Family is a bond between groups of individuals based on love, trust, friendship, and shared experiences. Family is there for you when you need help, support, and encouragement; the bond transcends distance and goes beyond blood relatives. I first experienced the safe, secure feeling of family when I discovered Youth Rally. With this thought in mind, I reflect on the people, places and experiences for which I am grateful.
Youth Rally is a summer camp for kids, ages 11-17, who have ostomies or live with chronic bowel or bladder conditions. It is a place for campers and counselors to learn independence, confidence and self-care. The camp equips youths with skills and confidence to navigate the challenges of life with an ostomy or chronic illness. Both campers and counselors have experienced difficulties living with a chronic illness, which creates a safe environment for dialogue about individual fears, struggles and hopes.
The emotionally safe and open environment bonds campers together.
While the camp is full of fun activities, group sessions and free time, the real "Rally experience" happens when the campers start to open up. Missing school due to surgeries, insecurities about ostomy bags and scars, and living with chronic pain can make any child shy and withdrawn.
Youth Rally fosters self-discovery and helps kids open up. Campers create friends with others like themselves and form bonds that last a lifetime. Because counselors also live with similar medical conditions, campers see firsthand that they can live a full, normal life. Youth Rally teaches us that a disease does not define our limits, and that everyone has value, and we can all follow our dreams. I found another family at Youth Rally camp.
My first experience at Youth Rally was as a camper.
I was blown away by the kindness and empathy, and for the first time in my life I felt accepted and understood. I felt the warm, loving connection of a family. I knew that I had to come back as a counselor, and this past summer I had that opportunity! I was so excited to give back to the family that had helped me so much. For one week in July I experienced so much joy as I watched the campers grow together and gain self-confidence.
Sitting on the beach during the field trip to the lake, I watched in awe and admiration as campers played confidently in their swimsuits, not worrying about their scars or ostomy bags. I even saw a camper smile from ear to ear as she shared with the group that she had changed her ostomy bag by herself for the first time.
These were the moments that create the real “Rally” experience. My Youth Rally family has supported and cared for me in ways that I never could have imagined. Their motto is, You Are Not Alone. These are the words I remembered when I left camp, along with a feeling that forever changed my life.
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