Campers range from 5-21 years of age and come from all walks of life, some underprivileged. I come here as a volunteer counselor, along with nearly one hundred other volunteer counselors, administrators, and medical personnel, many of whom were once campers (and thus survivors!).
Together, we fill this campground with such life, you’d hardly know the physical, social, and emotional hardships many of these people, young and old, have faced in surviving cancer.
The Positive Psychology Behind this Place
Wearing the lens of positive psychology, I offer below just a quick snippet of what makes this place work:Resiliency – It amazes me to think of the hardship these young beings have been up against: diagnosis, treatment, wondering . . . , being different. Resilience to them is an ordinary phenomenon.
Forgiveness – Along lines similar to resiliency, there is an anger many survivors face for which forgiveness becomes important. It reminds me of James Pawelski’s blog post on the ‘yielded life’ which can be read here. It’s about accepting what is and re-framing in order to grow and heal physically, socially, and emotionally.
Hope – This week, I witnessed a young boy climb the rock wall and operate his own kayak. When he got off the bus a few days ago, he was sitting in a wheel chair. “You know what?” he told me. “I think I can do anything I put my mind to.” This is hope, enveloped in the spirit of possibility, self-efficacy.
Positive Emotion – Of course, this is summer sleep-away camp! Although we’re only here for a week, this is a fun week filled with sports, boating, campfires, sing-a-longs, sporting events of all kinds, arts and crafts, cooking, and a talent show. The fishing contest starts at 6 am and we’re going nonstop with sports and activities until lights out at 11 pm. Lots of positive emotion and lots of activity and motion.
Other People Matter – There is an understanding and compassion at Camp Happy Times. There is respect; there is love. Camp gives these kids a place to regain their spirits. It is here where many campers find space (and support) to thrive – on the rock-climbing wall, the boys vs. girls fishing contest, or during the many other activities that fill our days. Walk around the 200-acre campground and you’ll see: smiles abound. Support and encouragement do too.Social Contagion Factor – It is amazing to be amongst the energy of such philanthropy and resiliency. It reminds me of the social contagion factor – that it feels good to feel and do good, especially when other people are feeling and doing good, too. Part of this spirit is derived from inter-generational energy (3+ generations of campers and counselors), the kind that also fuels the “Magic of MAPP.” The volunteer director, Millie Finkel, is a 70-something year old spitfire, with a heart of gold and a vision, which has kept this camp alive for over a quarter-century. “It’s all about giving these kids an experience they can’t forget,” she says.
And it’s true. Even for me! Having never gone to camp as a child, Camp Happy Times allows me to savor a part of my own childhood joy along with a group of kids who, during their short time on Earth, have endured more than some people do in a lifetime. They inspire me.
“I wish I could stay here for another week,” one of my boy campers in Bunk 9 said.
“I don’t want the week to end, Louis,” another one pleaded less than half way through the week.
A Good Place to Yield
I took these moments to instill lessons of mindfulness by stopping (sometimes in groups of five or more) asking them to realize that we had a choice: we could savor this moment, by remembering the awesomeness of what IS right here, right now OR we could sit in anticipatory anxiety of it being over. The choice was clear. Then again, it is often clear when we’re in spaces of broaden-and-build, hope, and love.
Author’s Note: Camp Happy Time is fully funded by The Valerie Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Maplewood, NJ supporting kids with cancer and other blood disorders and their families. There is no cost to kids to come here and 80 cents of every dollar goes directly back to them. Perhaps you’ll contribute to this great cause by clicking here. Or, maybe I’ll see you next summer in the bunks? If you want to learn more about serving as a counselor, please contact me.