I was given the opportunity to attend Dream Street the summer of 2001 while going through treatment for Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. At 11 years old, bald and scared, I entered a world that would change my life forever. This past summer was my 17th year with the organization.
It was a bit of a rough start for me, I cried for 4 hours my first day of camp from a combination of medicine and being homesick. They did everything imaginable to get me to stay. I made it the week and when I left, I knew I had to give back to Dream Street in whatever way possible. The beauty is that it makes a child feel “normal” and accepted again. Your ailment fades away and nothing is holding you back. I know this from experience. When I was sick, camp and counselors made me feel like a kid again and brightened my spirits like when I was healthy.
I was fortunate to experience another aspect of Dream Street at Canyon Ranch, our young adult program. I attended in 2011, 10 years after treatment, unsure what I had to give or receive because at the time I thought I was so far removed from my illness. I know now that while the children’s camp brings joy, community and love, Canyon Ranch truly heals. The tight-knit group of counselors and campers experience a raw, emotional week to express anything they need during this difficult time of illness. I was surrounded by people that just “get it,” something not even friends and family at home can relate to and made friends for a lifetime.
I’ve passed through the ranks of camp as a camper, junior counselor, counselor, co-director and again as counselor. Camp each summer marks my New Year. I’ve grown up with this group of people who start as strangers and leave as family. From behind the scenes in the office working tirelessly to keep everything running smoothly to the “front lines” keeping the campers smiling, the volunteers and supporters of Dream Street never stop giving of themselves. It’s hard to tell who has more fun, the campers or counselors but at the end of the week everyone is a happier, healthier being.
I support Dream Street not only for the immense happiness it brings me but to continue the impact this organization has on so many lives going through inexplicable difficulties. If we make just one child happier it’s all worth it; luckily it’s hundreds of children summer after summer.
Story by Aviana D’Souza, former camper and current counselor
For more information about Dream Street, please visit www.dreamstreetfoundation.org