Half a Heart

For those who don't know, as part of my CYTC attempt, I will try to raise money for Roundup River Ranch. They are a camp for kids with serious and sometimes even life threatening medical illnesses. The camp is free and includes a medical staff and facilities to take care of any issues that may come up. Think of it as a camp for kids who couldn't otherwise go to camp.

It really isn't much commitment to ask people to give them money, so I also volunteered for a weekend family camp where these kids show up with their families. Adults get time free of their kids and siblings get to finally be around other kids who have siblings with these medical conditions. I chose a weekend camp as I'm not sure I could handle a full week. I don't like being around sick people, so I looked at the medical conditions each camp had and chose heart conditions as that seemed easier for me to handle. I'm not the most kid friendly person, so I chose a family camp where part of my job would be to interact with adults. In other words, I cherry picked the camp that would be easiest for me.

Let's recap: I don’t like being around sick people. My nature is not kid friendly. I’m a loner by nature. With that in mind, I should volunteer at a camp for kids who have serious or even life-threatening illnesses – Roundup River Ranch. Seriously, what could go wrong?

As I drove to camp, I told myself that I was there to serve in any way I could. I told myself that with the generosity of Roundup River Ranch, I owed it to them to follow the rules and help the families do the same. I suppose that I'm a good rule follower, at least compared to many I know, so that shouldn't be too hard.

Before camp started, I had a meeting with Sarah Ingersoll to discuss my fundraising efforts for Roundup River Ranch as part of my CYTC. She engaged me with an energy that makes one feel like the most important person on the planet. When I saw her interact with other people later on, I got the feeling that she does that with everyone giving her a very rare ability, at least compared to the engineers I normally spend time with. I don't have that ability, yet I was at a camp where the goal is to make all the campers feel extremely important.

My conversation with Sarah ran long, so I ended up getting to orientation late where I quickly felt overwhelmed. Child care is not exactly my expertise and they threw so much information at me that I soon felt like I had no idea what was going on. People kept telling me to ask questions, but I didn't have enough knowledge to even know what to ask. That's not a normal feeling for me as I am usually a quick learner.

During orientation, they tried to give us a flavor of camp and it included a lot of pop music and dancing. I'm not a fan of pop music and those who know me well I go to ridiculous lengths to avoid dancing. Before orientation is over, I wondered if I could help anyone out at a camp like this.

However, I tried to do what I could and soon found myself in a costume like all the other staff members and volunteers so we could greet the families with a playful vibe. Who knew that an adult sized Superman onesie actually existed and that more impressively, someone could convince me to put it on? That happened although I took it off as soon as I could.

Following our greeting of the families and dinner, I was back in costume, this time as a minion to match a staff member in a banana costume. The two of us emceed a welcome to camp show that included skits and songs. I'm not that funny to begin with and what humor I have is mostly for adults. However, I chose to emcee as I was nervous about what the skits would require of me with my sprained ankle and there was no way singing would happen.

Next came babysitting the kids in the cabin I was assigned to so the adults could have time amongst themselves without their kids. It actually went well and the volunteer assigned to the cabin with me seemed so proficient that everything was easy for me. I started to get cocky and think that I should have signed up for a full week.

Most of the activities were planned for the next day and we got to do the challenge course first. It included a rock wall, ropes course, zip line, and pulley system to haul someone to the top of the platform. Our families chose different ways to go up and down, but I was most impressed by a little boy too young to partake in the challenge course. For a bit we were able to occupy him with a short rock wall to climb, but soon he wanted the big one. He kept trying for it and at first I did what I was supposed to and redirected him. This little boy about age two with a heart surgery under his belt pursued rock climbing relentlessly and I just couldn't bring myself to stop him. In fact, I started to cheer him on. So much for following the rules.

We ran long on the challenge course so I went with one family to boating while the other two families finished the challenge course with the other cabin volunteer staying with them. One family ended up skipping boating entirely. This area allowed me to help out the most as I could move canoes and kayaks around.

After a short time, we made our way to art where I decided to spend time with a family that I perceived was isolated from the other families for some reason. I kept trying to spend time with them to make sure they didn't feel left out until I saw that they were having a good time so maybe they just preferred having more space. As soon as I backed off, they seemed to engage the other families more. So much for reading the situation correctly.

Things turned south after lunch as a thunderstorm rolled in. That meant that they had to cancel the outdoor activities until the weather improved. I somewhat undermined that decision as I felt the lightning wasn't that close and made that opinion known. While I understood the decision made sense because of safety, I would have risked it, so I must not be that safe.

I wanted to rebel against that decision most because the kids wanted to go horseback riding and that was exactly what got cancelled. Keep in mind that I don't like horses. I don't think I've had a pleasant horse experience yet, but for the kids, I was really disappointed that they lost their chance to ride horses.

Instead, the audible was to set up a mini casino and play games indoors. My big contribution was to teach a boy how to play poker, which is the only thing he wanted to do for the rest of the day. I ended up teaching his brother as well. In my experience, kids tend to like me because I teach them bad habits. This was no exception.

We did get a little time to go outside and I helped a few kids fish before dinner. There was some success fishing, which got the kids excited. Rain started to pick up again just before we had to leave for dinner.

After each meal, there was dancing. As usual I tried to occupy myself with other activities, but this time I finished too soon. The next thing I know, almost everyone is showing more excitement to "Shake it off" than anything else I saw all weekend. At this point, I got it. Pop music is not something I like, but the way all the kids reacted to it showed me that it has its place. Anything that can make these kids who may not have a lot to get excited about get that excited has its place.

Following dinner, we had a talent show and early on a little boy from my cabin got up to sing a Pokémon song. Once again, I have no interest in Pokémon. However, I watched him put everything he had into singing that song. Earlier that day, his mom told me he's had four open heart surgeries and twelve others. That's a lot of time under the knife for a six year old. His condition was described to me as having half a heart. Watching him belt out the song with everyone cheering him honestly brought tears to my eyes.

The talent show ended with two boys putting makeup on my face and the face of a doctor who also volunteered his time. Afterwards, most adults mentioned they were concerned for my safety as the boys pressed in the makeup quite hard. It didn't actually hurt. The kids seemed to enjoy it, so it was worth it. Fortunately, it came off easily that night.

The following morning brought breakfast and goodbyes. All that's left for me to do is write about some of the people.

As expected, I got along with the adults better than the kids. To me it was especially impressive watching all the Dads. It struck me how dedicated they were to their kids. For some reason, I just expected that from the Moms and they didn't disappoint. It just seemed unusual to see so many Dads that dedicated. One of the Dads learned about me hiking the PCT and he couldn't stop picking my brain. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next, the staff and volunteers made a large impression on me. At least a couple of them had their own serious medical conditions including some transplants. All of them had a huge heart for service and almost all of them expressed a serious interest in the outdoors. I had some pick my brain about the PCT, others about the Wind River Range. One lady who I completely misjudged is trying to get ready to hike the PCT.

Last, the kids loved camp. Fishing, archery, boating, rock climbing, and horseback riding held more esteem in some of their eyes than Disneyland. I know that because at least one kid specifically said they would rather go to Roundup River Ranch instead of Disneyland.

Now that I've seen what Roundup River Ranch is about, I'm happy with my decision to attempt to raise money for them and to volunteer for them. I don't know how successful I was, but believe I made at least a small positive impact. The camp seems to draw a very outdoorsy crowd and I love that. They give these kids an opportunity to experience a little of what I experience frequently. The difference is that I have the health to just go experience the outdoors. Roundup River Ranch may be the only opportunity some of these kids get.

With that in mind, I'm happy that the camp is able to draw a certain type of person to work on the staff and to volunteer. Hopefully, while I'm off attempting to hike the Triple Crown, I will remember the kids who don't have the health to do what I do and the staff and volunteers who help them experience a taste of what I get to for the better part of a year.