One Week Can Change Your Life…

Dear busy person,

There are countless ways to spend a week.

–    Binge watch all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones (I looked it up; 10 hours/day for seven days would get you all the way through George R.R. Martin’s masterpiece). Thrilling!

–    Week-long cruise to Jamaica (or maybe to Alaska for whale watching!). Fun!

–    Trip to Paris for Baguettes, Crepes, and Mona Lisa viewing? Magnifique!

Some of these may sound cool and, sure, can be somewhat fulfilling. The truth is, if you’re like me and many other tireless business professionals you probably don’t dedicate a full week to much, other than working and using the rest of your free time in a sparing manner. You get a sweat in at yoga class, see that film you’ve been waiting to come out, read the latest Grisham thriller, or grab a bite with buddies at the new Japanese fusion restaurant whenever you can fit it into your neatly kept calendar.

This past summer, I CLEARED MY BELOVED CALENDAR FOR A WEEK! *HORROR FACE EMOJI* No, this is not a tale of quitting my job and denouncing all my possessions to go live in a monastery (which I’m sure carries its own benefits.) I took this week to become a volunteer counselor at Experience Camps, and let me tell you, I have never felt more fulfilled. I have since returned to my busy schedule in the corporate world, but the amount of purpose in my life has increased significantly.

Here’s why.

Heading into the mountains of Georgia on a greyhound bus with 40 relative strangers, I chatted about work, hobbies, school, sports and everything else you could probably find out on my Facebook profile. When we stepped off that bus onto that red, Georgia clay ground, the metaphorical jig was up.

There was a short, but sufficient amount of time to prepare for what was to be known as “The Best Week Ever.” Prepare we did. In a swift, yet organized and exuberant manner (lots of cheering!), we proceeded to learn all there is to know about experience camps, our newfound role within this camp (for us first timers), and how to implement with ninja-like skill during this blissful, yet energized week ahead. We did team fun building activities to show our fun sides and had Q-and-A sessions galore displaying our intellectual sides.  We then proceeded to unveil our lesser known compassionate sides to one another – sharing our trials, tribulations and emotional triumphs that don’t often come out.

 We were now ready to open our hearts to the campers who were about to arrive. Over the next seven days, we connected with, played with, laughed with, sang with, pondered with, and healed with these children. Often times it was hard to see them as lacking or suffering. Many of them had lost a father or mother, brother or sister to sudden accidents or painful sickness. This remains deep in them and will affect them for many years – likely, the rest of their lives – of grieving and processing, crying and healing. On the surface, they are kids. They are individuals. They deserve this. They deserve to play, sing, learn, and to have a safe space where they can be happy, but to also be sad and to talk through emotional hardship.

One day, all of these children, hopefully, will become adults, go to college, and join or start businesses. When I was in these kids’ presence, I noticed that many of them look up to us and are starry-eyed about what the future may hold for them. I not only want to help them find hope, but I do my best to let them know that they are the ones who give me hope and purpose. In this cycle of meaning, we truly need them as much as they need us. Another way to see it is that we are giving them the strength to show that it’s okay to open up, and they can begin to use that vulnerability to become stronger, more perceptive, and even to help others who are dealing with their own struggle. Experience Camps has taught me a life lesson which is hard to learn from outside its fields, bunks, lakes, and dining halls for which I am forever grateful.

-Danny Polen, Experience Camps Volunteer