When Sam was 15, she arrived at Camp Joy’s Foster Care Camp Week with great trepidation. She lacked self-confidence, offered no one eye contact, was introverted and withdrawn. By week’s closure, Sam had blossomed; she was even given the Most Valuable Camper Award. She still cherishes that plaque; it is symbolic as a turning point for her. “It was the first time in my life I felt I could be useful to other people. That same day, I was asked if I would like to return to Camp to be a counselor in training. That changed my life.”
Sam said, “Yes!” to the invitation and that “yes” lasted for a total of nine years. Sam served Camp Joy from 1996-2004, progressing through the “ranks,” becoming a Senior Counselor and closing out her camp career as Assistant Program Director.
When asked what she thought why Camp administrators chose her, she reflected, “I think the administrators recognized that the foster home I was in was not a good situation for me. They saw my ability to leave home at home and be totally present at Camp. Through the years of working with campers, I was privileged to share my compassion, care and love for the kids. I believe every child has the same basic needs: to have friends, feel they are special and they are a part of something…and that’s what Camp Joy does. They appreciated that about me. When you enter Joy on that gravel road and cross the pond, you are immediately part of something – be it a big part or a small part. You matter.”
“My Camp Joy counseling and unit leader experiences made me realize I have a gift for working with the most challenging kids. What I went through as a child has made me empathetic and able to give completely from my heart. I made headway with the campers who acted out; I knew they were hurting inside. When I let them know I saw that and we could talk about it, it really helped.”
As if self-confidence, new friends and the love of kids and staff were not enough Camp Joy gifts for Sam, her huge bonus was a loving family. She literally gained a family of her own. Explanation: When her best friend needed “kid advice” regarding her three kids, she and husband, Chris, would call and ask Sam to come over and be “Camp Sam” (the one that had an amazing way with kids.) Sam readily complied.
As time passed, sadly, her best friend died. Sam helped Chris and his three young children through intense grief and pain. They became very good friends, and on 8/1/15, Sam and Chris married. Handsome (like Dad) Seth, now 14, helped Sam choose her wedding gown. Baseball-loving Toby, now age 9 and Ellie, currently age 5, were a big part of the celebration. Ellie was adorable in a mini version of Sam’s gown. Chris declared very sincerely, “I got to marry my best friend. If not for ‘Camp Sam’ I don’t know where the kids and I would be. We love her!” It’s easy to see why.
Sam concludes “I love my life and I love being with Chris, Seth, Toby and Ellie. I know I’m where I am supposed to be. My life wouldn’t have turned out this way – and I would have remained that lost, unsure, hidden child – if I had not grown up with Camp Joy. I am so grateful to – and still so passionate about – Camp Joy.” In the words of the song Sam walked down the aisle to on her wedding day: “Halleluia!” (P.S. Sam’s new last name, you ask? SAMS. No kidding. P.S.S. A dear Joy Foster Camp buddy of Sam’s, came from North Carolina to support Sam as a bride’s maid!)