“August 21st is finally here,” I said to myself on the way to the opening gates of camp Dream Catcher. My heart was pumping with excitement because it’s my tenth year at camp Dream Catcher, but my second year as a leader in training. I can already tell that this year will be as good as last year’s. The only thing that was ruining this perfect moment was the hard cold rain that was pouring down on us as we were gathering our bags to the check in booth.
Camp Dream Catcher is a camp for kids from ages 6-16 with HIV/AIDS or one of their family members have HIV/AIDS. This camp is my safe place,it’s in my heart. It will remain in my heart because of the unique people that affected my life since my very first year. They're the reasons why I come back every summer and connect with them on a whole different level. I thank my dad everyday for signing me up for a place that's so special in many different ways. It’s always joyful to come back each year and see my favorite counselors such as Miguel, Tyler, Big Al, Top and KJ. Plus many more because they made me the man I am today in addition to my mother. So this year I gained three new favorite counselors, Andrew, Larisa, and Valene. Being around those three along with the rest of my favorites was very inspiring and emotional because when you’re a leader in training it’s very different from being a regular camper. All the LITs girls and guys don’t do the same things as the younger campers. Since we’re leaders in training, our training is basically to attend different group sessions from speakers that been through drug addictions, suicide attempts and depression. Those sessions bring us together whether we like attending them or not.
I'm always the first or last person in my group to get the cabin, so as I ran down to the LIT cabin from the check in booth soaking wet. I spotted my favorite counselor waiting at the door with open arms ready to squeeze the death outta of me. Miguel had a big smile on his face excited to see and have me in the same cabin with him for another year. I put my the bags I had to carry down with me on the bed I had chosen and waited for the rest of my things to be brung because of course I was the first one there. As I waited and waited, a new face appeared at the door and it wasn't one of my LIT pals. He was short and stocky with curly short hair and a scruffy dark blonde beard. He had a basketball ball jersey on and some basketball sneakers. His name happened to be Andrew, brother of Anthony one of my past counselors. It was Andrew's second year there. He worked with the senior campers who are also the 15 year olds, he explained to me. We bonded naturally and quickly he became my favorite new counselor. The other LIT guys such as ,Quentin ,Darnell , Tyson, James and Marcus strolled on in. We exchange bro hugs and handshakes with excitement. Miguel and Andrew lightly gave us an introduction and explained the activities we'll be doing this year. My ears were hurting because of the several group sessions with different speakers that Miguel said we'll be attending. No one likes the group sessions because they're overwhelmed and depressing.
The rest of the first day went on and it magically speeded up to dinner time, as we walked up to the dining hall which is like two minutes from our cabins. The LIT girls were behind us with two more new faces. A bubbly sweet young woman named Larisa and a happy laid back chick named Valen. We all greeted each other and got in line for dinner. I looked around the dining hall, searching for my past favorite counselors. I spotted KJ, the first female counselor that spoke to me my very first year. I ran with my plate in my hand and gave her a big giant bear hug then sat with the rest of the group. We ate as Ms.Patty the camp director gave her beginning of the year speech and then BOOM the first day was over and it's 6am Monday morning.
I was woken up by Vanessa Carlton’s most popular song,A Thousand Miles. As it was playing from Miguel’s speaker, he woken each one of us one by one so we can ready for breakfast and our first activity of the day… GO KARTS. Go karting is the only activity that they haven’t taken from us. But after that we had our first group session with three young adults who had drug addictions and we weren't excited for that. Breakfast was over and we strolled up the hill to the go karting track. It was about 9 am windy and chilly with the sun shining out. The go kart director explained the rules to us and said we can start driving whenever we’re ready. The LIT girls decided not go so us LIT guys chosen a order to drive in and of course I was last with my good friend Quentin. I've known Quentin since my very year at camp it was his third year there when we met we connected quickly. He became my brother since then. An hour had past by and GO KARTING was over and it was time to go to the group session. We walked down to the girls lodge where it was being held. Three happy faces greeted us as we walked in. Those three happy faces were three speakers named, Samantha ,Paul and Sarah. Samantha and Paul were two nineteen year olds who had seriously P drug addictions. Sarah was a former drug addict but she is now 33 with 20 years clean. Sarah gave us a brief summary of how she got started into doing drugs. We weren't there to hear Sarah's story as she explained to us. We were there to listen to Samantha and Paul's touching stories, since they were only nineteen years old and most of the LITS girls and guys were getting close to that age.
Sarah's story was about when she started doing drugs at the age of fourteen. She said that she was a student athlete in school who had a lot of older friends that were in high school or college. She's has a twin brother who was the complete opposite of her. One night Sarah went out with her older friends to go do some coke. Sarah hesitated before sniffing it she said to us. She wasn't sure about doing but she wanted to fit in with her older friends and didn't want to seem like the little school girl. She said sniffed enough for and was really loving it. The next week later she said so addicted to it that she started to steal from her family in order to buy more coke and other drugs such as weed and pills. Without any drugs Sarah felt as though she wasn't good enough anymore she started to fail classes, miss practice and come in late. She said her twin brother tried helping her but she was so depressed all of a sudden and she almost committed suicide twice at the age of fourteen. Years later Sarah gotten help and is now in college doing good and has 5 years clean. Paul's story was the story that touched all of us afterwards. Paul was already depressed before he started drinking and doing drugs. He came from family who didn't have a lot. He had parents who argued all of the time and felt that he was ugly and wasn't worth enough to be living. Until one day his cousin offered him to smoke some marijuana and get drunk. He already knew the causes of both so he really didn't care about doing it. He was only sixteen and his cousin was eighteen. They smoked and gotten drunk for two days straight. After those days Paul asked his cousin how did he get so much marijuana and alcohol. His cousin explained to him that he sells drugs to get pay for his marijuana and alcohol. Long story short Paul started to sell drugs with his cousin to help his family out since they didn't have much. He gotten so addicted to drinking that he went into a coma twice and after the second time he wanted better for himself so he went to rehab at the age seventeen and now has two years clean.
So as their stories were done they asked us how came we relate. One of the LIT girls volunteer to go first and explained that she feels that she's ugly and puts herself down every single day and as she went on with her story it started to trigger my emotions. My legs and hands were shaking as she talked then BOOM … two tear drops fell down onto my face. I ran out the room with more tear drops coming down then seconds later Miguel comes rushing to comfort. I told him that when she Donna said “ I tried killing myself recently before camp,” it gotten tome because I also tried as well. Miguel told me to look him in eye and Miguel’s eyes were red and watery. He said “ I'm glad you didn't accomplish it because Caron you're an intelligent well matured young man. I would never want to see you just give your life up so easy you have a lot going for yourself.” I wiped my tears and smiled because no one has ever said anything like that to me and I respected Miguel so much more for what he said. We both hugged and went back inside. The rest of the group were crying as well and hugging each other , then Marcus another LIT guy had an idea he wanted to share. He said “ This was so emotional for everyone and I really like how we're connecting and coming as one. So this year for Wish Log night, I want all us as one to one giant stick with all of our names on in it and throw into the bonfire holding hands saying how that's we come as one which a family.”
For the rest of the week until that night we grew as one with the help of Larisa. Larisa taught us how play two group games, Misses Mumbles and Honey I love you can you please please smile. We laughed as he played both games and taught to to the younger campers as well then it was Wish Log night. We had our group stick and was ready to speak as one. 40 minutes into Wish Log as the younger campers were done throwing their sticks in the fire and done wishing for bikes and Barbie dolls. It was our turn to go. We all got up holding hands and walked toward the bonfire. Ms.Patty handed the microphone to Marcus and he briefly explained to the rest the camp how important it was to come together as a family. We threw the stick into the fire and as everyone clapped and cheered for us with tears coming down we had a group hug and said the most beautiful things to each other. It was only Wednesday and we still had three days left before camp was over. Those three days went by beautifully by getting to know each other more with the Dance and Talent Show. Then it was Saturday morning. We all had packed ready to go the night before so we wouldn't have to do to a lot of packing in the morning. We went to breakfast and then Larisa said that she had something made for us each one of us. Breakfast was over and we sat on the LIT cabin porch and waited for her to come back with the items. 10 minutes later she comes backs with a bunch of envelopes with our names creativity written on them. They happened to be letters she written to each 20 of us. Some were short some were long but each one of made every one of us shed tears of joy. We all bear hugged Larisa and kindly joked about hating her because she made us cry. But camp was officially over and it was time to go to the hill where all the busses and cars were at. We all drove in the back of the Miguel’s pick up truck squashed together and then Miguel started playing A Thousand Miles. We sang alone to the lyrics as we were driving up the hill. “ August 27th is here and camp is officially over,” I said to myself on the way out Camp Dream Catcher’s gates.