Counselor Feature: Tie Dye
This is the second installment of our Counselor Feature series, where our counselors get the chance to talk about their Camp Kesem experiences. This week we have a post from Tie-Dye:
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For three years I have served as fundraising coordinator along with two other peers. Together we organize events to raise $55,000 to send 99 kids and 53 counselors to camp, in addition to planning all of the camp activities. The time I invest into camp throughout the year is equivalent to a part time job; it is a passion I have dedicated myself to. Many of the campers endure the daily struggle of having a parent sick from cancer, while others have lost a parent at a young age to the disease. Camp gives these children relief and an opportunity to just be kids and have fun. My goal as a counselor is to recognize that each camper has a unique experience with cancer in their life, but that we can unite and find strength in each other.
In addition to being a coordinator I have been a counselor at Camp Kesem for three summers; each year changed me as an individual and provided me indescribable strength. Every night before lights out, I lead a group activity that we call a cabin chat, this is the time where girls can share their individual experiences. My first year as a unit leader I was nervous about facilitating these chats because cancer is a sensitive topic and is often brought up. Through experience I have learned that simply listening to what the children have to say and validating their feelings is an invaluable skill. I gathered the girls in a circle and asked, “If you had one wish, what would it be?” One girl wished for a cure to cancer. I explained to them that cancer is an unfair disease. I told her that many people dedicate their lives to finding a cure, and we can hope that someday they will find one. I wanted my campers to feel empowered from the support I was offering them, as both a friend and mentor. This year, one camper gave me the chance to see how special this trusting partnership can be.
FrootLoop* told the group she wished she could spend more time with her father. I was FrootLoop’s counselor the previous year, so I knew that her father had passed away two years ago. Although our main focus at camp is on having fun, I encourage all campers to share their feelings if they are comfortable doing so. That night was the first time in two years I had ever heard FrootLoop mention her father. FrootLoop was shy, and I happened to be sitting next to her in our circle. I placed my arm around her shoulders and held tightly. I felt her head on my shoulder as she continued to share a story from when her family visited their dad in hospice on her birthday. They brought her favorite cake and watched Wheel of Fortune together. As the rest of the girls shared their wishes, I reflected on how meaningful it was for FrootLoop to finally open up to us. Putting my arm around FrootLoop felt like the natural response, my support gave her courage to share her heartfelt memory of her father. Sharing with the group not only helped FrootLoop become more comfortable with us, but the rest of the group continued to relate, share stories, and lean on each other. Cabin chat that night was transformative for us all, and I felt us unite while listening to the memories. Before bed I kneeled by FrootLoop’s bunk and told her how proud I was for opening up to the group.
The next day I planned to teach the girls about recycling by taking our empty yogurt cups from breakfast and turning them into planters to take home. While I was helping get the girls plant the soil and seeds, FrootLoop tapped on my shoulder and handed me the packet of daisies. She told me that she had placed daisies over her father’s grave, and she wanted to bring her flowerpot home for her mother. I felt the trusting relationship; again I was grateful she felt comfortable sharing personal memories with me. Each day FrootLoop opened up more and more about her father and her feelings, and even comforted other girls when they needed it. I watched her grow into a confident girl, doing the most challenging high ropes course and helping others with their archery bows. Not only had I empowered FrootLoop but I also felt strength from her. She helped me realize my passion for being a positive role model for children.
When the parents came to pick up their kids, I found FrootLoop’s Mom. I explained how FrootLoop shared memories about her father, and how much I had witnessed her mature since last summer. FrootLoop’s Mom told me this was the first time FrootLoop had been able to talk about her Dad since he passed away. With tears in her eyes she hugged me and she told me thank you. Experiences like these are the reasons I come back to camp, year after year. Each of the children I spend time with during the week are a gift, and I appreciate their strength and strong hearts. The hard work I put in year round to make camp possible is well worth it when I have the opportunity be part of the lives of these special children, even if only for a few days. Camp Kesem is an amazing place, and will always be close to my heart. The lessons I have learned about support and healing at camp will follow me for the rest of my life.
*Camper name was changed