Yes, but we’re waiting to see how the season goes. The bad is still learning music and learning how to march. Because I’m a senior, I have to help train the freshmen. Even if the band doesn’t march this year, we still need to teach [the underclassmen] how to march on the field.
Q: How does it feel to be a part of the MDC team?
A: It’s great. More places should do programs like this. It just helps get people outside more. It’s scary sometimes when kids come here and really don’t know how to play outdoors or run around on the grass. I’ve had to tow a lot of kids in kayaks, too, but I’ll never complain. This is what I came here for.