*Name has been changed for the purpose of privacy. I have Chosen the name “Joy” because she brought joy to my life.
A few weeks ago I have had to wonderful privilege and opportunity to work at Krayon Kids Camp as a day camp counselor. The first half of my day I would spend with “the red group” consisting of mostly 9 and 10 year olds. I (along with the other red staff) would get them checked in, play games with the kids before camp, and then accompany the kids to their skills classes: vocal, dance, hip hop, and drama.
During lunch, which all the kids had together, so ages 7-12, I was just supposed to hang out with the kids, get the engaged with games and each other, and make sure they didn’t get into trouble. On the first day at lunch however, I met Joy. I had already known that Joy needed some special attention, and for some reason I was very eager to meet her. She was petite eleven-year-old, with shoulder-length blond hair. Her face was covered in freckles, and maybe some scaring, but I wasn’t sure. I introduced myself, but mostly I just sat and watched her play.
In the afternoon, the kids were all split in different groups, workshops. They had picked which workshop they would be in when they registered for camp, but now came the chaotic part where we had to split all the kids up (not color-coded this time) and make sure they were all accounted for. I had not been assigned a workshop that I would help in. The camp directors just said they would put me where they needed me. With this in mind, I (trying to hide the eagerness) volunteered to go with Joy, relieving the camp counselor who had been her “buddy” in the morning . I was briskly given an ok, and so I hurried off to join Joy in her workshop, which turned out to be “Glee Disney.”
It was an instant connection. As we started singing through the familiar Disney songs and learning the lyrics, we smiled at each other, beaming. For the record, I LOVE Disney songs. Apparently so did Joy. She was incredible. She sang so beautifully, and she had the most beautiful smile. Before I knew it, I was being told that it was time for me to take a break, and I realized it was mid afternoon, and I hadn’t eaten or taken a break at all. As I left, she looked at me with those beautiful eyes, saying, “You leave me? Please, come back soon!”
After that, I was given “Joy Duty” for the afternoons, and I loved it. Some days were good days, and sometimes they weren’t. Her workshop was actually rather complicated. The kids were learning a medley of different Disney songs, with choreography. Joy pretty much already knew all the songs, which was great because I didn’t know how well she could read. She hated LEARNING the choreography, because they would play the same part of music over and over. She hated the repetition, and sometimes she just got tired out. So sometimes we had to have breaks and “Joy-appointed” time outs, just to talk and do puzzles. She learned the movements to the songs pretty well, but I always stood next to her, as if one of the kids, and did the routines with her. That seemed to help her a lot, helped her feel connected and helped her stay on track. Joy wanted and tried to make friends with the other kids, but that was hard. For one thing, she couldn’t remember their names, but would identify the kids like “the girl with the feather in her hair,” or “The girl with the funny laugh,” or even better, “You know, THAT girl!” Plus, I think a lot of the kids we scared of her, because she was really touchy. I didn’t mind if she held my hand, rubbed my arm, or gave me a kiss, but a seven-year-old might.
As the week went on, things went more and more smoothly. Her laugh was incredible and she never ceased to amaze me. She even auditioned for her favorite song, “Kiss the Girl” from “The Little Mermaid.” She didn’t get to solo, but I don’t think she even understood. She was just happy that she got sing and “make the kids happy.”
I was originally told that Joy would not participate in the “end of the week presentation” at all. But as the week went on, I hoped and hoped otherwise. She was eager to do the show, and I wanted more than anything for her to do it too. I knew that the idea of performing in front of a ton of people could cause a melt-down, but I was willing to risk having to deal with that. It wasn’t fair on her for her to practice so hard all week-long, and not have anything to show for it. So on the last run-through on Thursday, I had her do the whole thing without me. “Joy, can you show me how well you can do it?” She did the whole thing without a hitch. It was incredible. And the look on her face when she was looking at me, just melted my heart! I could see the pure joy on her face. Not only had she made me so proud, but she was sharing one of my favorite loves, singing and dancing. After the whole thing was over she exclaimed, “Heather, Heather! Did you see me? I did SO good! I did it all perfect! Did you see?”
The Friday performance was there before I knew it. I did have worry as we walked into the gym, for one thing because Joy hadn’t eaten any of her lunch. I knew it would be loud and echo-y in the gym, which could be a lot of sensory overload for her, for anyone hadn’t eaten properly. But we hustled in to the gym and got in to our spots where we sat and waited as announcements were made. Joy draped herself over my lap, and starting eating her lunch, right there on the gym floor. Finally the parents started to file in. The two of us watched and waited, looking for Joy’s mom. When most of the parents and there was still no sign of Joy’s mom, I started to worry. I thought to myself, “I’m going to have a serious meltdown on my hands if this girl’s mother doesn’t arrive.”
The first groups started their performances, and still no sign of Joy’s mom. Good thing WE weren’t first up! Finally, right before It was our workshop’s turn to start, we spied Joy’s mom walking in the door. We waved, and she waved back, looking almost surprised that her daughter was with the other children, ready to join in.
The kids scrambled to their places and the music began. Gotta admit, the adrenaline was pumping for me too. All of us camp counselors were kneeling in front of the kids, facing them, ready to prompt them with choreography. And then it started….and it was INCREDIBLE! The rundown of the songs went as follows:
- Be Our Guest (Beauty and the Beast)
- Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
- Arabian Nights (Aladdin)
- Kiss the Girl (The Little Mermaid)
- Part of Your World (The Little Mermaid)
- A Whole New World (Aladdin)
- Beauty and the Beast (Beauty and the Beast)
- Fathoms Below (Little Mermaid)
- Under the Sea (The Little Mermaid)
- Friend Like Me (Aladdin)
Whew! A lot to learn in one week, huh? But ALL the kids did incredible! It was like a miracle. Joy had gone from flopping around and barely being able to handle learning the work, to doing the routines almost perfectly! I was so proud of her, and she was incredible to watch! Because she was SO HAPPY! I see so many kids just go through the motions with performing (and LIFE for that matter). But that is the special thing about some special kids like Joy aren’t always afraid to show how DANG HAPPY they are! It’s just so simple: “This is what makes me happy, so here’s my lovely smile!”
Anyway, back on topic, Joy succeeded in every way. And her mother, with tears in her eyes, DEFINITELY agreed. Joy’s mother was very touched, and when I saw the look on her face, I knew I had been part of something miraculous. Her verbal gratitude toward me was beautiful. I am also pleased to say that I will most likely be babysitting Joy during the school year!
I finished the week feeling very accomplished. THIS is the reason I want to work with kids with special needs. It’s so fulfilling! I got to BE JESUS to this little girl for a week, and it blessed me SO MUCH!
Joy* and I on the final day of camp