so long sweet summer

Dear Summer,

WHERE DID YOU GO? I feel like Memorial Day was last week, and now fall is upon us in New England. Alas…

After Session 1 of Camp, I never really got the opportunity to write about my experience, and now I find myself home and recovering from my second and final week at Camp, Session 9. (And listening to Dashboard Confessional, but not in a depressing way. I’m actually laughing–and only Carly and Alexandra know why!) There is so much to say about Camp, and at the same time it’s hard to put into words. People always ask me,

“How do you do what you do? Aren’t you so sad all the time? It must be so hard.”

To that, I say–it is hard. There are days I come home completely emotionally and physically exhausted. I don’t want to talk to anybody, (good thing I don’t have roommates) and I’d rather just go to bed. But who doesn’t feel that way about their job at one time or another? A majority of my day is spent playing with kids whose lives are really hard, but I get to be the one that puts a smile on their face. There is so much laughter in what I do, that it more than makes up for the times there are tears. And when I have the privilege of volunteering at Camp during the summer or weekends during the year, it’s like everything is right again with the world—the “different kind of healing” Paul Newman talked about isn’t just for the kids!

I volunteered for two completely different sessions this summer. Session 1 my entire cabin was from Italy—7 precious Italian girls who spoke very little English. Luckily they came with a translator. The coolest part about this week was realizing there are no love language barriers at Camp. Obviously, I speak no Italian, but these kids still “get” Camp, even if we’re just singing “Ice Cream and Cake” or yelling the ONLY unit cheer they memorized in English for the millionth time. I’ll never forget them telling me through tears and in broken English how much they would miss me telling them to brush their teeth every night as they loaded up on the bus at the end of the week. Camp is so amazing because these kids get to leave their illness at the gate and just be kids. And they get to be kids with other kids who get what their lives are like everyday. They are smothered with the Safety, Respect and Love that aren’t always present in the real world—whether from their peers, family situations or just the reality of their illness.

Session 9 is for well siblings of campers who attend throughout the summer. I was lucky enough to have a cabin of 9 senior campers who shared their final summer of Camp with me. These girls are incredible, and I can’t imagine my life not having known them. Session 9 is especially cool because as Matty, our camp director, put it, “We have the cure they need!” I don’t have the ability to cure HIV or sickle cell disease, and I can’t make chemo suck less, but for well siblings I have the ability to build them up and empower them to see themselves as much more than “so and so with such and such disease’s brother or sister”. I wish I could post some of the pictures from these weeks, but HIPAA says no. Instead I can share pictures of me covered in all kinds of ooey gooey mess…because that’s what happens at Camp.

 

Post Silly Olympics. So much mess!!!

Post Silly Olympics. So much mess!!!

 

On the way to Carnivary from the Paint War.

On the way to Carnivarty from the Paint War.

By the time the kids leave, you’re so tired, not only from the lack of sleep, but because you’ve given of yourself completely. (I have so much respect for the full time summer staff that does this for 9 WEEKS!! They are an amazing group of people.) Although both my cabins were completely different in every sense of the word, at the end of each week I had a deep desire to just hold each of my campers and somehow express to them how special they were. In a “you is kind, you is smart and you is important” kind of way, I wanted to protect them from all the bad things in the world and keep them in the safe bubble of Camp!

Today at work, I received this card in the mail from one of my campers. Never underestimate the impact you have on another person’s life and never take for the granted the love that is reciprocated. I feel truly blessed every day for the opportunities God has given me!

I'm gonna go cry now...

I’m gonna go cry now…

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a different kind of healing.

So I started off strong with this whole blogging thing, and then I remembered why I had avoided blogging for so long. It’s really hard to consistently involve yourself in things worth writing about and posting on the Internet. My favorite literature teacher in high school, Mr. Roger Bailey, always told me I had the perfect name for a writer. So hey, Mr. Bailey, if you’re reading this, I’m just trying to do your assumption justice!

The last four weeks in a nutshell–my family came to Connecticut, so now I have all my stuff. I’ve arranged my movies alphabetically, sorted my bowls in rainbow order, attempted to decorate, and my apartment is starting to feel like home. My job is still incredible. I’m done with shadowing and orientation, so I have my very own Barney Bag full of the projects and games I do with kids in the hospital. (Look forward to future posts of successes and failures in that department!) And Louisville won the National Championship. RIP Kevin Ware’s shin.

This past weekend I had my first overnight experience on Camp. I’m so lucky that my job affords me the opportunity to experience Camp during weekends throughout the year and sessions during the summer. It definitely helps to connect those experiences back to my work in the hospital, and I’m so grateful for every second I get to spend at what is so quickly becoming my favorite place on Earth.

I went into this weekend fired up for my first real Camp experience. But, right before dinner on Friday night, I received the tragic news that a camper from my previous job at ESP had unexpectedly passed away. Bekkah was one of those campers that could honestly turn my frown upside down just by walking into the room. She didn’t always need words to express herself, and she had a bear hug that could take your breath away, but her strength was far more than physical. She had a presence and a desire to live life with immeasurable joy. In the several minutes it took for the reality of her death to set in, I grieved for her family and for her friends at ESP knowing this summer at camp would not be the same without her.

Faced with this tragedy, I realized there was no place I would have rather been to process those feelings than Camp. ESP was a place where Bekkah thrived, had friends and felt accepted, and I had the opportunity to be a part of something like that last weekend. Camp was hosting it’s inaugural Alumni Weekend, inviting back campers who had aged out of the summer camp programs and were revisiting their Camp experience for the first time in upwards of 10 years. It was such a unique weekend to be a part of, but so cool to experience the impact Camp has had on so many young people. Because of their illnesses, many of these now young adults were socially isolated, and Camp was the only place they felt accepted for exactly who they were (still are). This weekend was like a reunion of sorts, but also a time where they could remember and embrace that feeling of acceptance.

Leaving ESP was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make, but it’s so special for me to feel connected to where I came from by instilling the same philosophies of acceptance and love at Camp now. My former boss always told me that we weren’t put here for individuals with disabilities; they were put here for us. They remind us that being different is not just okay, but something to embrace and be proud of. I know Camp isn’t for me, but looking back, I needed this weekend almost as much as the campers. It was therapeutic to say the least, not only to be a part of such an amazing time with these young adults, but to remember Bekkah and the spirit of joy she brought to my life.

 

"The righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace." - Isaiah 57:1-2

“The righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace.” – Isaiah 57:1-2

hope deferred.

hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. – proverbs 13:12

For those of you just tuning in (to my blog or to my life) I recently moved to Connecticut to accept a position as a Hospital Outreach Specialist for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, henceforth referred to as Camp. Camp, the name itself referring to Butch’s gang of bandits in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, is a magical place for children with chronic and serious illnesses that was started by Paul Newman, Academy Award winning actor and yes, the “salad dressing guy”.

Let me rewind. So I’m obsessed with Paul Newman. I mean, I’m not trying to be creepy, but I may or may not celebrate his birthday and the anniversary of his death. I may or may not have framed pictures of him hanging in my apartment. I may or may not own all of his movies. Truth be told, he had a lot to do with my decision to become a child life specialist. It’s kind of intense, but let’s be real, he was smoking hot.

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I know, right?

Because of my, let’s call it appreciation, for Paul Newman I had wanted to get involved with this camp for some time. As the fates would have it, I applied on a whim for my current position, and two months later I had officially become a New Englander.

Fast forward to my first day on the job–my first visit to camp. This was a moment I had been waiting for most of my adult life. I woke up before my alarm, ready to get the day started and spent an hour on the road preparing myself for the emotional experience ahead. Naturally, I stopped at Dunkin in an attempt to digest my feelings, physically and metaphorically. Alas, my plan was thwarted, and my tear ducts won out in the end. When I pulled into the driveway, I immediately started crying. (Shocking, I know.) I was able to get myself together after a 2 mile stretch of road winding through Camp, but when I met my boss at the administrative building, her simple question of, “How are you doing?” was met with my tearful response, “I’m just so happy!”

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Before the tears.

We went to the back of the admin building so I could I brew a K-Cup of Newman’s Own Medium Roast to start my day the organically caffeinated way. (For those of you wondering, there ARE Newman’s Own food products to be found ALL over camp!) The walls were covered with pictures from camp, pictures of Mr. Newman with kids at camp. It was like having an out of body experience; like I had just found out that unicorns actually exist. I mean, here I am face to face with the reality that a man I have loved and admired did, in fact, start this amazing camp…AND THIS IS MY JOB!!!

So that was pretty much my day—wandering around in a state of complete wonderment (yes, I looked up this word to make sure I was using it correctly), meeting each and every member of the Camp team, getting to know their roles and falling more and more in love with Camp, my coworkers and Paul Newman. An entire day spent marveling at the life God has blessed me with. I had an incredible lunch with the Director of Camp Operations, Matt. (Separate post to come about the life changing conversation that took place.) Of course, there were several more instances of me not being able to contain my emotions, but the best part was that no one seemed at all concerned. It was like, “Oh yea, this is totally what happens the first time people come to camp!”

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Theater

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Infirmary

When Mr. Newman died (September 26, 2008), a little piece of my dream died. I still wanted to be a child life specialist, but I’d never get to meet the man who had impacted the course of my life so greatly. I’d never get to thank him for the legacy of generosity and compassion he instilled in so many people. I’d never get to hang out with him at camp. But after leaving camp that day, a little piece of the dream came back to life. I was able to meet so many of the people who have been a part of Camp from the very beginning, people who knew Mr. Newman personally. I was able to walk through the buildings he designed, sit on the porch of the dining hall and look out over the frozen lake. I was able to experience the “different kind of healing” he envisioned bringing to children with life threatening illnesses. His dream for camp lives on, and through that dream, a small piece of him. I immediately thought of the scripture Proverbs 13:12 which reads, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” I feel so lucky to serve a God who knows the desires of my heart and chooses to fulfill them beyond my imagination or expectation.

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Sunset over the frozen lake. Tree of life to the right, if you will.

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“When you see the right thing to do, you better do it!” – Paul Newman

And that, my friends, is the magic of camp.