Written by Mindy McManus, Special Love Volunteer
This is my 7th year at Camp Fantastic.
This afternoon, 106 children with cancer between the ages of 7 and 17 rode on charter busses up Harmony Hollow – escorted by police and dozens of Harley Davidson riders – to begin an extraordinary week of joy, friendship, and spirit-filled magic that is unlike any other they will experience the rest of the year. To try and explain the excitement and anticipation the volunteers have been experiencing since their arrival on Friday is practically impossible. Unless you’ve experienced camp first-hand, there is no way any one of us, volunteer or camper, could ever put that magic into words.
Last evening, the program staff (nearly 70 of us) gathered together for the first official campfire of the week – this after a full day and a half of pre-camp preparation. By this time, we had bonded with the “newbies” on staff, talked about the 106 heroes who would be joining us on Sunday, decorated our rooms with the Medieval Magic theme in mind, and enjoyed our last glasses of caffeine for the week. (Okay, we were actually chugging caffeine right up until the buses started coming up the hill. But I digress…)
As I looked around that circle last night, I saw a group of adults who were as closely bonded as any family I have ever met. Our staff is made up of former campers who are now first time counselors, folks who have been coming to camp for more than 20 years, people who have traveled from as far away as New York, Ohio, Florida, Chicago, and England (yes, she has the best medieval accent EVER), people who are here because someone else told them how great it was, parents of former campers who want to give back, and folks like me who just sit in awe of everyone else and are so incredibly thankful to be a part of this remarkable group.
As I said, this is my 7th time at Camp Fantastic, so this eclectic group who is so ready to give all they have to our campers this week is nothing new to me; yet each year my heart overflows with the compassion and dedication that I see and hear. I wanted to share just a few of the feelings that were expressed by this year’s Camp Fantastic volunteers at last night’s campfire circle…
“I’m new this year, but I can already see what a bond you all have and I want to thank you for including me and making me feel like family from the moment I arrived.”
“I remember my first year as a camper. I was 11, and I was homesick. I also remember relapsing a few years later and my first thought was, ‘Yes! I get to go to camp for three more years!’ Now, I’ll do anything I can to get here and volunteer because this is the most important place in the world to me. You all have changed my life.”
“I am one that believes that for all you have been given, you should give back. But, I’ve got to tell you, if coming here is giving back, then I’ve got a deficit going because these wonderful children have given me so much more than I could ever give them in return. If you’re new, be ready for an incredible ride this week.”
And of course, we are always blessed to hear some encouraging words from our founder, Tom Baker, who, 31 years ago decided to take a personal tragedy and turn it into something beautiful – literally impacting the lives of thousands of children and family members…
“Through the years, I have been asked, ‘What is Special Love?’ Is it a positive energy created by people who give – without a motive but to care totally for others? Is it a feeling of wanting to do whatever it takes to get a smile from a child who has had a bad day or a bad year? Is it being a friend to a child or a family different than you, whose life has not been kind? Is it being a role model to a child whose life has not had many heroes? Is it the good and the love that the Lord brings into the world when we surrender our life to Him?
“Yes, to all of the above and more. This week you will experience more Special Love than you have ever seen.”
Thank you Tom & Sheila Baker – for creating that Special Love, and for trusting each of us to share it. Here’s to yet another Fantastic week of Camp – the 31stedition!
2013 Camp Fantastic program staff