Camp Kangaroo is a 3 day camp for children who have lost an important person in their life, whether that be a parents, a sibling, or anyone of significance. The camp was held an hour drive from my home, taking place during the summer when kids are out of school.
I ended up working at this camp because of my dad. The company my father works for sponsors Camp Kangaroo and my dad thought it would be a great experience for me. Being the teenager that I am, I tried to decline because it was far away and seemed like a massive downer. I didn’t want this dark cloud hanging over my summer.
My job as a volunteer was what the camp called a “Roo-Buddy”, someone who worked directly with the campers. I was paired with the youngest group of kids, the four year olds. There were 5 kids in my group. One of them lost her older brother in a gang shootout in Chicago. Another camper in my group lost her father, who had been physically abusing her, to suicide. Yet another one of the campers in my group lost his father to cancer.
After weeks of training to learn the skills of supporting people who are grieving, my responsibility at the camp was simply to make it fun for the children. I was not a therapist, I was not a counselor, I was simply a volunteer. All I could do was try to make the children smile and give them a break from the darkness of their life. We made kites, and made slime out of laundry detergent and shaving cream, and we made necklaces with beads and string. The kids absolutely loved camp. While playing sports, the kids were smiling and laughing. I had reached my goal of giving them a brief moment of happiness. I realized I had achieved this when one of the little girls in my group told me: “Josh, I wish camp was longer than three days.”
For me camp was very difficult. It was emotionally draining. The camp was well aware of the stress of the job as they had therapists for not only the children but also for the counselors and volunteers. One of the therapists told me, “You must leave here without the burden that these children carry; it is their burden not yours. You are here to give them the tools to deal with their losses.” This was so incredibly hard for me to hear. The entire time I was at the camp all I could think was how terrible it must be for these young children to deal with such horrific pain, and how I wish I could take their pain away from them and make it my own. I remember constantly thinking life is not fair, and about how horrible this world really is. At 17, the children and I had a 13 year difference, and yet they had already experienced so much more pain than I could even imagine. I was really frustrated by the limits of my capabilities and the fact that while I was helping in a small way I couldn’t really make it better for the four year old children who now have to live their life shrouded in darkness. A part of me wishes I never went, and that I could just forget about these tragedies. But in looking back, I am glad I did. I know that I will never forget the children of my group and the incredible feeling of dragging them out of a bleak place, if even for only 3 days. Nothing compares to the feeling that I may have changed someone else’s life for the better and given them hope to hold on.
To volunteer for Camp Kangaroo, sponosor a camper or register a child, visit: http://seasonsfoundation.org/camp-kangaroo/