My staff has been here for six weeks, and we’ve been working hard. It has been a terrific summer, and everyone has brought their best game… but we’re feeling it. The long, hot days are catching up. Our clothes have that dank, musty smell and feel from living at camp all summer – and so do we. We’re starting to feel the yearly crunch of longing for home and free time while also mourning that we only have 2 and a half weeks of camp left. It’s all the feels. And evidently Mercury is in retrograde, so there’s that.
We have 80 campers here this week, including over 20 campers that we have absorbed from another camp that suspended enrollment for a summer. They still wanted their campers to have the camp experience, so they sent them to us. The start of the week was a little rocky as we adjusted to having them and they adjusted to a completely new camp environment but as is so often the case here, after the first 24 hours we were more focused on the friendships we were forming than the differences,. We have LOVED having them here.
One of these campers in particular is a snuggle bug. He gives hugs freely and without reservation to whomever he approaches. As the director I find this particularly refreshing – I’m not often on campers’ radars except for when I make announcements and lead church. But I’ve gotten lots of hugs this week, and it’s pretty great.
This morning my head counselor and I were standing together waiting for everyone to arrive at church when this boy came up to us. Looping one arm around me and the other around her he pulled us together announcing, “group hug!” Kaitlyn and I obliged and squeezed his shoulders affectionately. While we were hugging him he looked up and noticed that while we were both hugging him, she and I had not closed the loop to hug each other. He swung his eyes up to us and simply said,
“Can you guys hug each other?”
We laughed, and shook our heads, and pulled in for a proper group hug per his instruction.
But oh man. He got me.
I work with my head counselor all day every day, and I adore her. We talk and we laugh and we problem solve and we brainstorm. We do all kinds of things together – but we do not spontaneously hug. And it’s not because I’m not happy to hug her – of course I am! It’s just that we are so busy doing other things that it doesn’t even occur to us. If I’m being honest I’m pretty bad about remembering to hug in general. I get so caught up in my to-do list that there’s no time for hugging.
But that group hug was gold for me today. It gave me a moment to connect with one of our campers, but also to connect with one of my staff in a way that was different from all of the other connections we have all day.
So I’m sharing this story with you, just in case you’re too busy today and you forget to connect. Since you might not have a sweet-faced camper to tell you what to do, I figured I could share his instruction:
Help. Thanks. Wow. Writer Anne Lamott wrote one of her books on what she calls her three essential prayers. These are the words that came to my mind when I sat down to write you this final report about what turned into a truly inspirational Teen Camp.
Help. This was my first plea to you all, and certainly a form of prayer as is any request I make of the ECC community.
Thanks. This was my second blog, after we were totally overwhelmed by your generosity and response to my initial plea.
And today, WOW.
When this program took off earlier in the week and it became clear that we would be able to make significant donations to the three organizations our campers and counselors had decided to support I reached out to the three agencies to see if someone might be able to come and talk about what they do. All three sent a representative, who gave moving testimony about the incredible work they are doing. After we heard them speak we presented them with their checks.
$2300 to Loaves & Fishes RI.
$2300 to the Interfaith Counseling Center.
And, as promised, a little extra to the agency supported by the winning team from our Game Shows throughout the week. $2500 to Adoption RI.
Math has never been my strong suit, but that’s $7100 total.
It was so, so special for the Teen Camp staff and campers to be part of this week, and this morning was magical. We took pictures of each group and their representative:
The Food Truckers Team with Dennis Lafreniere of Loaves & Fishes RI.
The Incredibly Cool Crowd with Christine King of the Interfaith Counseling Center.
The Storks with Donna Silvia from Adoption RI.
The picture at the top of this post is all our groups and agency representatives together, with our Thank You sign. We can’t possibly reflect our level of gratitude in a picture or a sign – but we tried.
Thank you for following and being a part of this amazing week.
Yesterday morning at 11am I posted this blog post, and asked you to help us get our Teen Camp program off the ground. Our campers had split into teams to compete in campy TV Game Shows for the week, and we had them name their teams after a non-profit of their choosing. I told the campers that we would make a donation to the non-profit represented by the winning team at the end of the week.
I was hoping to find someone willing to throw us $100 so that we could make said donation.
But when the camper and counselor teams told us about the agencies they wanted to compete for I was pretty inspired. I wanted to include you all in the process. So that’s when I asked you for help.
And did you help us? Survey says….. hell yeah you did!
I’m writing this post a mere 27 hours after we posted asking for help, and we have raised over $4000 to go towards these three non-profits.
FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS.
People, this is ridiculous. Ridiculously good. Amazing, even.
I was going to wait until the end of the week to tell the kids about the money, but then when it was over $2500 this morning I had to tell them. I’m no good at keeping secrets anyway. Then I let them break the camp rule and go get their cell phones (gasp! I know. But I had to let them phone a friend.) They were allowed to turn them on for five whole minutes to text their friends and family and share the blog on their social media accounts. I wanted them to be part of the fun, and feel some ownership over the experience of raising funds for these non-profits. We brought in an additional $1000 in the hours after they had a chance to spread the word. (We’ll take generous friends and family for a thousand, Alex)
So we’re going to keep this going, because y’all – THIS IS SO FUN. We love how generous and supportive and loving you are to this community and to our campers and to the non-profits doing such good work in Rhode Island. We are overwhelmed at how quickly you would respond to a call to help. We are so, so thrilled that what started as a fun idea to help make this week more meaningful has instantly turned into one of our favorite stories ever.
We’ll keep our donation link live until Friday when we’ll total up our teams points and allocate your generous funds to help Adoption RI, the Interfaith Counseling Center, and Loaves & Fishes Rhode Island. Stay tuned.
It’s Teen Camp Week at ECC! This year we’re running a TV Game Show week, and every activity we participate in is a game show. At this very moment we’re doing Hollywood Squares with the Visiting Staff. It looks like this:
We didn’t want to just play game shows though. We wanted to incorporate our theme for the summer – about having a tender heart and a humble mind. So in order to make our friendly game-show competition more exciting and meaningful for everyone, we asked our three teams to get together this morning and think of a non-profit in Rhode Island who had a mission they felt strongly about. The idea is that each will compete for their non-profit. Each team is named with their non-profit in mind.
In an attempt to make this project better still, we wanted to be able to make a donation to these non-profits at the end of the week – á la Celebrity Jeopardy. Whichever team wins the most fake competition money during the week will have the largest donation made to their non-profit of choice. We’ll make a donation to each of the three non-profits, but obviously we aren’t telling the kids that. We want to them to put in their all towards winning while we are here together!
There’s only one small issue in this master plan we have: our Teen Campers and staff aren’t celebrities, nor to they have celebrity incomes. So the only part we’re missing is the actual money that we could donate.
Will you help? We’d love to be able to tell the Teen Campers that while they have been here having fun all week and participating in our program, that our wider community has contributed to make this a more meaningful experience for everyone.
Your help would mean the world to us. Thanks in advance!
Here are our teams, and the non-profits they are supporting:
The Storks are competing this week in honor of Adoption RI, who helps provide foster and permanent homes for children in DCYF care in Rhode Island. They chose “The Storks” as their team name because of the story we use in our culture around storks delivering babies. They want to help deliver children to families.
The Incredibly Cool Crowd
This group felt strongly about suicide prevention, and getting help to people who feel that their lives are not worth living. They are competing in honor of the Interfaith Counseling Center, a non-profit devoted to making mental health counseling available to anyone, whether or not they can afford it or have insurance. They chose “The Incredibly Cool Crowd” as their name to share the acronym ICC with their non-profit!
This group chose Loaves and Fishes RI as their non-profit, which is an interfaith organization that brings trucks full of toiletries, clothing, and food to homeless people and people in poverty all over Rhode Island. People in need find essentials through this ministry, and friendship with the volunteers. They chose “Food Truckers” as their name for obvious reasons!
Aren’t these kids the best? Help them have an extra special week at camp and give here!
Well, the Bridge Camp Talent Show was enough to pull me from my blogging slumber.
This talent show tends to be the one you truly don’t want to miss in a summer at ECC. There’s something about watching our campers with special needs positively shine on stage with dance routines, singing, ball spinning, drumming and more. In many acts their helper campers are by their sides, singing and waving and holding lyrics so they don’t miss a moment. It’s always so, so good. But tonight was particularly magical.
It would be hard to pick just one moment that made it so very special. It might have been the one camper who played corn hole as his talent. It took 6 throws for him to land the bean bag in the hole, and each time the crowd got more and more excited, cheering him on. With his last toss he landed it, and the other campers and counseling staff went crazy.
It might have been when a camper who has joined us for years – but has never even come close to the Little Theater for a talent show – jumped up on stage to listen to the sweet sound of her helper campers and counselors singing Amazing Grace. She swayed back in forth with a radiant smile on her face, and we stared in wonder that her friends had discovered that their singing brings her so much joy.
It might have been when everyone jumped up to create an aisle on either side of one camper who walked up and down the aisle while everyone danced and cheered as she sang her song.
There was no shortage of magic.
But what sealed the deal for me was the very last number of the Talent Show. As is often the case, the helper campers moved up to the stage to sing a song for their Bridge Campers. When the music started I heard the opening notes of the song “Home” by Phillip Phillips.
Here they are singing part of the song:
I admit to getting a little emotional.
I was sitting next to one of our Bridge Campers, and I noticed her getting a little emotional as well. She had been homesick here and there throughout camp, so I worried that maybe this particular song was making her revisit those feelings. I leaned over and asked, “Are you okay?”
“Sort of,” she answered.
And then she continued:
“I’ve just never had real friends like this before.”
I had to turn my head away from her for a moment to collect myself, and after taking a breath I turned back to tell her that I was glad she came to camp. I jumped up from the blanket so that when her helper camper returned they could embrace, and I moved away so that I could weep.
Lord this world we live in can be so very hard.
But this camp? It is so, so good.
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind – 1 Peter 3:8
Below is an audio recording of the Good Friday service (found here). You can also find the readings for the day online. A written version of the sermon follows.
When I was in middle school I watched my closest friend be abused by another student in the changing room after gym class. I don’t remember the lead up to what happened or how it even started, but I remember with total clarity watching this girl slap my friend square across the face with all her force. Once. Twice. Three times.
I wasn’t the only one watching. We all watched – 25, maybe 30 of us – classmates and friends, who knew the difference between right and wrong, and who knew what we were watching was really, really wrong. We just stood there. We watched. Frozen and afraid. We watched. I didn’t yell out for them to stop. I didn’t run from the room to get a teacher. I didn’t step forward to stand next to my oldest, dearest friend.
I just watched.
It was the first time in my life that I witnessed violence against someone that I knew and cared deeply for, and I realize how lucky I am to be able to make that statement. But that experience revealed a truth about myself that I have been trying to run from since that day: the truth that in the face of violence and deep, deep wrongdoing, I am capable of doing nothing. I am capable of witnessing pain and trauma and injustice and standing still. My fear immobilizes me. I do nothing.
This truth is one of the reasons Good Friday is so very uncomfortable for me. I cannot read this graphic, difficult, and painful gospel passage without knowing right where I would have been if I had been part of that day. I would have been part of the crowd watching this horror unfold. I would have been Peter insisting that he was not one of the men with Jesus. I would have been Simon of Cyrene, carrying the cross. I would have been Pilate – if I could even fool myself into thinking I could achieve his level of bravery – and, not having the agreement of the crowd, I would have ordered the crucifixion despite my doubts.
I can try to console myself by saying that at least I wouldn’t have been yelling “Crucify him!” with the angry crowds. In fact, that’s how I’ve reconciled myself with this passage for decades. I wouldn’t have been that bad. But then the memory of that day in gym class floats back into my brain, and it reminds me that even if the words were not tumbling from my mouth, my silence is it’s own kind of violence. Silence leaves too much space for continued wrongdoing, and in the absence of audible dissent one can only assume that allowance, forgiveness, and even affirmation fill that space instead.
Now I’m not in the business of calling others out for their fallibilities – Lord knows I can keep myself busy naming and tending to my own. But I think it’s worth noting that I’m not the only one capable of watching, standing still, staying silent. I wasn’t alone in gym class in the 7th grade any more than one single person was alone watching Christ crucified hundreds of years ago. It took a whole crowd of people to revolt against Jesus, to call for his death, and to cheer while it took place. Any time one person or a group of people fall victim to violence, pain, and betrayal, it takes a whole lot of silent onlookers to allow that injustice to continue.
I don’t need to tell you that we are surrounded by violence still. Our communities, our nation, our world – it is plagued with suffering. Hunger, poverty, war. To think of it all is, admittedly, crippling and I think that adds to our silence as well. We can’t figure out how to help, how to make a difference, and we are paralyzed and overwhelmed by all the many ways that humans are harming other humans. And so we do nothing.
Now listen, this is not meant to be a sermon that implies all of us are immoral, irresponsible and content to sit idly by while people suffer. I don’t believe that. But it is meant to be a sermon that calls to our attention the astounding power that fear plays in our lives, and our very human desire for self-protection. Because I believe that is what is at the heart of our inability to act in the face of violence. Fear permeates our silence. I have tremendous compassion for 7th grade Meaghan, and how terribly afraid she was watching her friend be hurt. I have compassion for everyone else in that room, all of us wanting it to end and none of us having the skills to make that happen. I have compassion for the crowds in Jerusalem cheering for Jesus’ death. I have compassion for Peter. I have compassion for Pilate.
I am able to have compassion for all of those people, and for myself, because that’s what Jesus modeled for me on the cross. “Forgive them Father, because they know not what they do.” He knew. He knows. He knows we are afraid. He knows our humanity is fallible and our desire to protect ourselves is innate, even when it means turning our attention away from someone else’s pain and death. He knows. And he forgives.
But that forgiveness is not our free ticket to keep doing what we’re doing. His forgiveness does not give us permission to remain silent. His compassion does not mean we can’t be held responsible for the violence we perpetrate in the world around us – either aloud and through our actions or through our silence and complicity.
Quite the opposite. His forgiveness should transform us. His compassion should inspire us to be brave, to speak, to act. His death on the cross was ultimately for greater good – to show us the abundance of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness through the resurrection, we know that. But we also can’t fast forward through the impact of this day to only consider the resurrection. Yes, the darkness of this day is transformed into light through the incredible grace of God. But we must also look squarely at the darkness of this day to understand and acknowledge what we are capable of, and how we are capable of change. God’s mercy is present right here, at the foot of the cross, with a Savior who showed nothing but compassion and forgiveness for the people who wished him harm, or who stood idly by while he was killed. Yes, resurrection is our ultimate Christian story – but the story of this day stands alone. We can be transformed by this day, this death, this story.
At another point in our gospel Jesus says, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” Friends, when we commit violence against one another it is violence against God. We can try to separate ourselves from the angry crowd at the crucifixion all we want, but there is no denying our continued presence, silence, and neglect in the face of continued violence against our fellow humans and consequently against God. We have constant opportunity to make a different choice: to be transformed, to be inspired, to be brave. It’s so very hard, and when we fail we are forgiven and given another chance so we must keep trying. We must speak. We must dissent. We must protect those around us and not only ourselves. Practice in small ways, by choosing not to laugh and calling out a joke that isn’t funny, by showing up and standing next to someone who is being oppressed, by using the simple words “no” or “stop” when you see something that isn’t right. Fueled by God’s forgiveness, compassion and mercy, our practice of nonviolence in small ways will embolden us to be bolder, braver, and better at ending violence in bigger ways. And whatever you do for the least of these you do for Jesus Christ. It is the least we can do, given what he has done for us.