At times, it felt like one of the longest weeks of my life. But for the kids, it may have been the most memorable week they’ll have all year.
Last week John and I volunteered 8 days of our time as camp counselors at Roundup River Ranch in Gypsum, Colorado. Roundup River Ranch is one of the camps started by Serious Fun, the organization Paul Newman founded (and partially funds with his line of Newman’s Own food products.) The camp is free to kids ages 7-17 who have chronic or life threatening illnesses. Each week, or session, is grouped by illness so that the volunteer doctors and nurses can better serve every child’s needs. During our session, campers were effected by severe asthma or HIV. Many suffered from depression and PTSD as well.
But to see these kids, you wouldn’t imagine the word suffering belonged anywhere near them. They were full of energy, bouncing off the walls at times, and so thrilled to be meeting new friends and doing activities. My cabin was full of rambunctious 10-13 year old girls, who were all pretty amazing people. (Admittedly, a few of them did test my patience over the week. But what else would you expect from 9 preteens away from home?)
Days were long, usually staying with the girls from 7:30am until 10pm and then crashing in the counselor room of the cabin. We took them to their myriad of activities, keeping them on schedule and cheering them on. We sang ridiculous camp songs and participated in choreographed dances after every meal. (These songs and dances will be stuck in my head for weeks, if not months.) We played loads of games and let campers dump pitchers of water over our heads.
For “Ugly Counselor Dinner” I even let my campers dress me in a hideous pink dress, fill my hair with barrettes, and cover my face and neck with about a 1/2 inch thick of face paint. (That night at dinner I walked up to John, pointed to my lovely getup and proudly stated “That’s right, you married this!” His response was a somewhat shocked “Is that you under there?”) My face was stained blue for a short while, but the campers loved every minute. Totally worth it.
Camp has it’s ups and downs, energetically speaking, and by the end of the week, I felt fairly exhausted. Some of it was the long schedule, but most of it was probably due to my own personality and energy. I’m not much of a singer or dancer, and while I can get through it for a few days to make the campers happy, by day 5 I felt a bit tortured.
John, on the other hand, is built for camp. Even though he was the oldest counselor there (at 29 and 32, we both had several years on the staffers, who mostly aged 19-23), he had energy and good spirits to the end. Combine that with a love for dancing, singing, and generally being goofy and I think he made a pretty ideal camp counselor.
In addition to learning our strengths and weaknesses as counselors, I think John and I both left camp with a few lessons learned. At least I did.
I was amazed at how fun and rewarding it is to watch kids grow, expand, and come out of their shells. I think I get why parents find parenting so much fun – at least on a small (one week) scale. It was awesome to see the changes in these 9 girls over just 7 days.
Before this week I’d never really had much of an opinion about camp. Having seen how kids get the chance to meet new friends, try new challenges, and leave with more self confidence than when they arrived, I now get it. Camp looks like a great experience, for kids of any medical background.
I also left camp with a new commitment to always buy Newman’s Own foods. Not only are those products healthy, all natural and truly tasty, but they support amazing places like Roundup River Ranch. They are truly doing good in the world, and I plan to support them from here on out.
While we were wholeheartedly welcomed back for future sessions by the staff, I’m not sure it will be in the cards. Our schedule for the next year or so means that our first chance to go back would likely be summer of 2014 – and who knows what will be going on then. Should John decide he wants to go back and be a counselor again I may decide to dedicate my week to being a kitchen volunteer instead. Making good food for the campers might be just a little more up my alley.
For the next short while we are tying up loose ends in Denver. If Colorado wasn’t under a severe fire ban we might actually go camping again to finish up our summer in the US (camping without a fire is far less fun.) I’m sure we will come up with another great way to end this portion of our journey – stay tuned!