I'm sure I've probably posted about camp before, but it's probably been such a while I thought I would take a minute to talk about it again.
Camp Can Do, formerly sponsored by the American Cancer Society, is now a nonprofit organization that runs at Gretna Glen Camp & Retreat Center. Camp Can Do provides two weeks of patient camps for children currently in treatment or those who have been in treatment for a wide variety of pediatric cancers. In addition to our patient camps, we also run a weekend camp for the siblings of our patients.
Many times when I talk about camp, people will say, "Oh how sad. That must be a terribly hard thing to do." In a way, they are right. When we have to say goodbye to our campers, it sucks. There's no easy way around that. But the week itself... the week itself is magical. People also often say, "Wow. Thank you for doing that," or, "What a wonderful thing you're doing to help these kids." While I appreciate the sentiment, I shouldn't be thanked. Believe it or not, we should be thanking the kids.
I wish I could accurately put into words what camp means to me. I wish I could explain the silly, ridiculous jokes, the body noises, the goofy actions, the amazing accomplishments, and the hope that fills up my heart. But honestly, those words don't do it justice. I'm not even sure a story will do it, but I can try.
My partner and I are the counselors in the youngest girls' cabin, so we typically have girls ages 8, 9, and 10. Often we have very sick little girls, other times our girls have been out of treatment for a while even at their young ages. This year, we had a young lady who is not only taking medicine for cancer, but she also faces the challenges of being deaf and mute. As we got our medical review before the campers arrived, we were told that nobody was really sure if she understood that much sign language, and if she read lips it would probably only be in Spanish because that is what is spoken in her home. We don't speak Spanish. We didn't speak sign language. But they told us she was a great young lady, we would love her, and we would figure it out.
It's amazing how universal some hand signals are. We were able to get started on Sunday with lots of pointing and making up our own signs. Thankfully, another counselor in our cabin has a friend who signs, and we quickly found out that our young lady spoke sign language much better than anybody realized. With the help our cabin partner and another good friend who took a sign language class last year, we were able to learn many new signs to help us throughout the week.
While that's interesting, the even better part of this story came as we went through the rest of the week. The other kids, who really didn't HAVE to learn sign language and include her, made it their goal to learn some sign language to be able to play and talk with our young lady. 15, 16, and 17 year old campers spent time during our free time playing "house" with our young lady. She would give them a chore or challenge to complete, and if they didn't complete it, they would be sent to bed early! We never once asked these kids to do this. We never once had to say, "Hey, don't forget to include our friend." It got to the point where she didn't need any of the adults any more, and that's just the way we like it.
Camp is like a world of love in its own little bubble. These kids have every reason to be ticked off, to be angry, to think people owe them something. And they don't. They are full of caring, compassionate hearts, and they do everything they can to show how thankful they are to be there. They are present in every moment of camp, and they soak every experience up like a sponge. I learn so much about appreciating the small things and loving life from these kids that it fills my cup for the entire year. In a summer full of reflection, my week at camp was the icing on the cake. It has me ready to be positive and present throughout the school year because my "other kids" deserve it just as much as my "summer kids" do.
In case you're interested in learning more about Camp Can Do, you can check out our website. If you're in the PA, MD, NJ, DE, NY area, we also have our first annual Gala coming up, and we would love to have you join us.