A volunteer experience that has no rival
I like to think that I have “been around the block,” so to speak, with many, many years of a whole variety of volunteer experiences. However, when I first signed on as a volunteer, I was advised that Circle Camp would be an experience like no other. Little did I know what was in store for me.
Circle Camp is unique. It provides a nonsectarian camp experience for girls who are grieving the loss of a parent or sibling. The vast majority of these girls find themselves to be the only one in their class or even in their school who has suffered such a loss. Many of them have experienced not only grief, but also the physical upheaval of moving to a new home, a new guardian or a new school, sometimes leaving everything that is familiar behind.
I departed for the summer session at the Emma Kaufmann Camp from the home of Sandi Lando Welch, Circle Camp founder. The 9/11 loss of parents of two Camp Tapawingo girls in Maine was Sandi’s motivation for the original Circle Camp. Sandi has grown the concept to include a Circle Camp on the West Coast and one in New Hampshire. This summer’s was the first at EKC and included girls from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.
My car was laden with many huge plastic storage bins, each meticulously filled with carefully labeled supplies for the myriad camp activities scheduled for the week. The first marvelous experience was in meeting the staff that Sandi had assembled. I cannot think of any other time in my adult life that I have been in the company of so many kind, caring, warm and friendly men and women. We got right down to work, going over the carefully created staff manual and preparing ourselves for the girls’ arrival.
Then on Sunday, the campers, girls aged 8 to 14 who did not know each other and had never been to a Circle Camp, arrived. They descended from the bus, looking dazed and bewildered as we sang rousing welcome songs. It was evident that the girls were initially cautious and restrained and maybe even fearful.
On the first full day of Circle Camp, the social worker conducted the first “grief activity.” In each bunk the girls formed a circle on the floor holding a picture of their loved one who died. They took turns saying the name of the loved one and telling anything they wished about the loss. The words poured out! Girls suddenly found themselves in a safe place, where everyone in the circle had an equally sad story to tell.
That glue bound them for the next few days. They opened up, allowed others in, and they began to smile and relax. Did they heal? No, the loss certainly remains, and the staff helped them address that over the course of the week with other activities. However, I believe they began to learn that first and foremost, they are not alone, and secondly, that they can find ways to climb out from under the weight of their grief and begin to thrive again.
Ronna Harris Askin