OK, the camp blog--here it goes.....
Christi, our new HFC employee (LOVE HER!!) and I drove down one day early to San Antonio. We were presenting our Heroes for Children services to the Christus Santa Rosa support team--Child Life, pyschologist, and social workers. For an hour and a half, we explained what HFC does, why we do it, and how we can help San Antonio families. This was our first time to present to them and we will officially begin working with them August 1st. It was an incredible meeting. There were many times they were near tears hearing how we can serve their families and meet the many needs they are facing. One woman said, "We work EVERYDAY searching for resources for our family, and you are coming here and wanting to GIVE it away? That's awesome!!" The two of us left the meeting exhilirated about our jobs and ready to make a difference for these families.
Saturday is a full day of training for all volunteer staff. It is a day when returners hug and catch up, and new volunteers try to get comfortable with the others. While the new people sit through new orientation, those of us who know the drill quickly get to unpacking. For the first time in three summers, Arts & Crafts finished most major unpacking that first day. Can I tell you how happy I was??
The kids arrive Sunday afternoon. From the moment they step off the bus, it is go, go, go! No time for homesickness because there is so much to do. Many of the campers are returning for subsequent years, many are new.
Each day, there is an activity schedule of five different activities between 9-5:30, with lunch and "Happy Nappy" in between. All cabins come to Arts & Crafts three times, with a few, like the oldest cabin "Purple Girls" coming four times. They are my favorite cabin to have in our session because they love their projects and work intently--nice and easy! Now "Red Boys," phew--that is a whole other story. 12-14 seven and eight year old boys away at camp for a week--those counselors are saints! The activities include swimming (daily), archery, golf, tennis, high elements, fishing, canoeing, center stage, and a few extras such as Krav Maga, an Israeli form of self defense. Days are busy and full of fun for the kids.
Each evening has a different event going on. Our schedule is as follows:
Sunday night--Opening Ceremonies, group photo, and crazy games (six games in rotation competing boys against girls based on cabin colors--I got the nonmessy game this year as opposed to being in charge of the whipped cream/cheeto game I was with last year!)
Monday night--Older cabins have a camp out. Younger cabins had a presentation of "Birds of Prey" and then all camp swim.
Tuesday night--Remembrance Ceremony during "Happy Nappy" in the afternoon. Lots of tears, lots of emotion, very beautiful. Carnival in the evening hosted by a company in San Antonio called Genzyme (oncology company, I believe). They put on one serious carnival, with crazy crafts, fun game booths, food areas, water slides, and even a dunking booth! Somehow, I have escaped climbing into what a friend described as the longest 15 minutes of her life for three summers now. Another counselor caught wind of that and lodged a complain to our Co-Director Joey (being that this person had been in the dunking booth three straight summers in a row). Being that I joined an all girl alliance to take Joey down in Jello Wars and have been deemed a traitor, I don't see that I will stay too dry next carnival!
Wednesday night-Dance! It's all about the dance, people. All about the date. What a blast this night is! I love to see the kids in costume and all dolled up.
Thursday night--Skit/game night. The older three cabins are teams for Jeopardy and the younger cabins prefer commercial breaks. This year, I was a member of the staff on stage for the skits. Yours truly was "Miss Priss" in a hideous old-timey dress, old fashioned hat, and handbag. I sweetly cheered on the boy side of each cabin and acted as the score keeper. As our theme this week was the Magic Time Machine, we had other staff members as the "peanut gallery" dressed in various costumes as well--a cavewoman (who banged her club and shouted "FIRE" as answers to questions randomly and made all the kids laugh), a cowboy, a gladiator, etc.
Friday night--Jello Wars in the afternoon! I think I was picking Jello out of my ears for two days. Oh.so.very.nasty. As I mentioned before, I was a memeber of an all girl staff alliance to bring down our elusive leader. Our shirts were all matching, made by a team member that said "Hit List--#1--Joey" on the back. We have a picture of all of us proudly wearing the shirts before and after. Of course, on learning of our team, Joey recruited his loyal friends to help him target us. Right before we started Jello Wars, I calmly looked at the others and said, "ladies, we're screwed!" They all nodded in agreement. However, my team (not me because after removing my glasses I couldn't see a damn thing) did manage to get Joey to the ground this year--quite the success.
Evening is Closing cermonies. Oh so sad and emotional, but truly an amazing experience. The kids are all given paper and pens to write their wishes, hopes, and dreams for the future. Cabin group by cabin group, they are called up to the fire and given a sparkler to throw into the fire with their wish paper. The ashes from this year's fire will be what will be poured in to begin the next year's fire. Now, it didn't have quite the effect as years past since we had to be in the Rec Hall due to rain, so we let them go out on the covered part and throw into a bbq grill instead of the big bonfire pit at the amphitheatre. But hey, we made it work and the rain subsided for us to have fireworks. You know, we talk during training about the benefits camp has on the camper. I listen each year and agree, but it really sinks in so much better when you hear a camper express it. We hear it is a chance for them to express their emotions about their cancer experience, but it doesn't explain it as well as hearing a 16 year old say, "I wish there was no cancer. If there has to be cancer, I just wish it could be put all on me so no one else would hurt." We are told that they need to be able to talk about it without their parents, but when you hear them say, "I don't mention my cancer to my parents because it upsets them. My friends take two steps back if they hear the word. Thank you for letting me talk about my cancer." Yes, this was from a 10 year old. And for sure we are told that once having cancer, many of this kids have a life changing effect on them, but we don't get it until seeing a kid like our camper Benji tell the whole group that he wants to be a doctor and find the cure to cancer one day.
The effect camp has on me and the other staff members is profound. I thought I could get up there and make it through my thoughts during closing ceremonies with compsure. Sure didn't. I tried to tell the kids that when I work for Heroes for Children and need a little inspiration, I look to their faces each day. I visualize kids like those that touched me at camp, like a sweet little camper in Christi's cabin who was still on treatment (2 years in, I believe), puffy with steroids with a cute little bob haircut, and keeping a good attitude though sick at camp. My favorite thing year to year from camp is seeing the kids that come back improved from their cancer. One of my biggest inspirations these days is a 16 year old boy. Last summer, he was frail, pale, bald, and sick. Though he never once complained of his condition to anyone, he was visibly hurting last camp. He couldn't do as much and spent time in the Bandaid box to re-energize when needed. I knew he was coming back to camp since I had spoken to his mother the day I was leaving for my Austin trip for a camp project we were working on as a surprise for the graduating 11 campers (graduate at 16). But, when all the campers were there Sunday night, I looked and wondered where the heck he was. I couldn't find him. That was because he was a vibrant, healthy, stocky kid that looked like every other kid around. He was healthy as could be. And boy did he ever make the best of camp! He hung out with everyone, treated everyone with kindness (even taking a very ill girl to the dance as his date--so incredibly indearing) and showing he was the true leader of the camp. The last night, he was presented with the trophy as "Camper of the Year." I watched him make his way to the stage sobbing. I will never forget that moment. Never. I spoke to his mom on Monday about Heroes for Children and she told me how much that trophy and award meant to him. She said she didn't understand why he was going back to camp this year now that he was healthy, but she gets it now. He told her when he returned that meeting Michael Jordan did not compare to the moment he won Camper of the Year for him. Wow. Can you imagine?
All this writing to convey how much I love camp, but I know I will never fully do it justice. Not for all of us who love it so much. Once again, I have 50 weeks before heading to camp again, but I know the Camp Discovery theme song will creep its way into my mind here and there.