On the Monday night of camp for more than ten years now, it’s been a camp tradition to plant a tree on the grounds of the Northern Virginia 4-H Education Center (the sight of Camp Fantastic since its inception in 1983), to remember and honor the hundreds of campers who have been served by Special Love over the past 32 years. A more recent tradition is to begin this solemn ceremony with some heartfelt words from the camp LITs (Leaders-In-Training). The LIT program is a special program for the 15, 16, and 17-year-old campers that offers camp teens an opportunity to bond with one another while learning leadership skills that they can use at camp and beyond. Following the opening remarks, camp LITs pass out cups of dirt to each camper, counselor and medical staff so that each camp participant can “leave their mark” and add their own special love.
Camp Fantastic 2014 Opening Remarks…
“We gather here tonight to honor our Camp Fantastic tradition. We plant this tree to remember the ones we have lost, the ones who are still with us, and the ones who are still to come. This camp has made a world of difference for many and we would like to share how it has changed ours.” – Courtney Ott, Bradley Hilliard, Brittany Etienne
“This is my 6th year at camp and my second to last. It is really hard for me to put what camp is about, but I will try my best. At home I try to explain my cancer story and how I feel to my friends, and they say they are sorry or “that must have been awful or really hard.” But here, everyone understands. We have all been through most of the same things. We all have a special bond that can be shared with no one else. Having cancer has NO ability to ruin the fun for anyone here. We plant this tree here to remember everyone and everything at camp this year. That is one of the main reasons I love this camp and everyone here so much.” – Courtney Ott, 16-year-old camper
“Well, when I first heard of Camp Fantastic, I was pretty skeptical. I mean, a camp full of kids with cancer? That sounds fun (sarcasm). My perception of camp changed the moment I stepped off the bus. I could just feel the love from everyone here. I was no longer that bald boy with cancer. I was just like everyone else. I am so thankful for all the love and hard work that is put in by so many to make Camp Fantastic what it is and would like to ask you to take a moment and reflect on what you are a part of – to give thanks for having the opportunity to be part of such a wonderful family. Stay how-how Special Love!” – Badley Hilliard, 16-year-old camper
“Even though this is my first year here, it feels like I have been a part of Special Love forever. The bond we share is amazing because I haven’t yet found a bond so strong with other people. The fact that I have a whole week to spend here makes me smile more and more. I can’t explain how much I love it here and it’s only my second day!” – Brittany Etienne, 16-year-old camper
Editors Note: The above post was written by Mindy McManus. Chris Thomas is unable to attend camp this year due to professional and parental commitments; fortunately, that means that someone around here has a reliable internet connection and is getting enough sleep to operate it.