The weekend started off with an enjoyable “road trip” from York, PA to New Jersey with Sophie. My little niece (who I witnessed being born), is not so little anymore. I knew this before the trip as I watched a few months prior as she delivered a speech about ALS and her Dad at a fund raiser. This little girl who I once rocked to sleep has turned into a beautiful young lady with more poise and composure than most adults I know…and she can now ride in the front seat of the car! This was rather exciting to me as it’s been many years since I have enjoyed a road trip without children whining or crying from the back of the car “are we there yet.” We talked, laughed and listened to Elvis (her choice!) on Pandora.
Once arriving at Fairlake YMCA Camp in NJ, we immediately felt at home. Upon meeting Jodi (the founder of the camp), it was hugs at first sight. Jodi, Linda and everyone attending the camp welcomed us and we felt as though we knew these people our whole lives. Not that I was nervous about “fitting in” as I knew I could count on Sophie to be the social butterfly. The first evening entailed dinner, an ice breaker game and a bonfire before settling into our cabins and getting some rest before a very busy Saturday. We didn’t get as much sleep as we hoped because Sophie and her new friend apparently had some bonding to do in the way of giggling and talking half the night.
Saturday began with some activities to take us out of our comfort zone, to show us that we get through anything even if it’s uncomfortable. The activities were designed to show is we are braver than we think we are, stronger than we realize and that it’s ok to lean on our friends for support. Sophie and I started with the “Leap of Faith”, it was a 30 foot pole that we climbed and jumped off of while attached to a rope that was supported by our new friends weight. We had to trust each other to not let us fall, believe the camp counselors who assured us “everything will be ok” and allow ourselves to have fun even though we were nervous and scared. We both accomplished our goal and had fun taking videos to document the experience, as we were sure no one would believe us. Sophie also scaled a rock wall with ease that morning. Then we were off to get our creative juices flowing while we made tye-dyes and homemade candles. Candle making was Sophie’s favorite. There were also other opportunities to be creative by working together to design two lovely murals that are now displayed at the camp in honor of Hope Loves Company.
Saturday afternoon, Sophie’s brother Alex joined in after finishing his last soccer game back in York. He may have missed a day of camp, but the group embraced him and he was feeling at home in a matter of minutes. Alex started camp with a trip to the archery range where he practiced his skills with a bow and arrow. Alex is very athletic so anything “sporty” he loves and excels in. I’m not sure this kid knows how talented he really is. From soccer to basketball he can do it all and is an amazing team player. Later that evening we went on a ridge hike on the Appalachian Trail. It was about a mile and half straight up hill where we walked and talked and looked out for bears! Once we got to the top, we got to see an amazing arial view of the lake we fished on just hours before. It was breath taking and a real accomplishment that many of kids can call their first real hike. Alex and I got a selfie at the top and then began to decend. He held my hand in between joking and giggling with his new friends. Sophie showed her independence as she walked ahead with her new friends.
After an ice cream social we headed back to the cabins. The girls spent time talking about how they are affected by ALS. We heard stories about moms, dads and grandparents that have lived or are living with this terrible disease. I feel humbled to have met such lovely young girls who have been through so much in their short lives and each and every one is an inspiration to anyone who is lucky to know them.
Sunday was another fun filled day that began with a giant swing that the kids once again tested their fears and out their faith in each other as they were pulled up 20 feet and released on their command to go flying through the air with just rope and harness holding them at their waist. Sophie and Alex had a great time doing this activity- cheered on by their new friends and they cheered for them too!
Jodi also spent some time with each child individually, helping them with some relaxation techniques and coping strategies that I’m sure benefitted each child in their own way. Closing the camp was difficult. The kids didn’t want to leave their new friends, they all bonded so quickly. Finally, they exchanged e-mails and instagram screen names and hugged each other good-bye…until next year
Overall, camp was a huge success! We had a great experience; met kind and loving people who will forever be in our hearts. Hope does love company. Keep hope alive!