Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Comfort Zone Camp, Take 2

(January 29, 2009)

First impressions stick with me.

The first time I worked up the courage to sing in front of a crowd I got a standing ovation…I was sold.

The first time I got caught shoplifting I was thrown in jail (they didn’t arrest me, they just wanted to teach me a lesson)…I was sold.

The first time I met my “true love” he had literally just jumped out of the shower and was only wearing a towel...I was sold.

The first time I snowboarded I wiped out and fractured my tailbone (yes, my tailbone)…I was sold.

First impressions matter! =)

I still sing, I don’t shoplift, I married that man in the towel and I do whatever I can to avoid winter sports.

The first time I volunteered at Comfort Zone Camp I saw so much goodness, so much kindness, so much….magic. I was sold.

But oddly enough…when given the opportunity to volunteer for CZC again (this time as a videographer)…I was terrified! I didn’t want my second experience, my second impression, to be any less magical. I was extremely worried that it wouldn’t be the same…that I wouldn’t feel the same.

Thankfully…(and as usual)….I was wrong to worry.

The first time I volunteered, I was scared….unsure even. I didn’t know what to expect (though my husband—who has volunteered many times as a big buddy--had tried explaining it to me dozens of times). I didn’t know how to feel and I really didn’t know how I should act.

Do I smile, not smile? Do I avoid eye-contact? What do I do if a kid starts to cry?

It all revealed itself to me throughout my first camp experience; Yes, I could smile. No, I didn’t have to avoid eye-contact. If and when a kid cries you console them. If they’re already being consoled you feel for them.

I began my second volunteering experience with that knowledge in mind.

My mission (this go-round) was to film various aspects of camp life for the new and improved Comfort Zone Camp website that is set to launch soon.

I started the day filming the groups working their way through the various challenge courses scattered around the camp.

The first group I happened upon was trying to figure out how to get everyone from their group over a pretty big wall. Teamwork was essential. They talked it out, made a plan and executed it beautifully. I watched intently through my viewfinder as they decided who would go first. There was a sudden burst of energy anytime one of them made it over the wall…energy I would’ve had a hard time capturing on a still-camera.

Next I found myself filming a younger group trying to lift everyone through a ginormous spider web (spiders not included) without anyone touching the web. Because this group was so young, they didn’t quite understand the ‘no touching the web’ part, but they did understand they needed to work together. It was here, at the spider web that I saw something I wasn’t prepared for.

One of the “littles” (a small blonde-haired boy no more than 7 or 8 years old) was jumping around quite excitedly and just couldn’t seem to help himself….he reached out and grabbed the web in front of him. “Stop it!!!” one of the other little’s shouted. “You’re not supposed to touch the web!” The blonde-haired boy smiled sheepishly and for whatever reason, did it again. “Why is he doing that?!?” the other little shouted to anyone that would listen. He was red in the face and very obviously irritated. His “big” pulled him aside and tried to calm him down. “He’s being a stupid idiot.” I heard the “little” say of the other “little”. I don’t know if the rest of the group heard this as they were focusing on the task at hand...but I felt awkward enough to turn the camera off for a minute.

I watched (from a distance) as this big buddy and his little interacted.

The little was obviously upset. He seemed angry. The look on his face reminded me of when I was younger and always at my wits end with my little brothers. It didn’t take much to irritate me when I was little. I felt this kid’s pain.

His big buddy stood there, silent. He didn’t seem angry with his little’s outbursts. He didn’t seem frustrated. He just let him vent. When he did speak, it was low, quiet, reassuring and steady. I didn’t hear him raise his voice once. I couldn’t tell you what was said; I couldn’t hear it …but in a matter of seconds…the situation was diffused and everyone was laughing again.

It takes a special kind of person to be a big buddy. I imagine other people would’ve yelled at that kid for his outbursts. They would’ve reprimanded him for his name-calling and would not have taken his feelings (or his loss) into consideration. I imagine some would've told him to “grow up” or “get over it”…exactly the opposite of what a child should have to do.

The patience and compassion displayed by that big buddy (and all big buddies for that matter) will remain with me forever.

Later that day I had the opportunity to shoot a few interviews with some of the teen campers. Questions like "how has camp helped you and how did you feel going back to school after your loss" were asked and I was absolutely amazed at how open these campers were to sharing their experiences.

I wish I could've told each of them how their story touched they made me feel so grateful for what I have...but I was convinced the last thing they needed was a stranger boarding their emotional roller coaster uninvited.

Instead...I listened, I imagined, I felt.

I'm glad I came back.

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