Friday, June 29, 2012

Camp Goodtimes West, June 2012

One of Katie's favorite faces to make, when Mooselips pulled out his camera, Camp Goodtimes West 2007
I spent yesterday volunteering in the Arts and Crafts shack at Camp Goodtimes West on Vashon Island. I try to do something for camp each year, as a way of giving back in gratitude for all that camp did for Katie, and does for other children living with cancer. As the years go by (it has been 5 years since Katie & David attended camp), I appreciate more and more what camp is, and what it did for Katie and David. I can see for myself why she asked us to scatter her ashes there.

Some people refer to Camp Goodtimes as "the happiest place on earth." While I believe there's a famous theme park whose PR claims that as their tagline, I'd like to have those PR people visit Camp Goodtimes West and weigh in on it; I think camp might win the designation.

If you've read my book, or read my postings here on the subject, you'll recall that Katie didn't want to go to camp at all. At all. AT ALL. For her to change her mind so completely about it as to ask us to scatter her ashes there, and for the camp staff to not only welcome us to do that, but to assist us in such a sacred and heart-rending step, tells you a little something about the people and the place.

This year, I went through some of our own craft supplies and donated things which I know we won't be using anymore. It felt good to send those things to camp so that other children could enjoy them. Rubber stamps, stickers, scrapbooking supplies, origami supplies, markers, pencils, crayons, all went into a box and off to camp.

I've posted this video of Katie at camp with Mooselips before, but it's worth posting again, in case you missed it. And this one, which shows a little bit of what the camp experience is like.

Everyone on staff (and the volunteers, too) has a camp name. Mine is "Truffle." You never refer to other staff or volunteers by their given name, even if you know them well in "real" life. I love to see staff who knew Katie and David as campers, and am always warmly greeted by them. This means a lot to me, and I appreciate it.

Yesterday was Carnival Day. In the morning, we had kids coming in to work on craft projects such as lannies, backpacks, hats, fleece pillows, clay piggy banks, bracelets and duct tape crafts. I LOVED helping the kids with their projects (and I can see I need a refresher on lannies). It has taken a few years of volunteering to get over my shyness at camp, and I enjoyed a greater feeling of ease this time. I loved being called "Truffle" by the kids when they wanted assistance with something.

There are 3 wonderful women who are in charge of crafts this year, and it was a pleasure to work with them. We had a lot of laughs. One of them, Rocksie, is a treasure - a mentor and trusted friend, though we only see each other once a year. Rocksie read the draft of my book before it was published, and is always ready to lend an ear (and a few choice, pithy words) to me. I love her! Rocksie & Ginger and I went out to lunch after morning crafts, and before the carnival started. It was so good to catch up with them.

One camper stood out to me from the others, because she was in Katie's cabin in 2007. She is a cancer survivor, and there she was, 5 years later, healthy, smiling, taking part in everything I saw and doing well. It took my breath away to reflect that two campers can be in the same cabin, and one can die within a few weeks of camp, while the other goes on to live a happy, healthy life. I wondered if Katie would have wanted to go back to camp year after year, if she had lived. I can't have the answer to that question, but I'm very glad indeed that her cabin-mate was there and enjoying life. It's always good to see survivors!

The carnival is hard to describe in words; you really have to be there to get the picture. This was my first time experiencing it. There is a grassy field at camp which is set up with a large tent for hairdressing, an inflatable jumping house, softly padded jousting equipment, a table for face-painting, cotton candy, snow cones; there is loud music, dancing, a huge whipped cream fight, a slip & slide and the local fire department's truck (which obligingly gently hoses everyone down after the whipped cream fight and creates the slip & slide area). There are safe areas for kids who are medically fragile, so no one has to engage in more than they are comfortable experiencing, and lots of staff supervision. I saw kids who were barely able to stand or see being tenderly supported by staff so that they could participate in a gentle version of the whipped cream fight. No one is left out, but nothing is forced. In 2007 Katie had her hair done, but declined the whipped cream fight and the slip & slide.

Here is Katie at the carnival in 2007 with one of her counselors:
Once she realizes Mooselips is taking her photo, she resorts to "the hand"
 Newspaper article about Camp, featuring a photo of Katie getting her hair done at the carnival
At the dance, with rainbow hair still intact...
She again resorts to "the hand" to ward off the "Mooserazzi"
Here is my picture at camp after the carnival yesterday:
Thanks for making a wonderful new name tag for me, Rocksie!
Close-up of my carnival hairdo, courtesy of Gene Juarez Salons' hairdressers, who volunteer at the carnival each year. After 3 shampoos, it's still a little pink on top.
If you ever have the opportunity to volunteer for a camp like Camp Goodtimes West, or to donate to it, I strongly encourage you to do so. You'll have a blast, and you will come away inspired.
I'm grateful to our dear friend, Mooselips, for suggesting (hounding, encouraging, pushing) us to send our kids to camp!


ChiTown Girl said...

I absolutely have to come out there next year for Carnival Day! I would LOVE to volunteer for the craft table! That's right up my kindergarten-teacher-alley. =)

Love the hair, by the way, and that it's still a little pink. :P

Leslie said...

Oh Karen, why didn't your hairstyle in for the weekend?! Shame on you ;) This blog post has me smiling from ear to ear.

The Gerstenbergers (especially Katie and Truffle) will/are always be part of Camp Goodtimes.

I am delighted to hear you had such a wonderful time! Was this your first time at carnival?

I love all the pics!

Camp Goodtimes is beyond amazing and wonderful. Wish I could've been there. Looks like you had enough fun for the two of us :)


Elizabeth said...

I always love hearing about Camp Goodtimes West and so admire you for going back year after year. The place seems to be a light in so much darkness, however cliched that expression is --

Karen said...

You ARE something! You give new meaning to the expression, "Giving Back". Beautiful!! Inspiring!! Colorful!!

Jason, as himself said...

What an amazing place.

Anonymous said...

Oh I love this Karen - you look fabulous!!
Happy 4th to all the Gerstenbergers and Borens...
Lv, Carin

Karla said...

Sounds wonderful! I love the do. :)

Busy Bee Suz said...

I loved seeing that video again of Katie and Mooslips. :0
What a wonderful group of people at this camp...the kids and the volunteers. It makes my heart full knowing that kids DO come back here year after year. I don't blame Katie for wanting her ashes here; such a positive place to be.
I love your hair rock!

M said...

WoW! There is a camp here in northern CA that is very similar...Camp Okizu. Although my daughter was only able to go once, her brother and sister returned as counselors for many years. I have chaperoned the buses a few times and each year I donate supplies from their wish list.

Thank you for your support of your must be so hard to return but so uplifting.

Happy Summer!

AnnDeO said...

I think the hair is so totally you!
You are full of JOY. Thank you for continually showing us your path, I am always inspired.