Sannie on the Ropes Course

Sannie participates in a ropes course activity during the 2014 AFC Camping Trip.

This blog was written by AFC’s Development Coordinator, Sandra Woods.  “Sannie”, as she’s called at AFC, traveled to Camp Burgess with AFC staff, mentors, and youth in August to experience the annual AFC Camping Trip for the first time.

I showed up at the AFC office at 8 am on a Saturday morning with my shoulder sagging under the weight of a duffel bag stuffed with way more clothes than I could possibly wear in 24 hours. I felt like I was up half the night, which made me believe that I was a little anxious. The last time I went camping was over 10 years ago. This was also the first time I was going to spend more than 15 minutes with any of our youth. As Development Coordinator, I spend a lot of time writing about all the great things our youth accomplish with the support of AFC’s programs, but very little time witnessing it first hand. This camping trip gave me new insight into the magic of AFC.

One youth referred to AFC as, “the family of all families,” and that was apparent right from the start. It was immediately established that this camping trip was a safe space. Together the group discussed what they needed from each other during the trip, including no negative language and respecting personal space. Just like a family, youth and adults alike were there to support and encourage one another. That support allowed all of us to experience new things, to test our individual limits, and give us that extra bit of determination we needed to try again if things didn’t go as planned the first time.

For many of our youth, the camping trip was the first time they had gone swimming, tasted a s’more, or launched a bow and arrow. The feeling of safety and encouragement that emanated from everyone on the trip gave youth the security they needed to try new things and test their individual limits. For example, one youth worked hard to climb, and reach the top of, the most difficult section of the rock wall. No matter what happened, we were all cheering them on and there to help if they stumbled. The youth weren’t the only ones on the trip who tried new things; the AFC camping trip was the first time I had ever gotten in a kayak!  I knew that if I fell in the water (I didn’t, thankfully!) the whole team would be right there to pull me out. Watching our youth, and through my own experiences over the weekend, I was struck by how freeing it is to try new things and not limit yourself by the things you think you “can’t” do.

Over and over again, I was amazed by the spirit and tenacity of AFC’s youth. Their experiences in foster care teach them not to trust others, but all of our youth trusted a camp counselor and a few pieces of rope as they scaled the rock climbing wall. They trusted enough to hold on to each other for support as they dominated the camp’s ropes course. Despite everything the world has thrown at them, they still have faith in others and faith in themselves. That spirit inspires me to sit down at my desk every day. It is why all of us at AFC do what we do. These incredible young people want what everyone wants: to be supported, to try new things, and to learn.
As I reflect on the AFC camping trip, I realize there are three lessons we can all learn from AFC’s youth. First, we all need trusted supporters. Second, there is great value in trying new things. Third, the human spirit is tenacious. One of our counselors said she hoped that everyone in the group acted in the outside world as they did during the camping trip. I hope I never forget her words or the lessons I learned from the youth on the AFC camping trip. Just think of all the wonderful things we could accomplish as individuals and for youth in foster care if we could all be a little more supportive, daring, and determined every day.