It all started at Camp Joy in 1990 when LaTrice Towns-Miller was nine years old. She attended a week-long camp that afforded children in the foster care system a chance to reunite with siblings dispersed among foster homes. LaTrice got to see her sister and one of her five brothers; she had a blast! “Camp Joy got me out of the foster situation I was in and was just about fun.”
As LaTrice returned to camp summer after summer, Joy became her sense of normalcy. “I knew I would go to camp and love it. Camp provided a sense of happiness for me in a very chaotic time of my life when I was in and out of 23 foster homes – some good and some not so. Regardless of whatever counselor I had, I knew she was going to love me and listen to me and let me be quiet if I didn’t want to talk. Joy was my happy place. God put good people in my path that saw potential in me even when people in my daily life didn’t.”
One good person LaTrice vividly remembers was a Joy counselor when she was eleven. LaTrice’s birth mom had stopped coming for visitation. When asked if she was upset, LaTrice vehemently retorted, “I don’t care because no one cares about me anyway, so why should I be upset?” The counselor wisely advised, “There will always be someone who cares; look for that person. It may not be anyone you are related to, but there will always be someone who cares. I care about you.” That taught LaTrice to start focusing on the people who did care and enriched her life, instead of on those who didn’t and made her life less. “That advice was a very big deal to me and really helped change my life.”
Another of those good people was Amy Thompson, head counselor in LaTrice’s cabin. Amy asked where she was going to college. When LaTrice replied she was not going, Amy asked her why not, as she was so bright. This was a turning point for LaTrice. Amy saw her potential and implanted the idea LaTrice could do more than she ever thought possible. “Maybe I could?” – turned to – “I can do it!” She went to college and hasn’t stopped going since…she recently earned her Ph.D.!
LaTrice is a special education teacher in North Carolina and gives credit for her career choice to Camp Joy. “At Joy, I became aware of whole new populations of kids with special needs – from the specialty camps of kids with medical concerns – to being the counselor of “regular” kids with varying learning abilities. I saw at Joy, that if given modifications and accommodations, these kids could have a voice and thrive! I was inspired to work with special kids. I choose to work in inner city schools where I can change kids’ lives like mine was changed.”
LaTrice is also grateful to Joy for her best friend, Sam. “We met at Joy. Physically we are opposite, yet we are kindred spirits! I needed somebody who would be in my corner, someone who would support me no matter what. I know if I needed her she would be there and I hope she knows I would be there for her!”
LaTrice’s story has a happy ending. She moved into a “good” foster home at age 13, where two loving, good people eventually adopted her. She is married to the love of her life and has two babies – ages 15 and 20 – whom she adores. “I don’t have rose colored glasses on about what life could have been if not for turns in the road…Camp Joy was one of those turns. Camp Joy changed the trajectory of my life; I want to give back, to change the trajectory of other peoples’ lives.” You are giving back, indeed, LaTrice! Blessings to you for continuing to “pay it forward.” You’re one of those good people, Dr. LaTrice Towns-Miller. Yes, you are.