We’re introducing our 2019 Camp Directors on the blog leading up to the summer season. This week, meet Lara Foster, Sibling Camp Director
Lara Foster, Sibling Camp Director
What has volunteering with Camp Rainbow Gold meant, or given, to you?
Every child deserves a childhood. Simple as that. Children deserve to be loved, to feel safe, to be allowed to learn and grow and to enjoy all the wonder and innocence that should come with being a kid. Serving and protecting childhood has become my personal mission. It has guided me into a career in social work and child advocacy and into volunteer opportunities like Camp Rainbow Gold.
I hate cancer and I think children’s cancer is even worse. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. I wish so badly I could cure cancer and take away all the pain it creates…but, I can’t. Cancer has a way of making all of us feel helpless at times, but Camp Rainbow Gold gives me the power to make a huge difference in these children’s’ lives!
Why is this work important?
During an internship, I was matched in a mentor program with a bright, blue-eyed little girl with liver cancer. Her family was young and faced with hardships beyond this devastating diagnosis. Shortly into our match, I learned that her parents had made the difficult decision to send her older sister to stay with grandparents out of state for the duration of the treatment. I started to wonder if her sister would understand why. I worried about how she might perceive her parent’s decision or remember it when she’s older.
Sibling relationships are so special, especially to childhood and our development. Our brothers and sisters are our first teachers and friends. For some, it may be the longest relationship we have in our lives. Siblings are a wonderful gift and after this experience, I wanted to know what having a brother or sister go through cancer was really like for these kids. In graduate school, my thesis became an exploration of the experiences of siblings of pediatric oncology patients. As I interviewed siblings, they told me about the challenges cancer had created for their family. They told me about sudden changes in responsibilities their parents placed on them, missed family events and milestones, feelings that their parents weren’t paying much attention to what they were doing.
But, when they talked about Camp Rainbow Gold they started to shine. They talked about healing and a community that made them feel like they weren’t just the kid who’s brother or sister is sick. As I concluded my interviews, I knew I had to a part of Sibling Camp! Siblings need a place to feel special. They need to know they aren’t alone in their thoughts and feelings. They are so much more than the kid with a sick brother or sister.
Why is the camp you oversee the best to volunteer at?
Sibling Camp is a BEAST! A big, beautiful beast!
With twice as many kids as the other camps, the energy and excitement is incredible. This camp is so different than the other camps because these kids are different! They know what it’s like to have lived in the shadows of cancer and, at Sibling Camp, we get to shine the spotlight on them!
We get to celebrate brother and sisterhood and the wonderful family we are welcomed into at camp. Serving all ages, 6-17, also means that we get to offer a wide range of activities to meet every interest and age. The other leaders on my team have loved creating opportunities to pair up our older and younger cabins and foster lessons of leadership and positive role modeling. This year, it’s our goal to make our sibling bonds even stronger!
What is your favorite camp activity?
I love the Art Shack and the beautiful work that campers and volunteers create! I love to craft and be creative myself, but my favorite thing about the Art Shack is how it allows me take little pieces of camp back home and into my daily life. There’s a bottle cap hooked to my car keys and a painted rock that stares back at me from the kitchen window. I love these daily reminders to SHINE!
Do you have a favorite camp memory you like to share?
It’s really a simple memory but it has stood as a shining example of the magic that camp creates. One year, I was the social worker and a little worried about Wish Cone Ceremony. I wanted to help and support everyone, but I worried if I wouldn’t know what to say or what to do. I had invited an old friend to volunteer for the first time. He lost a sibling long, long ago and he was having a hard time that night as well.
As the fire roared, my friend made his way toward me and I offered a hug. As I stepped back, still unsure of what exactly to say, a camper approached us. The camper reached out and embraced the volunteer. They both just cried, and no one said anything. No one needed to say anything. Camp is magic because it brings you to the people who can actually understand your pain.
What did you wish you would have known the first time you volunteered at camp?
I wish I would have known to just let go. I was so worried about the rules, the schedule, if I was doing it right, if I was making special connections and so many what-if scenarios. I was so in my head that I didn’t get to enjoy everything I could have.
I’ve learned to become much more flexible and comfortable in the unknown. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything you think you don’t know or are worried might happen. The things we stress about are often not the situations that even present themselves. So, my advice to new volunteers… be present. At camp, you’re surrounded by so many people with the same goal. Let go, let all the love in, and know there is always another person to turn to, lean on, or ask for help.