Saturday, July 3, 2010

Camp Goodtimes West Week

Katie getting a rainbow hairdo at the carnival at Camp Goodtimes West (front page of the Vashon-Maury Island newspaper), 2007

This week was the June camp for Camp Goodtimes West. It began on Sunday, with parents dropping their children off for 6 days of fun, and it ended today, when parents arrived to take their children home again.

Gregg & I were once walking in those parents' shoes.

I went back to camp on Sunday to help with registration and check-in. I met parents and children, whose lives have all been touched by pediatric cancer, as ours have. It was a joyful and powerful experience, to welcome them and their children to what I know has the potential to be a life-changing week of fellowship, friendship, joy, understanding and just pure fun.

It seemed perfect that on that day, this was the devotional reading in Radical Grace, written by Richard Rohr:
"Live in This Moment
"Allow the Lord, by his love and grace, to let you live in this moment. Right now. This moment is as perfect as it can be. And God's call, the needs of the world, will make itself very apparent. Just respond to the need that presents itself right in front of you, today, tomorrow.
"I think many parents become very good and holy people because children literally demand love. You can't legislate the times in which they can make demands on you. They literally pull life and death out of you and call you forth into a now that you would never have chosen or recognized as Christ."
Katie dressed for the dance, Camp Goodtimes West, 2007

I love to support charities, like Camp Goodtimes West, that have helped our family on this journey, but sometimes, it's difficult to know how much to offer to do. There is always the danger of ripping open the wound, of having a grief breakdown, or an "episode" triggered by some buried memory.

This week, the American Cancer Society's staff, and Camp Goodtimes West's staff was gracious enough to allow me to help in small ways that weren't too much for me. Set-up on Friday (with Gregg and David's help), camper registration on Sunday, the Argosy-donated cruise on Tuesday (also known as "DA BOATA"), and yesterday, when a surprise was planned for the dance and last night of camp - I got to be part of all of it. It was a gift to me.

Friday, when we helped with set-up and scattered Katie's ashes, we were surrounded by kindness, compassion, and fellowship. The people at camp who knew Katie and David were very tender and respectful of us. (Though in this photo, all you can see is the staff's high spirits)
Sunday, it was such a treat to be able to tell the children as they checked in, "You're going to have a BLAST!" and to know that it was true.
Katie at Camp in 2007
To be able to encourage the newcomers and their parents that it was going to be more than "okay" - it was going to be a wonderful week. To hear the music playing, and see the counselors and staff in crazy costumes, welcoming each and every camper individually, made me very happy.
"The Gauntlet," where each camper is welcomed.

Tuesday, volunteering on DA BOATA to help decorate, set up the arts and crafts tables, and clean up after it was over, was pure pleasure. To see the children dancing, singing, coloring, eating, "driving the boat," laughing and smiling was a gift to me.
Katie & her cabin at DA BOATA, 2007

When we pulled into Seattle for a stop at Red Robin, a crowd of camp friends was on the deck to throw French fries at us.
Red Robin from the deck of DA BOATA, 2009

The Red Robin Mascot and the Seattle Mariner's Moose joined in the fun. We sang songs to the crowd. A "Cancer Sucks" banner was placed on Red Robin's deck - because it had been declared "National Cancer Sucks Day" by Mooselips...
(pictured here as court jester in 2007)
...(the camp Master of Ceremonies, who was in Captain Jack Sparrow costume on Da Boata). As we sailed out of Elliott Bay, the Seattle Fire Department sent a fireboat out to put on a show for us.
We docked on Blake Island for fun and games, and then took the children & staff back to Vashon Island. Imagine what this is like for children who are living with cancer - either in active treatment, in remission, or in a sibling's life. What a respite!
Katie on DA BOATA, 2007

I'm still smiling as I type this. Argosy Cruises donates this gift every year for Camp Goodtimes West. I love the fact that David works for such a wonderful company in the summertime!
David at camp, 2007

Yesterday, I had the privilege of going back to camp for the final night's dance party and slideshow. A special group came to make a fabulous set for the dance, and I got to help them. The kids and staff dressed up - the staff in crazy "prom" dresses and Value Village-type of get-ups, the kids in their own clothes. I can't do justice to the set design by describing it, but I will post links to photos or video, if I'm able. There was a mermaid on stage, wearing a dress decked in cupcakes, a mirror-ball, a ship with a sail made of photos of all of the campers, and much more. Thanks to Melinda Morrison, and to Kelley Moore and her team for making a miracle happen.

One of the great blessings of this week was seeing for myself more of what Katie and David experienced at camp, by seeing other children experiencing it. It was pure magic - the magic of a vision of love and caring, translated into reality.

Spending time at camp this week made me feel even better about carrying out Katie's wish to have her ashes scattered there, because I know that she will be remembered and loved by the people of Camp Goodtimes West. Seeing children and staff playing and cavorting on the shores of the Sound where we scattered her ashes showed me how very deep and true her instinct was, when she asked us to return her there.

Photo credits: Paul Dudley & Camp Goodtimes West staffers


Lakeland Jo said...

what a lovely positive post and great pics too XX

deb said...


what an incredible experience for the campers , and organizers,
and the lucky blog readers.

rebecca said...

your joy is filling me to tears...
thank you sharing each memory, past and present.
thank you for allowing yourself to be filled with the happiness of others.
you are the embodiment of love and compassion.
through you katie thrives in each of us. you place her in the heart of every blessed moment.


Ellen said...

Your descriptions make me want to see what you saw with your eyes...and your eager words let me know what you felt with your heart. Your Katie would be smiling at your joy for this day and this week for all those dear kids and ultra special staff! Bittersweet though it is your help is a healing in ways none would understand but I would bet you do.

Busy Bee Suz said...

Karen, this appears to be a wonderful event for all these children. I am so happy that you. Gregg and David were able to help out in some areas as well.
I cracked up at them throwing french fries at the fun.
Love seeing all the photos of Katie, she exuded joy on her face while at camp.
Blessings to you and your family.
Hugs, Suz

Truth Ferret said...

As always, your posts and pictures are so uplifting. Your life and encouragement to others are valued by many. Thank you for all that you do and share with others.

Warmly, Ferret

Allegra Smith said...

How many blessings go ignored in this world until a tragic reason makes them visible! Here is one that I would have never known - although I knew a bit because of you - now fully exposed in all of its beauty and compassion, its gift of love and time, wrapped in smiles and good feelings where children find joy and laughter and feel happy and loved even by strangers.

You are a blessing and I am sure Katie will look at this with no surprise. You were her Mother and angels I understand, are related.

Karen said...

I love your courage, and am so glad this return to Camp Goodtimes felt like a gift and a delight. It's easy to get ambushed when we "go back", but it sounds like you felt just so much gratitude for the place, the people, and the experience that made life better for Katie. It amazes me that such a place of grace and compassion exists. You do indeed have a very bright daughter to have chosen this place to bear her memory.

Love and big hugs.

Stephanie said...

Love Camp. Love Truffle. :)

Elizabeth said...

This is so moving to me, Karen, in so many ways. I find it amazing that you are able to be so generous to all these children and their families despite your loss. You are truly walking Grace's path. Is it ever difficult for other families to know what happened to Katie or is this something that is never shared? I ask because I sometimes feel bad "helping" parents of infants with seizures. I don't want them to lose hope or get nervous when they see or find out about Sophie --

karen gerstenberger said...

Thank you all for sharing in the joy & magic of Camp Goodtimes by reading and commenting on this.

Elizabeth, my answer is in a comment on your blog.

xoxo to all.

Mary Potts said...

"This moment is as perfect as it can be. Just respond to the need that presents itself right in front of you."

You most certainly did that, Karen. Giving the gift of your experience to all those children and parents is ultimate grace. No one knows better than one who has walked the walk and has come out the other side.. battered maybe, and not only surviving, but inspired as well.

Katie looks gorgeous, all dolled up for the dance! I try to image how wonderful Camp Goodtimes is, and your photos and then the video post - which of course had me in tears, just play music and I'm gone - brought it all to life right here in front of me.

Thank you for sharing the magic of the human heart, of LOVE.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful camp ~ where you don't have to explain things like scars from port-a-caths. Daniel swam a lot in Australia, and when he got home, I asked him what he told people about his (rather large) scar. He made up some exciting story (that I'm sure he told them the truth later) but to be somewhere that you didn't have to explain at all, nice. xoxo L