Three summers ago, I stepped onto a bus as a small, shy, eight-year-old not knowing what to expect at Camp Canadensis. With tears in my eyes, I said goodbye to my mom, my dad, and my baby sister. What I didn’t realize at this point was that those seven weeks would change my life and my character forever.

Since that very first day, Camp Canadensis has held a very special place in my heart. I know that I am extremely lucky to have this opportunity every summer, and I know that not every child is as fortunate as I am. During my second summer at camp, the American Camp Association (ACA) came to speak to us about the Send a Child to Camp Fund. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to get involved. I thought it was so amazing that ACA was able to send kids to camp — kids who normally wouldn’t be able to afford it.

This year, in fifth grade, I was given the opportunity to participate in a very special project called Think Care Act (TCA). We had to think about something we really cared about and then raise money for an organization we really believed in. I knew right away that I wanted to get involved with ACA. My goal was to raise $2,000 for ACA’s Send a Child to Camp Fund.

The goal of this fund was to send 40 kids to camp for one week. How did I help raise money? A couple of different ways. The first thing I did was to work at Down to Earth kid’s store for a day. Twenty percent of the funds I raised that day went directly to the ACA fund. Then I emailed my family and friends. Many of them were delighted to donate money to ACA. In the end, I helped to raise $2,500. I was extremely pleased and surprised that I was able to help send so many kids to camp. This was a very purposeful and rewarding project. I felt very helpful when I was doing this because I knew that I was making a difference. I knew that camp could change some else’s life, just like it changed mine.

How has camp changed me? Well, it’s been three summers since that young, nervous child stepped on that bus. Today, I am a completely different person than I was my first summer. I have made my best friends and sisters at camp. From staying up and dancing with my friends to talking to my counselors, camp has taught me very important lessons. I have learned to always be myself, because that is the best I can be, and nothing else can beat that! I have learned so many things at camp, but this is one lesson that will stay with me forever. My advice to campers is to have fun in every situation possible. I have found my happy place at camp, and I can’t wait to experience it again.

My hope is that every child I was able to send to camp (with the money that I raised) has the same amazing, life-changing experiences that I was able to have at Camp Canadensis.

Photo courtesy of Madison “Maddy” Willner.

Madison “Maddy” Willner is ten years old and will be entering sixth grade at the Shipley School in the fall. She lives in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, with her parents, two sisters, and dog. Maddy is a competitive gymnast and spends most of her free time in the gym training. Above all else, she is an avid camper. Nothing makes her smile like she does when at camp. Maddy hopes that every child can find their “happy place” like she has at Camp Canadensis.