I was eleven years old when I was invited to camp for the first time. The year before was a hard one. I had moved across country from Montana to Texas mid school year, had been diagnosed with a blood disease that I would be dealing with for the rest of my life, and had just survived a year of relentless bullying in my new school. I honestly did not know what to expectOur story began on July 2, 2016 at the KOA campground in Cardinal. We had looked forward to taking the kids to the local KOA for months, but by Saturday -- our world as a family would be changed forever.
It was only a short bus ride to Camp John Marc , but it felt like I had travelled to this alternative reality. I remember getting off of the bus and seeing my name on a sign, along with the names of several other girls. They gathered us up and walked us to our cabin, and when we walked inside I saw a bed with my name above it, and a bag with my name on it. My fellow cabin mates and I dug through our bags like it was Christmas. Inside was a disposable camera, a hat, a water bottle and all kinds of goodies that were all meant for me. A quilt square with encouraging words, a flashlight that was all mine, a pillowcase that I was going to get to color and put on my pillow. This camp knew I was coming, and was excited for me to be there.
At a point in my life when my self-esteem was at an all-time low, camp couldn’t have come at a better time. I had stepped into an atmosphere that made me feel strong, and in control, capable, and I think most importantly, valued.
When you are a “sick kid” you are rarely in control of the things that happen to you, and sometimes it is hard to feel valued in a genuine way. Sometimes your “value” comes from being sick and not from being who you are. At camp, I learned to trust myself and that others saw value in my thoughts and actions and opinions. It was a big thing that impacted me throughout the rest of the year. I found myself remembering my camp friends when the bullying got to me during the school year. I couldn’t wait to go back to the place where I was somebody who mattered.
There are smells, tastes, pictures in my head that will stay with me forever. I will always be able to feel the air rushing through my fingertips the first time I was brave enough to let go of the rope and open my arms on the zipline. I will always remember the way the cicadas roar and the way my clothes smell when I return home. I remember the names and faces of my friends and those that encouraged me along the way.
Many people had an impact on my growth as a camper: my counselors, Child Life Specialists, and Camp Nurses all played such a nurturing and important role in those experiences. There are too many wonderful people to name, but I am thankful to all of them for investing their time and energy into me every summer.
Camp Sanguinity at Camp John Marc has been impacting my life for nearly 20 years. I now return as a counselor and serve on the board of Camp Sanguinity. I have the opportunity to experience camp from the other side. Being able to pour into current campers what was poured into me is a powerful thing in my life. I didn’t realize it then, but feeling like I was capable and valued was no accident. I had no idea that it was in fact a very intentional thing that I would arrive home feeling accomplished, and valued and smart. As counselors we are provided with the training, inspiration and tools to provide that same uplifting and confidence building atmosphere for every camper in attendance. Camp Sanguinity is MAGIC. Watching the transformation from nervous faces on Sunday to the tired, accomplished smiles on Friday is my favorite thing. The campers come and get to be who they want to be all week. They get to challenge themselves, make friends, try new things (or just do their favorite thing over and over like I did) and even though it is just a week out of a year, those memories last their entire lives. In turn, I come home from Camp remembering that there are things in the world so much bigger than me, and I feel refreshed to focus on what is important. I am who I am because of Camp Sanguinity.
The heroes I've encountered in my life have all been so different, but they all touched me with their kindness, selflessness, and their ability to make me feel like I could be a hero too. Heroes build up more heroes!
I hope you know just how special hundreds of kids feel every summer thanks to your support. Thank you for being their hero - and thank you for giving me the best experiences of my life.
Sara Beth Hooper
Camp Counselor and Board Member Camp Sanguinity
Find out more at koacarecamps.org