Heading to camp
Heading into my first weekend volunteering at Camp Forget Me Not, I had very little idea of what to expect. Due to a stressful time with work and life, I barely even had time to pack, much less mentally prepare, and had the sense of never having enough time, accomplishing enough, or knowing enough.
Run by the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing (http://www.wendtcenter.org/), camp provides a safe place for kids who have recently experienced a significant loss to express emotions and move forward in life with hope. Together with the camp director, Stephanie, I planned a painting workshop where I could share something I love and offer campers a new outlet to express their unique selves and experiences.
Driving to camp, where I would both facilitate painting workshops and assist with grief therapy groups, I was nervous to say the least. Campers range in age from 6 to 17 and many face circumstances and uncertainties that would be difficult for the strongest adult to handle. What comfort did I have to offer? Would I be able to connect? And the more mundane: would I make friends with the other volunteers? Would I get lost and wander around camp (those who know me will understand this particular concern).
On arrival, I quickly realized the magic that is a community of volunteers giving up an entire weekend to be fully present and open. Camp balances grief work with fun yet healing activities (like my painting workshop) and teaches self-esteem, life skills and brings each camper the message that no one should have to grieve alone.
In my workshops, the groups of kids enthusiastically dove into painting (some of the young ones quite literally). Many depicted memories of loved ones. Others expressed feelings by pairing words and colors. Some created an imagined scene that reflected something about how they see themselves and what makes them happy. It was a beautiful experience to have these young people trust me enough to share their paintings and talk about their art. I reflected about the power of art to connect us and the gift we can all give of simply being present and showing up for our fellow human beings.
Talking about death is pretty heavy business, and while I expected to feel emotionally drained, I instead left the weekend exhausted but filled with positivity, hope and a powerful sense of connectedness. This experience served as a powerful reminder to me that I am enough, exactly as I am, and that being there is enough.
Camp Forget Me Not/Camp Erin DC is entirely free to kids and funded through donations. If you are moved to do so, tax-deductible donations are accepted online here.
For more, watch the camp video slideshow below or visit the Wendt Center website.