I am so old that I can say I was the first camper that ever signed up for camp. I am also so old that I can’t even remember what year that was.
What I do remember was the fun I had with the warm-up games to start the day. The whole camp would gather up in a giant circle to play fun and creative games. No one was ever excluded, and no one was ever forced to participate. It was one of those simple memories of everyone laughing and leaving their troubles behind.
I also remember my fascination with the guest speakers – all of whom had lost one or both parents. It was incredible to see these grown-ups doing what they love and that everything turned out all right for them in the end. It was a moment of hope for all of us campers who didn’t know where life was going to take us.
I am now an IT professional, but Hearts to Art continues to help me in a lot of ways. I am always trying to remain creative. I am constantly thinking outside of the box and imagining how I can make something even better. I really believe this drive started with the skills I learned at camp. Hearts to Art also helped me understand people. It can be hard to empathize with others, but Hearts to Art made it easier for me and I will always be thankful for that.
Upon entering the doors of the Auditorium Theatre as a first-time camper, I immediately felt the love and incredible support of the Hearts to Art community; it was so easy to feel welcomed.
A pivotal moment for me was when I shared my story aloud for the first time as a junior counselor. My younger sister Charia was attending the camp for a second year and this was a breakthrough for both of us — it was when we discovered that talking about the death of our father was the start of our healing process.
Now, I have been a part of Hearts to Art for 10 years, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience camp from several different perspectives: as a camper, a junior counselor, a group leader, the Creative Engagement department intern, the resident photographer, and most recently, the camp coordinator.
Initially, I returned every summer because I wanted to give back to the same camp that helped me grow, and to be honest, I wasn’t done grieving the death of my father. I still needed healing. I can proudly say that within recent years I am finally healed; I learned to accept death and learned how to deal with my emotions in a positive way. Today, I no longer do it for me. I do it for all those children who feel hopeless, confused, and afraid like I was at their age.
Hearts to Art has shaped me in ways that nothing else has. Not only was the camp itself a meaningful experience, but knowing I could spend a whole two weeks with some of my best friends made me all the more excited to go every year. The friends you make at camp are the only ones who really understand how the death of a parent can affect a kid, and they wouldn’t be annoyed if you talked about it because they all went through roughly the same thing.
My English teacher asked our class to draw a significant moment in our life, and immediately I chose the balloon launch. The balloon launch has always been my favorite part of camp because it made me feel closer to my dad. Our teacher wanted us to include as many graphic elements as we could. One graphic element is “pop of color”. Thinking of the bright colored balloons against the light blue sky, it was perfect! I look forward to sharing this moment with campers this year as a junior counselor.