For the past 11 years, my daughter and I have made an annual pilgrimage to Vermont. Why? Because it makes our lives infinitely richer, better, kinder, and overall gooder. (Yes, that's a word. How do I know? Because I just used it and you just understood exactly what I meant).
To be precise: every year in August we travel to Camp Exclamation Point (or CAMP!) in eastern Vermont, where we spend 10 days volunteering with a bunch of insanely cool people (and some adults too). My daughter doesn't exactly volunteer in the same way I do, obviously: we started going to CAMP! when she was 4 years old. But our enthusiasm for going is the same.
I cannot overstate how much CAMP! means to me and to the many other volunteers and campers who return year after year after year. Since 1991, CAMP! volunteers have provided a quality residential summer program for children who otherwise would not have this opportunity. We all need a safe space. And for many of CAMP!'s returning campers, CAMP! is the only such space: we serve children from the most resource-poor communities. Together campers and volunteers create an environment of caring and kindness where we all have an opportunity to learn, laugh, and lean a bit on each other.
We say that CAMP! is about having fun. And it certainly is that. We canoe and kayak. We build bottle-rockets and go-carts. We make sushi and bread. We go on treasure hunts and have bonfire-story-telling nights. This year, we came up with and field-tested what we believe was the world's first waterborne Quidditch game!! It was wild and wet in that original sense that makes you giddy with joy. And we caught it on video, so watch this space :)
But on a more fundamental level CAMP! seeks to empower children to actively shape their own lives. By inviting kids to direct their own camp experience, and supporting their healthy choices, CAMP!'s volunteers and staff counter an environment that more often than not tells children in under-resourced communities that their voice is not heard. The impact is indelible. CAMP! campers grow up to volunteer in their communities, and to lean on each other for strength and continuity.
Over the years, many of my friends and family (and their friends and family) have joined us at CAMP! creating a feeling of family-reunion for me. This year was truly special, and both my mother and my niece made the long (LONG) trek across the Atlantic to come along. I also have friends who can't take the full 10 days, but who come to help set up or strike after the week has passed.
Everyone agrees: this place is truly magic. And whatever anyone gives to CAMP! they get back manifold in love, joy, and friendship. This is what true wealth looks like. And it only costs 10 amazingly awesome days.