When people describe the responsibilities of a normal teenager, they typically include things like studying for school, making sure their room is clean, and maybe doing the occasional load of laundry. Most times raising a family is not included in that list. When my mother passed away in the spring of 2012, I was left with a grieving father and two siblings who could not fully grasp what had happened to their mom. At 12 years old, I was the head of my household, responsible for making meals, making sure bills were paid, and anything else that was necessary to keep my family sane. All this on top of my schoolwork and extracurricular activities was a lot of stress to put on a young girl. In the rush of maturing faster than the normal teenager, I lost many years of my childhood that I thought I could never get back. I continued to think this until I found a magical place called Camp Joy. One of my teachers had recommended that I look into Camp Erin, a grief camp that is held on Camp Joy’s campus every year. In addition to helping me sign up for Camp Erin, she also helped me sign up for a week of camp at Camp Joy later in the summer. Little did I know that I was about to discover my happy place; my home.
When I was at Camp Erin, I didn’t feel alone, I didn’t feel like the only kid in the whole world who had lost a parent, and I finally felt free again. I could just laugh and dance and sing and run without a care in the world. I liked that feeling of being a kid again so much that I have continued to attend Camp Joy summer after summer, and every summer, I am presented with new experiences and challenges at camp that I have to overcome, but by doing this, I am becoming a stronger person that can overcome obstacles when I’m not at camp. Camp Joy also has given me countless role models to look up to. My camp counselors have given me a shoulder to cry on, inspiration for my future, and some have even become like a second mom to me. I could give you so many more reasons why I continue to go to camp, but the real reason is because no matter how many new friends I make, or how many times I have Camp Joy’s cookies (which are my favorite, by the way), camp will never stop being my home. It will always be the place I look forward to, the place that while helping me mature, also helps me release my inner kid inside and let go of all the stress of home, even if it is just for a week.
However, Camp Joy isn’t just home to me. It’s also home to hundreds of other kids that continue to visit their happy place every summer. Recently I was given the chance to be a CIT, or counselor in training. I was so excited to finally be able to become a role model for kids, just like my counselors were, and still are, to me. On the first day that I was in cabin, there was a little girl who was really homesick, and also worried about being in a cabin separate from her friend. It took some time, but by the end of the day she was finally smiling and making new friends. Before it was time to go to bed, she walked up to me and said, “Maggie, do you remember when you said Camp Joy was your happy place? Well, now it’s my happy place too.” Memories and things like that are the reason that I want to give back to Camp Joy, because I want to change kids lives just like my counselors changed mine. Camp Joy is a place to be free, a place to be you, and a place to forget about responsibilities at home. No matter where I’m at, Camp Joy is always where I want to be.