By Stacie Tornga, Volunteer Manager —
As I look back and try to make sense of everything that has happened since I was first introduced to Camp 20+ years ago, I find all the years blend together. I can no longer tell you what year we had the 80s dance, the year there were ATVs, or what year I may have run over that one kid who was pelting me with water balloons on the golf cart.
I can, however, trace most of my closest adult friendships to Camp Rainbow Gold. Not only will I always have these friendships (in part because of the amount of information we could blackmail each other with), but also because Camp brings people together in so many different and profound ways.
Camper to Counselor to Leadership
I first came to Camp as a shy, socially-awkward teen who didn’t think much of the idea of a summer camp for kids with cancer. I thought it might be a depressing place with a bunch of kids who may not even be there the next year — or that might have just been a reflection of my own story and fears. At that point, I was so isolated and sad. But I figured just getting out of the house was probably a step up from another Top Model marathon on TV. I never expected to find life-long friendships, perform in front of others, or develop HOPE, which I had previously viewed as a luxury.
My first year at camp was a turning point in my life. Everything hard and soul-crushing that had been happening with my treatments melted away that week when I found a friend. We clung to each other so much that week that there were observers who thought we were miserable. In reality, we had each found our perfect match in shyness and desperation for someone who understood what we were going through. We found a connection that followed us long after Camp — someone I could turn to every day who knew the same struggles.
I had so many inspirational counselors throughout the years, from cabin counselors to co-counselors. I met people who had such energy for life and it helped me see what life could be beyond treatments and hospital visits. I saw adults who were still young at heart and I wanted that. I wanted to always see things in life that excited and inspired me. I couldn’t ask for a better place to find these people.
When I first thought about being on a Camp Leadership Team, I thought I couldn’t because I wasn’t a great public speaker, gregarious, or incredibly social like so many of those people who had inspired me. I had an interest in having a hand in creating Camps for others but I didn’t have the confidence I would be good at it. It took me many years to watch, learn, and see other types of leadership styles. I realized leaders came in all shapes and sizes, and my style could someday be an inspiration for someone else like me. I accepted a position as assistant director for Teen Camp and found another way to contribute to the Camp Rainbow Gold culture.
Joining the Team Full-Time
Now, I’m shifting my role again and have joined the Camp Rainbow Gold staff as Volunteer Manager. I know I will learn a lot. I know finding my footing might take some time. But I also smile every time I think about the journey it took to get here (literally and figuratively) and know that being surrounded by amazing and inspiring people will continue to impact me in the best of ways.
Cancer brought me here. It was traumatic, painful, and heartbreaking, but through it I got my Camp Rainbow Gold family. I have friends who still help me through hard times and it has given me more than I can ever repay.
As I start my new role, I hope to help others find the same incredible experience and Camp family that I have found. I want to continue to help shape Camp culture. Camp Rainbow Gold is a sacred place that heals campers and volunteers inside and out. I’ve been a camper, junior volunteer, counselor, golf cart director (who thought that was a good idea??), and assistant director — and each year I get more and more from my experiences with Camp. It makes every rainbow especially bright and every storm a little more bearable. I can’t wait to see all that comes with being the Volunteer Manager and I hope to make you all proud. Keep shining!