About a year after we started dating, I whisked away my future husband Josh to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic for a romantic getaway. We spent our days eating guacamole by the pool and our nights, dancing like weirdos in their empty night club.
Flash forward to this past summer and my trip to the country's capital of Santo Domingo was just a bit different. No bikinis, no night clubs and certainly no poolside snack service. This time, I spent a week co-leading a new summer camp called Camp Possible geared toward children who are amputees, along with their friends and siblings.
Oh, and don't worry. I still ate lots of guacamole.
Camp Possible is sponsored by Operation Go Quickly, a non-profit that improves lives in developing nations in many different ways. On this particular mission, our team was focused on getting to know local families, distributing pediatric crutches, teaching the basics of amputee soccer, getting crafty, sharing evening Bible devotionals, and just enjoying a beautiful summer week together. All of these efforts are led by Dr. Fred Sorrells, a lifelong missionary from Texas with unabashed passion for both adaptive sports and Jesus. The girls were giggling one afternoon and I asked (in Spanish) what they were laughing at. Turns out they had just decided to nickname Fred Papa Noel de Caribe aka Santa Claus of the Caribbean.
I started thinking about what to bring months before the trip. I packed light. Just a few t-shirts, two pairs of leggings, a pair of sneakers and sandals, a USA hat, red bandana and two pairs of socks. Plus a fanny pack to hold my bug spray and sunscreen. No makeup. No hair stuff. Pretty much the opposite of the wardrobe I had packed for Punta Cana a few years back. Part of why I packed light was so I would have more room for camp gear like like soccer balls, t-shirts, games and craft supplies for the week. I carried pretty much the whole week of camp activities in my suitcase. When I hoisted the bag onto the scale, I let out a breath of relief when it stopped just 4 pounds shy of the 70 pound weight restriction.
Camp Possible was held at the Instituto Bíblico Central De Las Asambleas De Dios in Santo Domingo, which is the oldest capital city in the Americas. The Instituto Bíblico is a large seminary campus surrounded by avocado trees, a cheerful rooster and the resident chicken. The dining hall was recently renovated, so we enjoyed all of our meals under their new tin roof.
A few months before camp, Fred and his co-leader Gabby made home visits with families with children who are amputees. They found these kids through prosthetists on the island. Anyway, they expected about 15 campers to spend the week with us. In the end, 7 showed up. And as it turns out, 90% of them were teenage girls! When they walked in, I honestly thought they were moms dropping off their kids...until they sat down in the desks and looked up at me, waiting for something to happen. Mild panic set in, because I had packed books and crafts for elementary aged kids, so I was really nervous that the girls might be like ughhhh who is this girl we have to hang out with all week. I couldn't have been more wrong.
These smart, interesting and FUN young women were true camp girls from the very start. I was embarrassed by my toddler coloring sheets, but they were just pumped to color and tell me about their lives. Most of the girls grew up going to church, but they were still excited to learn more about the legendary Old Testament character Queen Esther or how they can have their own personal relationship with God.
They made me feel right at home as if I was just teaching my regular Sunday class at Vintage Church here in Santa Monica. They shared their hopes, dreams and fears with me in a way that just radiated trust, vulnerability and lovingkindness. After just a few hours together, we settled into a beautiful little rhythm.
Like most summer camps, we did a lot of crafting. My favorite project was creating gratitude letters where they wrote down everything they're thankful for in their lives. The average daily wage there is about $8 (that's $160 per month), so it was beautiful to hear the authentic details about all the riches they're so thankful for. None of them had ever attended a camp before, so they were excited about the opportunity to even be part of Camp Possible.
I downloaded and printed really fun + free coloring sheets from Bible App for Kids
You can see how our bare seminary classroom was transformed into a colorful home base!
Our many hours of crafting required fuel and it was actually really easy to stick to my vegan diet there, so I enjoyed a rich diet of plantains, yuccas, rice, bread and avocados. Camp Possible was fortunate to have three amazing volunteers, Adelaida, Eveline and Roudeline who cooked for us throughout the week. Our bellies were always filled to the brim with fresh, local ingredients. My favorite meal was boiled yucca with guacamole. It was even better than the beachside guacamole I'd enjoyed at my all-inclusive resort all those years ago.
All of my meals were filling and delicious thanks to the kitchen volunteers,
...they had never cooked for such a large group!
Ever heard of Montezuma's Revenge? Not on this trip! I got pretty sick in San Juan de Los Lagos, Mexico last year, so I was really careful about avoiding tap water. The volunteers even encouraged me to use the same plate and fork for every meal, so I wasn't using any contaminated plates. I drank boat loads of bottled water and felt bad wasting so much plastic, but there wasn't really anything I could do about that.
The best part of any camp is the people. My summer camp was a big part of my life when I was growing up, so it was exciting to help create similar experiences at Camp Possible.
Here are my favorite memories of each camper and volunteer, so you can "meet" them and get a sense of their unique personalities.
1. Rosanny, Age: 5
An angel. So happy and always smiling. She didn’t want to be at camp or participate for the first day. Then something clicked! She loved GLITTER. She put it on everything. Her hair, her clothes, her art. The wall was covered. She was happy to play with the older girls. She’s a natural on crutches and very tiny so she moves fast. I saw her walk for the first time on a tiny pair of crutches. Asked to eat her Frosted Flakes cereal with me when we went to the soccer field on Wednesday. Loved to give me hugs from the second she arrived at camp. Everyone at camp adored her and she sobbed on the last day.
2. Saira, Age: 10
Best laugh. Super funny and silly. Her favorite catchphrase to say is, “Ayyyyyyyy.” She loves dancing and is super flexible with yoga and has great balance. Even though we had a lot of soccer activities, the truth is that she hates soccer. On the last day of camp, I asked Saira to bring her gratitude list home and to tape it next to her bed, but she said they couldn’t afford tape. I watched as she took the used tape off the wall to bring home with her. She loved making bracelets too.
3. Carlos, Age: 11
What a charismatic and happy kid. He’s a very gifted soccer player already and someday could be one of the best in the country, if not the world. He moves quickly on crutches and has great foot skills. I gave him my USA hat. He’s moving to the Bronx with his mom, Karla in September. Karla, by the way, makes incredible beaded earrings. He likes to make crafts like nunchucks and a sword with paper and they’re so so good. Photos and videos on my Instagram of Carlos using his crutches launched a spontaneous fundraiser for pediatric crutches that raised more than $1,000. He’s a very cool dude and likes YouTube videos of popular songs like DJ Snake and Lil Jon's "Turn Down for What". Carlos was very homesick and only slept at camp one night but came back for the daytimes. Loved seeing videos of Josh skiing and said he wanted to learn how to ski even though he hasn't seen snow yet. His favorite video of Josh's? The Amputee Rap!
4. Melina, Age: 15
Pure sweetness. Melina has a huge heart and was always quick to help the younger girls, Saira and Rosanny. She was pretty nervous so she brought her cousin, Lilli with her. Her prosthetic is pretty old but she runs around with confidence, chasing her friends and giving amputee soccer a trip. When we studied David and Goliath, I asked about the giants in our current lives. She said mean girls. Whenever I looked over, she was helping the younger girls or moving Archerly so she could be closer to the group. She is not that into soccer but loves making bracelets. Some interest in soccer but it’s going to take a lot of practice with crutches and improving physical endurance. She was in tears one afternoon because she mentioned bullies. She loves the movie Mulan and seeing photos of my dog, Mushu. She lives in a two room house with 4 people including her 18 year old sister who is pregnant. She got the paint fight started on the last day and at first I was hesitant because I knew it would get messy, we didn’t have soap, or paper towels even. But I’m SO happy I just let the girls run with it. She had amazing red and black braids, so I gave her my red bandana on the last day of camp.