“I’m ready! I’m ready!” The first words I am greeted with as I open my camper’s car door are the lines to my all-time favorite cartoon show. Without hesitation, I pinch my nostrils and respond emphatically with my best Squidward impression, “SpongeBob! I need those Krabby Patties!” I knew this was the start of a fun-filled family retreat as a counselor at Camp Boggy Creek, a camp for children with chronic illnesses. While his family was settling into their cabin, I accompanied my new friend to the porch so we could begin drawing and cutting out paper SpongeBob characters to bring more life to our detailed reenactments. As all this fun was playing out, I began noticing the many items my camper’s parents were bringing into the cabin. They brought in a cart full of oxygen tanks and boxes of specialized food for someone who is nothing by mouth, or NPO. I took a closer look at this eight-year-old boy who had done nothing but smile, laugh, and make hilarious cartoon references since we met. Sitting in a wheelchair with his oxygen mask on, he had a pale complexion and thin, bony limbs. Although seriously ill, he had boundless energy as we played with those paper SpongeBob characters for that night as well as the entire weekend.
Through outside service, I have been fortunate to volunteer for multiple weekends at Camp Boggy Creek, a year-round camp that offers family retreat weekends for both the campers and their families. To these campers living with a chronic illness, it means everything to have one week or weekend out of the year where they could just be themselves. Whenever someone asks me about camp, my response is always the same. “Boggy Creek is a place that everyone should experience once in their lives.” It has what we mutually call the “Boggy Creek Spirit,” a spirit of kindness and compassion built from the love that everyone mutually shares for camp. This spirit is not only contagious, but it also inspires others to emulate camp’s three values in their everyday lives: safety, respect, and love.
At the end of the family retreat weekend, the mother of my SpongeBob friend revealed to me that with a weakened immune system and five liters of oxygen, it was a constant struggle to keep her son with a congenital heart disease alive. She confessed that the few hours her son and I spent together provided her the longest break in months. We hugged, and I shared with her the joy her son brought to every person he interacted with, myself included. My experience with this family changed my perspective on what AmeriCorps #GettingThingsDone motto means to me. I would commonly feel to be “getting things done” when I have tangible, quantitative results to prove this to be true. However, I realized that in my experiences at Boggy Creek, I was “getting things done” in subtle, intangible manners that still led to positive effects on others. Whether it be a smile or a detailed TV episode recitation, the interactions I had at Camp Boggy Creek inspired me to never forget the human aspect of service and the joy it can bring to others.
This blog was authored by NHC Florida Member Andrew Chrystman.
Andrew serves at Jacksonville Health and Transition Services (JaxHATS) as an Outreach Coordinator.