I was so very excited to have an opportunity to volunteer at Camp Kita for a full week as a mentor this year. A mentor is someone who has also experienced the loss of a loved one by suicide and builds a relationship of support with their group of kids. I initially wanted the younger kids, however, I was so happy to have the 16 & 17 year-olds. The young adults were such a good fit for me. I could relate to them not only with my loss, but also with “what do you want to be when you grow up,” and be a coach to the next big adventure (e.g., finishing high school, going to trade school or college, etc.). I really enjoyed my time with them…
Camp Kita was a different experience this year. For me, there were two themes of my volunteer week: (1) “you gotta take care of you;” and (2) “which one of these is not like the other” (⏺⏺⏹⏺). When I got home, Nish was like, “babe…I want to hear all about the full week.” I was instantly exhausted thinking about all the stories I wanted to tell him. Some funny, some not so funny. It’s really hard to figure out where to begin with all the happenings of an experience of this magnitude. I say ‘magnitude,’ because while I [sort-of] knew what I was getting myself into as a mentor, I don’t think I fully knew how I’d submerge myself as a quasi camp counselor. I’m a consultant. I’m not a camp counselor nor am I clinician. I never went to camp as a kid. I’m not creative or artistic. I have no creative skills to offer and I pretty much have zero outdoor skills. My outdoor skill is paying for a race and running from point A to point B, and as a traveling consultant, a TownPlace Suites is similar to a cabin, right? You want to talk organizational transformation supported by technology? I’m your girl. You want me to make friendship bracelets, sing camp songs and console a 17 year-old who’s parent died by suicide two years ago, I’m a little outside of my comfort zone 😳. …Because that’s what Camp Kita is…it’s an intense week of creativity and a “love the outdoors” kind-of-week while supporting and helping kids manage their loss…as they connect with others…so they can grow as humans from the devastation they have experienced. I’d figure it out, but it was funny to try to be ‘outdoorsy’ along the way.
First and foremost, I loved my kids. I had nine young adults that came from all over (Maine, Idaho, Texas, Florida, Delaware, Massachusetts, & Vermont). Some were new to Kita, some were returning campers. They were all at very different points of their loss. They were all so amazing and brave. I commend the returning young adults for coming back knowing how hard of a week it can be, and I commend the new campers for even taking the step to come to camp and, in a sense, ripping it open. I floated through the day with them all week, and this is where my two themes became more apparent.
A closer look at theme 1: “You gotta take care of you.”
In my world, it’s all about doing what you’re supposed to do (e.g., no one asking you to do what you’re supposed to do, you just do it). Taking a step back to reflect (“or take care of you”) has to be a little bit more planned–like a vacation day–versus “I need to do this right now.” At Kita, volunteers are encouraged to mind for their own needs as well. It is, after all, an emotional week for all. This meant, “if you had an tough group session with your young adults, it’s okay to skip waterfront and go for a run to think through you.” I called this “on demand reflection.” Kita encourages this behavior for everyone. It’s part of growth for the kids and it helps volunteers ensure they are refreshed to provide the support the kids need. The guilt of not showing up to waterfront was a little overwhelming the first day or two (…and let’s be honest, I wasn’t stepping foot in that pond), but “taking care of me” when I needed to was refreshing and helped me stay focused for the kids. This is something I was not used to. This came in the form of ‘say what you have to say,’ ‘talk to a trained professional when you need it,’ ‘it’s okay to take a few minutes for you when you need to.’ They kids are encouraged to step away from whatever they are doing–at that moment–all week long and get the support they needed. It was amazing to watch because this doesn’t happen in real life. This promotes healing.
A closer look at theme 2: “Which one of these is not like the other (⏺⏺⏹⏺)?”
The hardest part of Kita for me was not that I was a mentor to a group of young adults outside of my comfort zone or I had to wear a different hat for a week (be a part of tough conversations about loss by suicide), but it was the fact that I was a consultant surrounded by amazing people that had skills waaaaaaaaaay different than mine. [Does anyone need help with PowerPoint? No? Not today?] Not everyone was a clinician, but almost everyone had a “let me help you” kind of job or skill. Or maybe they were all a little more “outdoorsy” than me. I don’t know, but I was waaaaaaaaaay out of my element.
Someone: “…are you going in the water for waterfront?” Me: “um…it’s so funny how you can’t really see the bottom of the pond or lake or whatever that is–did you happen notice that?”
Someone: “…are you going on the nature walk?” Me: “um…did you know that mosquitoes… 🦟 can’t really catch you when you’re running? I did run down that same path this morning…no need to go again”
Someone: “…do you want to play dodge-ball? Me: “um…dodge-ball?“😳 note: our group was an odd number and the captains picked their teams. Shockingly, I was not chosen to be on a team. “I’ll watch the bags.”
Someone: “…I’m heading down to campfire for campfire songs, are you coming?” Me: “…can we sit in the back? Does anyone need me to run back to cabin 6 for anything. Anyone?” 😶
Someone: “Are you going to go kayaking?” Me: “um…I really think someone should definitely stay ashore and watch the bags.”
These are just a few examples. The volunteers around me were ingrained in camp life while I struggled to fit into camp life. It’s not a bad thing, it was just hard for me to settle in. My group of young adults came to realize it and was okay with it, which made me feel better. By Thursday, I was seeking guidance on how to make a friendship bracelet, and wouldn’t you know, it was so relaxing to do? I made two bracelets for Reilly.
I am so grateful for my Kita week, besides the fact I came home with 17,689 mosquito bites. I will happily volunteer a week again next year and I will happily raise money when fundraising season comes (…however, I will not raise to run Boston again). I am so grateful to have connected with my Kita family, through gut-wrenching laughing to slobbery tears, we bonded and we had an amazing week helping these kids. They truly are an amazing group of people that all bring something so incredible to this experience. There is so much selflessness with these folks that volunteer to be a mentor or a nurse or a crisis counselors or a group counselor–they give so much of their heart and soul to this cause and these kids and expect nothing in return. Part of growing and healing is also feeling like your experience can help others, and volunteering a week of my time does make me think I did that. I am so thankful for the Moshers who welcome me with open arms (even though I have no outdoor skills and mumble during camp songs). Most importantly, I am so grateful and so thankful to every single one of my donors. It warms my heart to know that YOU know how important this charity is for these kids. Every single person that spends their week at Kita as a volunteer takes vacation time, gets to/from Maine on their own and shares their heart. Their hearts are what make this place so special, and without donations from the amazing people that support Kita, this would not be possible. I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart.
And of course, thank you to my boys for knowing this is how I want to do good–and supporting it. Without their support, I couldn’t do this. Reilly told me as I was leaving him at sleep-away camp (the same week), “mommy, those kids need you. I will be fine and see you in a week.”