Prior to arriving at camp each volunteer was assigned to two small groups of kids: 1) the group you would spend your days with – eat with and do all daytime activities with, 2) the group you would spend your evenings with – after dinner activities & roommates. Each daytime group had a group leader.
I arrived at camp Thursday evening, checked in, and got my things settled into my room just in time for dinner. Upon locating my assigned group of youths and fellow volunteers, I quickly introduced myself to the group leader, who then rapid-fired each person’s name at me, pointing as she went. Our group had already had our turn in line to get food, but that was okay because I had already eaten dinner on my way there. So instead of eating, I sat awkwardly at the table trying to remember which name went with each of the chewing faces around me. After a few minutes I attempted conversations with a couple of the kids around me (the ones brave enough to make eye contact with me). The conversations were to nothing blog about, but it was the start of an experience that I know has changed the course of my life.
I spent the next few days following the schedule and getting to know these amazing kids. We went swimming (a lot), tried our hand at archery, made clay pendants and braided friendship bracelets, did some scrapbooking, climbed rock walls, went zip-lining (still can’t believe I did that! I do NOT trust ropes!), knocked the air out of our lungs on a slip-n-slide, played instruments like rainsticks, flutes, and bongos, played pool & air hockey, swung on giant wooden swings big enough for 3 of the kids and hung from trees two stories high, played bingo, had a campfire sing-a-long, played tether ball, and even had a mud fight in a genuine mud pit (yes, I got in a mud pit up to my thighs & I can honestly say it was seriously gross but still pretty fun). I also attended a dance and watched a talent show. We were very busy!
At night I bunked with our group leader and 4 girls. All for girls chose the bottom bunks so every night the group leader and I hiked up the mountain (the camp was on the side of a mountain and the sleeping cabins were at the top of the property while the cafeteria and most activities were located downhill), then we ascended the stairs of our building to the second floor, and then we climbed the ladders to get to our beds. You literally couldn’t sleep any higher up on this property unless you decided to try sleeping on the roof. I didn’t mind, though. After that first night I never had any trouble falling asleep.
The kids. What to say about the kids? They humble me. They are amazing. They are human and flawed, but they are amazing. They have had the short stick handed to them (to say the least), and it shows (more so with some than others), but not always in the ways you might think. They are all different of course. It’s difficult to explain to you, but these kids are strong and generous and genuine talented and intelligent and funny and courageous and . . . well I am just so grateful to have gotten to know them. And that’s not to say that some of the kids didn’t give their volunteers a very tough and trying weekend. They did. But for the most part, I just saw laughter, fun, and connections forming among the different groups. I know from some things I witnessed and what other volunteers said that our particular group of kids were exceptionally well behaved. I know that I got to “step into the kiddie pool” while other volunteers found themselves “thrown into the deep end” (although they had plenty of support from leaders). For that, I am grateful. I think God knew I needed a gentle introduction.
I left camp Sunday morning after seeing my kids (the youth assigned to my daytime group) safely onto the bus which would take them back to the city where they would be picked up by their foster parents and taken… “home.”
I left feeling that I had been incredibly blessed. I left knowing that I wanted to volunteer for the next event and every event thereafter. I left with an email address on a slip of paper in my pocket.
I’ll explain who’s email address I had and what came next in my next post.