I’m new at this fundraising thing. But that’s why I’m posting this afternoon, to ask you to contribute $10, $25, or more if you’re able, to a cause that means a lot to me. Now that I’ve made my opening move, I have to make a more difficult one: Sharing my WHY. It’s such a tiny, tough word—dense as a pebble—but it holds a lifetime inside it. For me, it’s a life of love and loss, of making mistakes and trying again, of seeking a place of belonging on the page, as a writer, then turning away from solitary pursuits to connect with a community that calls itself a camp. Though it’s much more than that.
Solo, chorus. Verse, refrain. Self, other. We walk through many lives, if we are lucky. Sometimes we find ourselves in places we never expected.
North Star Reach is that place for me. The children who are part of this community are not just any children: They have serious illnesses. Many have had transplanted hearts or livers or kidneys. Some have sickle cell disease, others epilepsy. Some get better and live a long life, others do not.
Because they are sick, they can’t do a lot of things that other kids can do. They need medical care to keep from getting sicker. At our camp, we have doctors and nurses who make sure these children are cared for. If they need a treatment, they can get it. Because we have medical professionals and a health center, these children get to leave their parents and caregivers, often for the first time, and have a summer sleepaway camp experience.
They make friends with other kids just like them. Friends that understand them in ways their other friends don’t, because no one really gets what being sick is like unless you’ve been sick yourself. As one boy once said to me, “We know that our time together won't last long.”
It’s easy to imagine he was sad when he said this. He wasn’t. He was just stating it as fact. And he said it with gratitude because right then he was about to sing a song on stage with his friends. That made him happy. In that moment, his happiness was enough.
It has been a privilege to know children like this boy. They arrived in my life at a time when my husband and I made the decision that we would not raise children of our own. They arrived in my life when cancer took the life of a close friend. And when someone else I dearly loved, my mom, became sick with a debilitating disease called depression from which she never recovered.
I needed these children to remind me how to play. How to be brave and kind. How to give intensely and live intensely. What I have realized is that the parents and caregivers of these children teach me all these things, too.
“What I regret in my life,” the fiction writer George Saunders said in his now-famous 2013 graduation speech, “are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.”
We are all being asked to respond to the suffering caused by the coronavirus crisis. If the pandemic has given us a gift, it’s that more of us feel a greater sense of urgency to help others. That’s certainly been true for me.
Which is why I’m sharing this personal post. I would be honored if you would consider a small donation on my GoFundMe page. The funds raised will help our organization transition our onsite summer programs to virtual spaces. It won’t be the same as when kids are together with their friends at sleepaway camp, but I’m confident the virtual experiences will offer kids, parents and caregivers a way to connect with one another in meaningful and sustaining ways.
If I were a better fundraiser, I would have shared this post days ago. But I was busy getting the virtual event launched, which just concluded this afternoon. We raised more than $80,000, which we’re thrilled about, but that amount is still shy of our much-needed goal of $100,000. So here I am, letting go of my sensible self as I press the publish button.
Thank you for reading all this way, and for your generosity.