They came from 11 different states, from Connecticut to California. They gathered in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, volunteering to spend the week with sisters and brothers who have been separated when placed in foster care. Who are these amazing people? They are the outstanding group of volunteer counselors who just celebrated our 6th season of Camp To Belong MA!
Every year since 2005, when I first launched CTB MA, I have been wowed by the caliber of people who step up to the plate to make this program possible: accountants, teachers, social workers, photographers, outdoor educators, foster/adoptive parents, nurses, equestrians, business owners, entrepreneurs, bankers, musicians, engineers, students, speech therapists and many others.
For the campers they are heroes, teachers and role models. They spend the day with the kids as they go swimming, boating, rock wall climbing and horse back riding. The lessons they offer are filled with kindness, compassion, grace and courage. You see them in action all day long – as the campers sew sibling pillows for one another, as they climb aboard the banana boats, as they prepare for the Talent Show. These stellar folks, who range in age from 21 to 65, also provide encouragement, strength and goodness in the evening as the campers head to their bunks for the night. It’s a 24/7 job.
All week long the counselors give the kids the message that they are worthy and that their lives matter. They help children move toward wholeness as they stand by their sides and help them learn how to jump rope and soar through the air off the water trampoline. These special moments are sprinkled throughout each day – when a counselor and a camper connect and joy or compassion passes between them.
When you are a child who is accustomed to being on the losing end of the American social system and a kind person who you look up to tells you that they want to spend time with you, it makes a huge difference. When you are a child who rarely hears, “You are so talented!” or “What a fabulous horse back rider you are!” and you get to spend the week being genuinely respected by people who you feel safe with – folks who offer you another view of what life could be – your life trajectory might just change.
I know that the campers’ lives are changed when they come to Camp To Belong MA. You can hear it in their heartfelt voices at the closing campfire. Kids who were reluctant to come to camp saying that now they don’t want to leave.
I also see how the counselors are deeply touched by their experience. They are raising money for innovative social programs, becoming foster and adoptive parents, choosing to volunteer for CASA(Court Appointed Special Advocates), riding their bikes across the country to raise money for CTB MA, even getting Mr. T haircuts to send children to camp.
After the first season of CTB MA, I launched a monthly sibling connection program so that the kids could continue spending time with their siblings and counselor friends. We are now entering our 6th season of Sibling Sunday! All made possible by the generous people who volunteer their time and fabulous energy to help give our campers an unshakable sense of belonging and connection. Thank you all! You are my heroes.
Should you have any openings next year, I would LOVE to serve as a counselor at Camp to Belong. If you have a waiting list, please send me the application forms you need for me to be on that list. (I am also on the waiting list for a home at Treehouse Communities in Easthampton.) Thank you. My address is: 3575 Doverhill Dr., Salt Lake City, UT 84121.
I was so impressed and inspired by all that you have done. I would email you directly but wasn’t sure of your email address.
I am a single parent of an internationally adopted child who has significant mh and other special needs as result of her experience in the orphanage. As I become more aware of the many other parents of internationally adopted children with trauma, attachment and other issues, the more I am thinking of starting a non-profit to help these families and these children. I would love the opportunity, if you are willing, to talk or email with you about your experiences in starting your foundations and non-profits. I am in the very beginning stages but feel compelled to do something. My background is public health and social work so I lack the business know how that you likely used in starting your intiatives. Thank you, Gail Merriam