There’s a magical place in the heart of Idaho. I’ve visited it for a week every summer these past four years. Each time I leave, the broken parts of my heart are mended and it is filled up again. My compassion for people and passion for life is restored, and I am ready to tackle the world.
This place is called Camp Rainbow Gold.
Let me back up. Camp was started in the mid-80s for kids who had been through cancer or were going through treatment. It was a way for them to enjoy summer camp like “normal” kids despite their illness. A doc and a nurse were on staff “just in case”. Camp has grown tremendously since then. Now it encompasses a monthly support group, a winter retreat, and gives scholarships to seniors. It also has blossomed into camps for kids from 6-12, teens from 13-18, a camp for their siblings and one for the whole family. There’s even a program for former campers who are unable to return as junior counselors or counselors due to physical or mental limitations.
I have never met a group of genuinely inspirational people like the ones I’ve met through Camp Rainbow Gold. The volunteers have giant hearts and are goofy beyond words. A lot of the campers were sick as kids and have recovered. Some you wouldn’t believe had ever gone through cancer—they look like any other kid. Some campers are still sick and going through treatment. But most of them have this inner light, an incredible viewpoint of life, and wisdom beyond their years.
Somehow in the course of a week, a week that seems to stretch into a month but go by in the blink of an eye, we all become family. I’m not really sure how this happens, but it does. I think it’s because Camp is a place where you can let your guard down, be yourself no matter how happy or silly or sad or giddy, and find acceptance.
We decorate the cabins, the cafeteria, the paths, and even the med shack. Many a male counselor has been coerced into cross-dressing complete with wigs and nail polish because it makes everyone giggle. The crazier the costume the better! We witness miracles like a 16 year old learning to ride a bike or an autistic friend who speaks in cartoon voices address the group in a normal voice or a shy girl playing a song she wrote about her cancer experience. We play together, create together, learn new skills together. We have a dance and at the end, hold hands and sing “Don’t Stop Believin’” at the top of our lungs. We write our hopes and wishes for the next year on little pieces of paper, tie them to a pinecone, and let the campfire send our dreams to the heavens in a crackle of flames.
Despite our differences, we all come together to celebrate life in the beautiful mountains of Idaho. We all become superheroes, strong enough to face the future.
But sometimes our bodies aren’t strong enough.
Losing a member of the family is devastating. Absolutely devastating. We lost a volunteer to cancer this week. I may not have known her well outside of Camp, but I knew her smile, her heart, her ability to turn a side-squeeze into a meaningful moment with campers and volunteers alike. Suzy, although you are gone, you are still a superhero. You were courageous and lovely despite the circumstances.
And to the rest of my Camp family, even though we may have tears in our eyes, we still contain that inner fire. Keep shining. One day we’ll all be reunited with each other and the ones who have gone before us. And it will be a great day full of costumes and water fights and hugs and dancing and laughter.
To learn more about the Camp Rainbow Gold program visit: http://camprainbowgold.org/ and be sure to check out their multimedia tab!