Of course, the children we serve have many concerns. They may never have been away from home and may be used to taking care of their siblings or family members and are worried about them. At the very first, we tell campers they are full of hope and can help themselves set goals for their futures and can be respectful, responsible, helpful, team players and can build a great attitude.
No matter what most of these campers think of themselves before camp, they learn to raise their self-esteem on their own, because it is expected of them. Adults say, "you can" and children believe it. So, learning this lesson about giving high expectations and opportunities for children to be successful is primary.
And, while the program has changed somewhat over the years, at its core are the same activities and values.
What's surprised you along the way?
So many campers "come back to give back." Here is a wonderful story about the first former camper to come back. He was the oldest camper our first year. About five years after camp began, I received a phone call. The voice on the other end began talking. Finally, realizing I was not sure who he was, he said, "I'm "N.' I remember when I was a camper and counselors all told us that if we were not on drugs, not smoking and if we were passing all our high school subjects and not in a gang, we could come back to be a junior counselor."
This astonished me! And, after I cried a lot, we talked. That began his four-year stint as a Camp Care-A-Lot staff member. Each year, he stood taller and projected his voice more confidently. Though we have since lost contact, I am sure to hear from him again sometime.
The kids and staff remember so much about camp. So many can rattle off the things they did for a week at Camp Care-A-Lot, 8-10 years before like it was yesterday! They remember their cabin name, games we played and, almost all the time, they remember the session on making good choices!
I am bowled over by the number of kids I see as young adults, who have saved their T-shirts with camp logo or photo. They say that camp was an amazing part of their life and that it helped them be a good teen and young adult. The most important thing they say is that they know that we are still there for them -- even years later. Those feelings are wonderful.
There are also a few not-so-happy endings, like campers who have not stayed on the course of life we hoped to set with and for them. Unfortunately, there are a number of kids who barely remember camp. A psychologist once told me that human nature in some kids cause them to push the good out of their mind - or at least shove it to the back of their minds - in order to cope with their present, troubled, daily lives. Once they begin talking about camp with other kids, though, things come back to them and they smile again.
Mostly, I am surprised by the amount of love I have for so many kids who have made a huge difference in my life and the lives of the adults who volunteer for them. The adults have made a huge impact on me as well, teaching me the art of volunteering, although my parents and grandparents began teaching me those things when I was a very
The "ah ha" moment came immediately as camp began. It is the unconditional love children have for the staff and for each other upon arriving at camp. They have so much love in them to give and they give it generously, as the counselors give it to them. All it needs is a
bit of nurturing!