I’m 21 years old and still go to camp.
A few friends and I head up to a little lake in Gilmanton for a week in August. We’ll catch a bit of sun, take a few turns on the boats, even get a little shooting in at the range.
In between the fun, we have to take noontime meds, change a Depends, and push wheelchairs up a ramp or two.
For the past five years, I’ve been lucky enough to join in participate in Camp Fatima Exceptional Citizens week. E.C. Week celebrated fifty five years this year in a big way – the greatest number of campers, 162, in history.
Fatima on a grand scale is a volunteer camp for special needs campers. Over 300 people from across New England and beyond spend the week trying to make it the best week ever. The multi talented kitchen crew works to feed the campers and 300 volunteers. A handful of teenage boys wait on the tables and brave the affections of some campers. The gang at the waterfront spends the day entertaining swimming campers or taking them on turns around the lake. Special Programs takes to the stage every night for an interactive production of that year’s theme. And 162 counselors, 81 women and 81 men, spend the week with one camper.
On the small scale it’s the every day, mundane interactions. It’s the giggle fits with Mindy during a change. It’s a hug from Rorey after lunch. It’s talking trash with Dan during a snack fest outside Cabin 13. It’s the silly inside jokes with your camper, cheering for a cabin-mate after reading during mass, and singing “Hey Baby” at the top of your lungs before dinner.
I’ve been trying for five years to explain the appeal of climbing in and out of a top bunk, spending a week in a cabin with fifteen other people and one bathroom, showering in cold water with next to no water pressure, eating what we’re told is meatloaf. I’ve written a few papers on the Fatima experience but it always falls short. The words don’t ring with the joy and fun and work the week represents.
But I figure if Mindy Cheever can brave a boat ride without the belt to her chair buckled, then I can keep trying to tell people who don’t know, what a unique week it is.