We believe that it is our similarities that make us strong, but our differences that make us stronger. Please tell us about a relationship that you have with someone who is different from you and how that has changed who you are today.
The day I turned twelve, I got my babysitting certification. I started as a mother’s helper within days and eventually began babysitting various families around my neighborhood. After that, I graduated to teaching piano lessons, volunteering at local kids’ organizations, and more. Despite having occasional doubts about my abilities in other areas, I knew one thing for sure: I connected well with kids, and didn’t think anything could change that. So when I had the opportunity to work as a camp counselor, I didn’t think it would be a challenge. But my years of prior experience proved to have no bearing on this new challenge: a young boy named Chase.
Chase. In an instant, he could light up any room with his sparkling personality and bright smile, or make you flinch in fear as he stood with his hand clenched into a fist, lifted as if about to strike. At just seven years old, Chase had experienced more hardships than any adult should have to manage: divorced parents, a dangerous living location, poverty, violent surroundings, and more. On top of that, he was also being treated for cancer. That’s how I met Chase.
Horizon Day Camp is a non-profit member of the Sunrise Association that provides a free summer camp for children with cancer and their siblings. Since the majority of summer camps are not equipped with the unique health and wellness modifications that cancer-stricken children need, these children are not able to attend summer camp like their friends. And while the posters for Horizon were filled with smiling kids and rainbow borders, the reality couldn’t be more different.
People like to have this idea that kids who have cancer are courageous, fighting angels. And they are, to some extent. But kids, sick or not, are still kids.
They’re balls of energy. They’re stubborn as mules. They want nothing more than to be independent, yet still need constant care and attention. As a counselor for this very unique camp, I never thought about the implications that cancer would have on the kids with whom I would be working. The point of Horizon is to let kids feel “normal,” but “normal” is not a word in their vocabulary.
Chase went a step beyond the others, though. He was sick and not well cared for, and from the moment I first met him, he was skeptical of me. I could tell he had no interest in being with a new one-on-one: his fourth in a month. But I couldn’t understand how a seemingly sweet seven year old could have possibly scared off four trained, teenage and adult counselors, until I spent the day with him. Our first day turned out to be quite the adventure with a grand total of six sad faces on his behavior chart, two office visits, one run away, and an eventual loss of all privileges after punching someone.
I went home that day confused, exhausted, overwhelmed, and about ready to be the fifth one-on-one to quit working with Chase. But I wasn’t a quitter. More importantly, I wasn’t going to be yet another person who gave up on Chase. So I spent the night researching child behavior and made a plan, determined that the next day would finally be his breakthrough.
It wasn’t. And neither was the day after that… or the following day. But Chase started making slow and steady progress each day I got to spend with him. When he was mad, he told me and we walked away and talked through his feelings. When he threatened to hit someone, he started to ask for his stress ball or to rip up a piece of paper. When he did something wrong, he learned to apologize and take responsibility for his actions.
Chase still had plenty of temper tantrums and an attitude that made me want to just give up sometimes. But by the end of the summer, I knew that even if Chase wasn’t a whole new person, he had made progress… and so had I. I realized that I was no longer invulnerable when it came to working with kids, and that’s OK. But more than that, I realized that seeing Chase’s progress was much more rewarding to me know that I had played a part in it. Now, I’m not afraid of a challenge: challenges exist to force me to grow and accomplish more and learn about myself. If I truly put my mind to something I’m passionate about, whether it’s a challenging AP class, new piano piece, or, working with a kid like Chase, I can make progress. I might not get an A+, perform at Carnegie Hall, or completely change someone, but I can make progress, and that is enough.
I miss Chase. That little seven year old changed me more than he’ll ever know. Every day that I’m in school, I think about him and wonder how he’s doing in school. Does he still use his stress ball I gave him? Is he trying his best? He made me take a step back and learn that I can’t fix everything, but I help. I hope that one day he’ll look back and think of “that random counselor” who didn’t give up on him, and learn to help someone else, too.