I was so excited when an email popped up in my inbox with the subject field “We Want You Back!” from Experience Camps!
Let me share why…
I come from a large family, one in which, at a young age, I was often selected to watch over and entertain nieces and nephews. Though sadly, when I was around 16, I was “removed from my family” and community, who didn’t accept me for reasons due to both religion and tradition. I had to deal with the trauma of loss and abandonment, and subsequent stages of grief followed for many years. More recently, with the death of both my parents, that loss revisited me.
The grief connection
I’ve recognized over the years a connection between my own story and that of others who have experienced the death of a person, or maybe never had someone to care for them. And that connection, that shared pain, is something that drives me to help others realize that they are not alone, there is someone who cares.
In 2019 I was out for coffee with a professional colleague, Ilana Gutman, and we were were discussing various endeavors that bring us fulfillment in helping others. I shared some of my background, my efforts to reconnect with my parents in their later years, and my drive to find a community where I could really make a difference. Ilana was involved with Experience Camps. I remember her clearly saying it has been her passion, and that the organization really has a really positive impact on kids’ lives, their families and, yes, the staff. After telling me a bit more about the program, I knew I had to be a part of this.
Four summers of volunteering later…
I’ve now completed my fourth summer volunteering as a counselor, and it is one of the best things I’ve done in my life. There’s been a lot to learn, a lot of difficult situations along the way but let me tell you: the growth and development you see each year in these kids and the bonds they form…it really is (as we say at camp) the “best week ever!”
The staff works tirelessly and there are so many fun activities planned for the kids, including archery, rock-climbing, ping-pong, swimming, water-skiing, tubing, basketball, pickle-ball, and so much more! There’s a version of color wars, game nights, talent shows plus, arts and crafts, culinary, and a spa day!
Of course, one of the key elements for success is the clinical sessions that are led by a team of highly skilled grief specialists. They are there to work with the kids in addressing their grief and helping them find the path back to happiness. In my role as a cabin counselor, I learn so much from these professionals.
Exhaustion + a huge payoff
Being a counselor is equal parts rewarding and exhausting. My co-counselors and I are with the kids all week, making up a tight little family with our kids in the cabin. We make sure they’re eating, brushing their teeth, getting to their activities on time, and getting into bed so I can read them a chapter or two of a storybook before it’s time for lights out.
Many of the kids’ l grief stories can be tough to hear but they are so strong and so big-hearted. They recognize a shared grief with one another and show such camaraderie!
Needless to say, I did respond to the “being wanted back” email by submitting my volunteer form immediately, and already have my acceptance letter. I’m pumped to return in 2024 for another “best week ever!”
Ethan found his true calling on the stage from a very young age–or so he thought! After several years of live theater, TV & film, and traveling, he moved into the events industry and has since made his home here in the U.S. (currently Chicago) all the way from Australia, working across the globe with clients primarily in the Big-Tech, Pharma and Manufacturing sectors. Throughout his life, Ethan has embraced the opportunity to support various communities such as: aged care, veterans, the homeless, LGBT, families in need, and, of course, Experience Camps.