Dashaun attend Experience Camps from 2013-2016. Below, he shares his story of loss, camp, and finding hope and purpose.
My time at Experience Camps brings me back to a point in my life when I was in deep emotional pain because of the lose of my infant brother and loss of my Aunt, who was my permanent caretaker. Both of these tragic losses all happened in a span of two years. The pain ran so deep it shook me to my core, and felt like friends and school counselors just didn’t understand. That all changed one late summer day in August 2013 when I boarded a bus in Newton, Massachusetts headed to some camp in Maine where I did not know a soul. I was only 9 years old and all I remember from the bus ride is being really scared.
Once the bus pulled up to camp, I saw staff and campers giving high fives and hugging. I immediately felt safe and accepted and thought to myself that this may just be a whole lot of fun. The summers I spent at Experience Camps were critical to helping me grieve, cope and to my mental health. The one week at camp was both the most emotionally painful and the most fun. All the activities that were offered often took my mind off the real reason I was there.
My toughest moments at camp were the nightly fires where I had to write something down and throw it in the fire. That’s when my grief really came front and center and I knew I had to face it. My favorite activity was the hike up the mountain where I got to write messages and release balloons to our loved ones.
Today I am 15 years old and a Freshman in high school with a whole lot of friends. I was accepted to technical high school because I have an interest in drawing and design. In December 2018, I picked my shop as Design Visual and Technical design, I am doing well academically. I only missed High Honor roll by one class! I now spend part of my summer at summer day camp, and this coming summer (2019), I will be a LIT. The second half of the summer for the last 4 years I have spent away at overnight camp.
Through all the coping strategies and bunk therapy at Experience Camps, I was able to bring myself to a place in my life where I do not view myself as victim anymore, but a survivor of grief. In my heart I feel if I had not spent summers at Experience Camps, my life could have gone down a very dark and scary path. I am not sure how to explain but Sacha, Jenny, Sara, and everyone at Experience Camps have saved my life in some strange way that will forever be ingrained in my heart. Experience Camps was the foundation in letting my healing begin and allowing me to just be a normal child again.
Dashaun’s counselor Sacha has watched him grow into the wonderful young man he is today. Sacha writes...“I'm honored to have been Dashaun's counselor to watch his growth over the years, and to have been part of his camp journey. He came to camp his first year scared and unsure of how to deal with his grief. He needed a bit of encouragement, but once he got his bearings, it was exciting to see him try new sports activities, participate in college league and learn to help his fellow campers. He has a huge heart, was always willing to step in if anyone needed help, and was one of the best camp dog walkers we've ever had. One particular moment sticks out, where during his last summer, he helped console a fellow camper overcome with emotion during one of the clinical activities. I looked over and saw him put his arm around his friend. I tearfully smiled and thought, what a long way he has come! He embraced camp - he laughed, he cried, he learned how to deal with his grief, he learned that he isn't alone, he learned how to try new things, but most of all, he learned that it's okay to smile and laugh. A smile and laugh I won't ever forget, I'm so proud of Dashaun!”