“I was asked to share a short statement on what I got from facilitating my week of camp, but I have no idea how I can sum up such an amazing experience,” said Esmeralda Cuevas, Youth Program and Camp HOPE America Site Coordinator at the Stanislaus Family Justice Center. “All I can say is that it was such a powerful and moving week.”

 

Esmeralda Cuevas visiting campers.

 

She explained what her camp week looked like. “Everyone who participated and attended the week of camp grew so much in such a short time. We all worked together to try and make this week the best we could. I went into this thinking that all the campers were going to hate it and not want to log into the camp sessions, but boy was I wrong.” In amazement, Cuevas continued. “I had children logging in before the time we had scheduled so that they could spend time together listening to music, dancing with each other, watching movies, and even having breakfast as a big group. I had no idea that I was going to be able to create such a safe and nurturing environment over Zoom. I have a few stories I would like to share that to me stood out the most.”

“Working with the age range of seven to 12 is a very challenging one; all the children come with different educational backgrounds and different reading skills. I had children that were not scared to tackle the reading and others that were terrified to do so. I had all my campers split up into cabin groups so that they had time to go over the curriculum in small groups and have some camp feel to it.” Amongst the groups of campers, one camper seemed to be challenged by booklet time. “I had a young camper, who was seven, and she stated that she did not know how to read so that she did not have to participate in reading out loud. The counselor and I did not ask any questions or make her feel pressured to read out loud. The next day, she continued to just listen to everyone in her cabin group read. All of the sudden on the third day, she asked to read a paragraph in the Aly Raisman story; we were all shocked but did not question it. She began to read the paragraph and everyone in her cabin group listened closely. The young camper was so happy and accomplished to be able to read out loud and we all clapped. She stated that she overcame her fear of reading out loud—she had found her voice!” This was so meaningful as the Truth Statement associated with Aly Raisman’s story is My Voice Has Power.

“I knew I always wanted to do the Character Trait Awards at the end of the day, but I figured all the campers would be tired at this point,” said Cuevas. “I was ready to share the awards that all the counselors took time to write a small speech on why each camper got the award. I started the presentation and gave away the first award and all the campers started to clap and cheer everyone on! They were all so proud of each other for receiving the award.” In that moment, the idea that virtual camp could accomplish the same goal as in-person camp was confirmed. “It really felt like I was around a campfire with all of them.”

“I could go on and on about what impacted me.” Cuevas concluded saying, “I think that we should all have a week of camp for our campers, even if it is virtual. They all had such a great experience and it was worth it. The Hope Heroes had a great impact and we all had time to debrief the stories with the campers. All the campers and staff got to share their dreams and gave each other advice on how to accomplish those dreams. We all can have such an amazing and impactful program.”

– Esmeralda Cuevas, Youth Program & Camp HOPE America Site Coordinator at the Stanislaus Family Justice Center