What were your life circumstances before Camp Horizon?
In 1997, I was taken from the custody of my drug-addicted mother and given to the care of the state. In what seemed like a matter of seconds, I went from chasing my older brother around our apartment – me, laughing and yelling breathlessly as he tolerated my pursuit – to lying silently on a bunk-bed in a foster home, unable to speak or eat. After a couple weeks, the court placed us with my grandmother, and although it helped, I couldn’t get over the feeling that something was missing in my life.
How did you first become involved with Camp Horizon?
In the summer of 1998, my grandmother, who wanted my brother and me us to have some type of normalcy in our lives, told us we would be going to a summer camp for one week. Children have an odd way of internalizing their experiences and blaming themselves for the things that happen around them. I felt guilty – as if my mother’s absence from my life was somehow my fault and now, too, my grandmother was trying to get rid of us. Upset and wondering what I had done wrong, I was nevertheless excited about camp. Little did I know that my first step onto the bus would start a journey that would forever impact my life.
How do you remember your first summer camp with Camp Horizon?
My first week at Camp Horizon was magical. Each morning began with a potent life lesson (that no child remembers until they need it, years later), my afternoons were filled with swimming and playing, my evenings with hugs and song, and my nights with playful late-night storytelling as the counselors snored fitfully. The entire experience was supported by recurring affirmations that I was special, and that I had the potential to do great things in my life. With each passing day, I felt a profound understanding solidifying within my heart.
I first felt love when I was 8-years-old. Although I knew what love was, I had even invoked its name before then, but there but there is a big difference in knowing a truth and understanding it.For the first time in my life, I felt accepted and cared for. I felt understood and loved. I felt a sensation that has driven me forward each day from the moment I first encountered it – I felt happy.
How have you been able to stay connected with your Camp Horizon family over the years?
When I was eleven years old, my grandmother moved us to Savannah. Ever the creature of change, I was excited to leave, to go somewhere new. I was ready to restart, with no ties to places that reminded me of…well, anything. In the middle of so much excitement, it dawned on me on that the long drive to a new meant I would never see my Camp Horizon family again. I was sure there was nothing to be done about it – kids had moved away before, had transitioned out of the program. Why wouldn’t the same happen to me? It was a sobering thought, and my excitement about leaving dissipated. Vividly, I recall breathing on the window of my aunt’s minivan, creating a fog on the window just large enough for me to draw a sun sinking below a horizon line – my silent, symbolic goodbye.
While I was quietly accepting my fate, someone somewhere was fighting to change it. Instead of simply transitioning out of the program, I was brought back to Camp Horizon every year until I graduated high school. A combination of volunteer drivers, plane tickets and very generous people with couches made sure that I was always able to attend camp. The message was clear – I belonged to the hearts of these people and they weren’t willing to simply let me go. That particular lesson has shaped me in many ways over the years, and I only hope I can pay it forward one day.
After graduating from St. Andrew’s – Savannah’s most prestigious private school – as president of my class and captain of my basketball team in 2008, I accepted my admittance to Emory University. One of the best parts of attending Emory University? It’s location in Atlanta afforded me the chance to stay involved with Camp Horizon and its community.
What life lessons might you say that you learned or experienced through Camp Horizon?
I realize now that I have never truly ended my Camp Horizon journey. Since I became a member of the family I’ve traveled from a third grade student to college graduate. I’ve transitioned from a broken home to a healthy independence. I’ve traveled to over 12 cities in 4 countries. I’ve made grievous mistakes and faced them, but I’ve also had magnanimous success. My life has changed time and time again, but through it all, I have had one consistent source of family and normality for me. In my 14 years of involvement with the organization, I’ve become increasingly aware what Camp Horizon represents for the dozens of children they impact each year. We are taught that we are always in a position in life where we can raise our head and see our goals and ambitions. Each Camp Horizon Child grows up believing that he or she has the potential for a new and better day, one always head on the horizon.