Camp SoCal HeArts in Compton, California, will always be one of the hardest weeks of camp — for many reasons. We work with children in foster care for one week each summer, children who have been let down by adults, who have been abused, and who have no hope. We’re filled to capacity with 75 campers who can be really tough.
People often ask me, “What can one week do?”
Well, let me tell you.
We have been at the Boys & Girls Club in Compton for three years and, in that time, we have met some amazing youth, many of whom have grown up with our program. Last summer, some of them became counselors in training (CITs).
One of our new CITs was Juan. He has been in foster care for most of his life, and we were warned how challenging he was, how difficult he could be. But for some reason, at camp he wasn’t.
Maybe it was our amazing recreation teachers who instilled in him the power of vision and positive thinking. Maybe it was because he felt safe at camp. Or maybe for once he was able to be a child, a child who turned into a young adult before our very eyes.
I could go on and on about Juan. I will also admit he is, in fact, kind of my arch enemy — because he always sides with our recreational directors and wants to be on their Color Game team. Not mine. And like many camps, we are more competitive than Michael Phelps when it comes to Color Games. But my heart also jumps for joy when I see how much this young adult worships two men who have been there for him and taught him how to cope with life through sports. Although his team never wins, he is loyal and devoted to that team, every year. (FYI, my team won again this year, in case you were wondering.)
Last year, Juan’s foster care mom went into the hospital a week before camp, and our hearts broke wondering about the “what ifs.” We did our best showering Juan with love, sending him home with meals, making sure he had rides to camp — anything to give him a week of respite and support.
At one point he was playing soccer and yelled from the field, “This goal is for you.” When he finally scored it, he came running over to give me a high five. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of what we were trying to accomplish. Period.
Camp came and went — and one day I got a message from Juan. It said, “You guys showed me love and you guys helped me be happy, and for once I actually had hope where no hope was found.”
So what can possibly be done in one week? A lot.
Camp teaches our youth that they can trust adults again, and that they are worthy of love and kindness. While our camp runs each summer for only one week and a couple of events during the year, we are always there. I truly believe that we open up the doors for kids in foster care so they know there is hope and love out there.
And that they deserve every minute of it.
Caroline Baumis, LMSW, is the executive director of Camp TLC (Together Living a Challenge), which organizes the Camp SoCal HeArts program in Compton, California.