I haven’t written on this thing for over a year, but ran across my old Kindle post a couple of minutes ago. That year was really different for me, still awesome, but really different. I haven’t fully been able to write down everything I’ve wanted to write down from my unbelievable experience at Camp Kindle this year, but thought it would be good to just post the thank you letter I wrote to all of my donors/supporters. Even if I never use this thing anymore, it’s nice to come across it once in awhile and get a feel for my thoughts and experiences. If you’re reading this, excuse the writing. It’s frazzled, emotional, and maybe disjointed (like everything else I’ve blogged about). But I hope the core of it inspires you to get out there and serve others. Serving others… that’s the secret to happiness folks, it really is.
DON’T WORRY! I’M NOT ASKING FOR MORE MONEY! I just wanted to give you all an update on how Camp Kindle went this past week. For those of you who donated, prayed, and/or sent positive vibes towards Kindle’s direction this past week, be confident that your resources were well spent. It’s only my second year as a counselor at Kindle, but never have I felt so strongly about this organization’s mission. It’s almost been a week since camp ended and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the incredible stories heard and powerful lessons learned throughout the week.
I was a counselor for B6 (14 y/o boys… you could easily guess what they wanted to talk about all week lol). We did all the super fun camp things you would expect like 6am cannonballs into the pool, sunrise hikes, archery, etc. The kids took up a special project and became more knowledgeable about a new trade/hobby like survival, drama, writing, and ice cream making. On the surface, it was an awesome summer camp — like the ones we used to enjoy as kids. On a deeper level it was much more than that. Along with the fun stuff, they attended leadership workshops and sessions on HIV/AIDS. I knew it was my job to love these kids, but soon after the first few workshops, loving them didn’t feel like a job at all.
I asked one of my boys why he loved Camp Kindle so much. He told me that camp was awesome because it’s one of the few places where he feels free to be open… free to be his complete self. In middle school a friend oversaw a text he sent which revealed his HIV status. Word spread and he became the target of bullying. He lost his best friends because their parents wouldn’t let them hang out with him anymore — they feared that their kids could catch HIV by sharing a soda, touching, or breathing the same air (all false, btw. HIV can only be transmitted through sharing of needles, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk, and blood). He received threats from a school gang and was forced to move. Now, he and his parents keep his status a secret. He’s uncomfortable talking about it at home and with his friends. His parents lie to their own friends about which camp he goes to every year so that they can’t link him to HIV. But camp? Camp is where he feels empowered. It’s where he is able to therapeutically talk about his day to day struggles and find peers who can relate. It’s where he has friends and role models who know about his status and love him regardless. Camp is much more than camp he says.
His story is just one of the many unique stories shared at camp. At the end of the week, campers are encouraged to speak out and share their HIV story in a room filled with peers and staff. Kids got up one by one and shared their struggle with the side effects of their medications, their fear of losing their loved ones, the bullying they face, their depression, and what some of them have done to hurt themselves. There wasn’t a counselor in the room with dry eyes. We’ve loved these kids all week, I’m talkin swollen hearts for kids that are so great… so awesome. And while they face challenges, a lot of them remain positive and lead exemplary lives despite their situation (that boy I talked about earlier is a superstar pitcher with a wicked arm, listed on his school’s honor roll, and a natural born ladies’ man). We know why they’re special and can easily see their potential. Which is why it hurt so bad to hear the undeserved struggles they face on a regular basis.
If this is one of the highlights of their year, if this is where they feel safe, normal, healthy, and strong. If Kindle is where they find a loving family and feel free to be their complete self… the time and effort that we put into that week as staff was absolutely nothing. I’d do it again and again and again. I’d give more of myself even when I think there’s nothing left to give because they deserve it. They deserve all of what we had to offer and more. If you got through all of this banter, thanks. Lately I’ve found it to be so easy to get caught up in my own problems and the uncertainty of my future that I begin to lose sight of the needs and struggles of those around me. Completely shifting my energy and focusing it on someone other myself was incredibly refreshing. That last part is some wise piece that a fellow staffer gave me. So give, without primary motive of personal gain, give freely, and give often. This past week did wonders for my soul and did wonders for these inspiring kids. Thanks to everyone who’ve helped make it happen.
If Kindle’s mission has struck a cord in your heart and you are interested in finding ways to get involved feel free to contact me with questions regarding the program. They actually offer day camps, year round support, SPEAK OUT! Sessions, and other programs that help fight the stigma of HIV/AIDS. More info on the non-profit and ways to give can be found here