Growing up in public housing is different than living in a ‘normal’ neighborhood. It puts you in a minority. At school, you’re one of the poor students, the ones that get the free lunch. At church, you’re one of the poor families, who receive clothing donations and other charity. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you are one of ‘them’. I never felt bad about being poor, never ashamed, and my struggles were hardly difficult compared to what many of my peers faced every day. But my situation was a strong part of what formed my experience as a child, and it often seems that for children in less-than-fortunate circumstances those very circumstances become the driving force in their life. And even more often, those circumstances are a driving force for bad rather than good.
But I was lucky. I had good parents, hard workers, dedicated to raising me as someone unafraid to pursue my goals and grow out of the poverty in which I was raised. I had good social workers in my life, people committed to helping myself and youth like me to experience the world as a whole and not just through the lens of our situation. And then there was camp. Camp Joy. You enter the camp, greeted by bright smiles and surrounded by bright people, all focused on providing a remarkable experience for their campers. As an adult, it’s fascinating, a brilliant place to see and experience. As a child, though, Camp Joy is a place of wonder, a place like no other, a world of its own.
At Camp Joy, I was no longer one of ‘them’, no longer identified by my circumstances. Instead, in one of the few places of my life, I was simply me. I was Paul. And every camper was himself or herself, free of whatever situation might surround them in most of life. Here was a place where we could be ourselves. Here was a place in which we could be surrounded by individuals separate from the rest of life, able to swim and hike and climb and fish, create pieces of art or splash through the creeks, sing chants and songs, be a hopper at dinner and learn the Camp Joy Beat. And through it all, hidden inside the smiles and laughs, growing like a seed in the learning and fun, there it is: joy. Friendships form, talents awaken, confidence arises in a child where it never existed before.
And with that spirit of Joy there comes something that you always carry, something that lives with you from your time there: joy. It isn’t just the counselors, it isn’t just the learning, it isn’t just the cabins, the friends, the games and the memories – it’s the sum of it all. It’s the idea of the place that becomes a home, if only briefly. It’s the feeling of a place that fills its visitors with joy, confidence, and happiness that many may not have elsewhere. And it seems to me, quite clearly, that when you fill a child with joy, that joy remains. It becomes an energy, something part of him or her, something planted and nurtured there at camp, and carried out into the world. A camp of joy, building people of joy, creating a world of joy.
Camper 1999 – 2004
FLOCer 2006 – 2007