This was my favorite year at Easter Seals, Camp Oakes thus far. Every year I think I couldn’t possibly love camp any more than I already do, but somehow every year that love continues to multiply. Only at camp, could I be encompassed by so much pure joy. Real joy, that is as infectious as a baby, belly laughing. Pure joy is something that as we get older we tend to feel less often; at camp we laugh, love, and feel that kind joy like no other place on earth for a week straight.
Everything about it is so genuine and positive. All of these people are my friends. Most of us only get to see each other once a year, but when we do, it is as if a day hasn’t passed since our last goodbye.
I recently had a friendly debate with a woman I respect greatly who is a mover and shaker for disability rights and total inclusion. I haven’t done as much moving and shaking as she has done yet, but I aim to stay in her footsteps. She doesn’t like that camp is only for people with disabilities. I explained that had I not been there and known what it is like that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the concept either as it can be argued that it is not inline with total inclusion.
I remember the first year I was to go, thinking her thoughts. Why a camp for people with disabilities only, how is that inclusion? Why not have every camp include people with disabilities and put money into making all camps accessible? Kids going to camp is one thing, but what about the adults ? I get these points and I believe that people with disabilities should be a part of everything we do. We need to get past seeing people with disabilities as being any different than those classified as without and we need to make larger strides towards accessibility and inclusion. It could be debated that while inclusion in every form is completely necessary it is also important for people to have somewhere to go where they can identify with a population that is in much the same boat as their own.
Camp Oakes may be for those who have disabilities, but I view it as more like a week long celebration of people who belong to a certain unchosen culture celebrating with one another. No one there chooses to have a disability but everyone there chooses to go to camp and celebrate exactly who they are with each other. Take Gay Pride week for instance, it may not be a sleep away camp but it means a hell of lot to a huge portion of the population and participants get a chance to gather and be part of major activities with people who share similar lifestyles. After having gone to camp for 11 years, I realize it is not just for people that have disabilities, I go as much for myself as I do for the people we “serve”… my friends. I have made friendships there that will last a lifetime. There are a couple of “campers” AKA “my friends” who spend the night at my house, go to concerts with my husband and I, and one (former camper, that still visits) who was the maid of honor at my wedding.
The thing with camp is, I really do want to see it go on forever. It has been happening for 41 years now and many of the friendships made there go back 3 even 4 decades. Even in the past 11 years that I have been going, I have watched camp “grow up”. Most people start out young, but come back year after year, including myself. This was Josh’s 30th (or 30+) year. More pure joy.
Camp to me is like a reset button, kind of like the idea of a starting a fresh New Year. I go to camp and work harder than I do elsewhere all year physically, but come back feeling rejuvenated and super loved. It is almost like a week long waking meditation where I don’t focus on anything except for the moments I’m living in and the people who are right in front of me. When I come back, I try and remember to keep that energy going and I feel like I do for a while, but eventually the camp high wears off. Much like going to the gym in January and by March already wishing you could find that same willpower you had New Years Day. Post camp, I am ready for all that is to follow and realize that life is simply as beautiful as you choose to let it be. It is a place filled with the most wonderful souls ever. I’ve never been any place except camp where there is such a huge congregation of loving people, loving life.
There aren’t words for the friendships I’ve made at camp. When there, we don’t look at people as “having disabilities” we look at the situations and how to make everyone there experience the time of their lives. Can’t is the only word not allowed there. It is an all inclusive camp; the people who join us can participate and be included in all activities regardless of disability. Campers + Volunteers = Friends. We are a family of sorts and we love every second we get to spend with one another. The countdown to next year is already on.
I need this type of joy in my life and I feel so blessed to be a part of it. Most people don’t get it, and I get that, but I wish everyone could come and spend at least a few hours with us. This year our scheduled band backed out at the last minute. I was straight on the phone to my husband who I knew wouldn’t be able to make it because of shows he had scheduled in Los Angeles but I also know that if anyone could help pull some people together last minute that he could. So Tim called Simon Petty who took the wheel and called Alex Troup, Chris Nyquist and Darrin Tehrani and we ended up with an amazing band in less than 18 hours time. Darrin doesn’t get service at his house in Joshua Tree but after hearing the message of needing a drummer while out to get coffee he was straight in his car less than an hour later on his way to Big Bear. Thanks so much to Simon and Tim for all the organizing and to Alex, Chris, and Darrin for being there to make our concert night such an incredible experience.
We all danced the night away.
The whole week was simply amazing. There were all these little splendid moments where time seemed to stop for a few seconds and I would think to myself, I shall never forget this moment; those moments are now etched into my soul, more permanent than all the pictures my lens captures. I love you Camp Oakes, each and every one of you that help to make it up. Thanks for another stellar week! Check out the slideshow below, all these and more coming to Facebook soon.
P.S. Thanks again to all of our donors again this year for helping to make it such a huge success… Here’s to looking at you: Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart, Brian Gannon of the Beach House, Evan and Lori Frankfort, Brett Bryngelson of Music Cares, The Lumineers/ Onto Entertainment, Mary-Ann Matiello, Norman Seeff, Marcus Daschner, and everyone who gave a few dollars or helped spread the word, camp wouldn’t be without people like you.