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You Can Be Nervous: Guiding the Youth of Our Community as a Camp Counselor at Chameleon's Journey

By: Nick Clanton, VIA Health Partners Chaplain


Children and Teens on a camp beach at sunset with kayaks in the water and lots of camp activity happening

There’s something so audacious about the idea of a “grief camp:” idyllic setting, ideal weather (with the occasional batch of liquid sunshine falling from the sky), a time of ridiculous fun underscored by the truth that “grief” is not the same as “sadness.” I can remember the impressions and concerns that flooded my brain when I was initially asked to volunteer: “Is this just a place people come to cry all weekend? What am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to do?!?”


An anime style youth appearing happy with a shadow of themselves behind them crying depicting the battle between the emotions

The glory of Chameleon’s Journey is its commitment to the truth that grief and joy can occupy the same space, can occupy the same person, can occupy the same smile and tears all at once. Grief has this insidious desire to separate us from everyone, doing its best to convince each of us that it’s better handled alone. Grief is many-sided, it’s complicated, surprising, inconvenient, and the absolute last thing a young person should have to navigate on their own.



The proposition of volunteering in this place is daunting to some, and it makes total sense, but the beauty of camp is the way it gives permission not to “fix,” because there is nothing to fix. This young person is here, in front of you, because someone very important to them died. You are not going to change that. What you will do is bear witness to the ways they are trying to figure all of this out, validating their desires to continue growing while dispelling any idea they have to leave their loss behind. Nothing about Chameleon’s Journey is predicated on “getting over” a loss, but equipping these campers with the tools and community to healthily carry that important person with them wherever they go.

A anime style youth listening to music in headphones with icons around her head depicting the tools and coping mechanisms used for dealing with grief

Few places in this world encourage a young person to bring all of their “stuff” with them. Most of us can probably empathize, thinking of the ways we have to check our emotions, our experiences and understandings of the way the world works, just to put on a brave face so others will feel better about how we’re doing, but Chameleon’s Journey wants every child and young adult to know that what they are doing, the hard work of simply trying to BE themselves, is beautiful, and the courage with which they are living each day is not diminished or lessened by tears or heartache.


A group of diverse anime style youth sitting and talking with each other

You cannot imagine the looks of comprehension dawning on young faces when they finally find someone going through the stuff they are going through. Not everyone will be immediately ready to share, but do not underestimate what it means to hear that you are not alone in those messy emotions. Volunteering with Chameleon’s Journey will absolutely challenge you, and it will do so in so many of the best ways. Don’t be afraid to change because of the ways you choose to serve these young people.



 

To learn more about Chameleon’s Journey Camp or VIA Health Partners, visit www.chameleonsjourney.org or www.viahp.org.


To learn more about Volunteering with VIA Health Partners, visit us at:


 

About VIA Health Partners


VIA Health Partners began as Hospice at Charlotte, the state’s first hospice, in 1978 and then operated under the name Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region (HPCCR) for decades before its name change to VIA Health Partners in 2023. Today VIA Health Partners serves 3,500 patients each day for hospice and palliative care services. Our service area encompasses 14 counties in North Carolina--Burke, Catawba, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, McDowell, Mecklenburg, Polk, Rutherford, Stanly, and Union. Its service area in South Carolina includes Abbeville, Anderson, Cherokee, Chester, Chesterfield, Fairfield, Greenville, Greenwood, Kershaw, Lancaster, Laurens, Newberry, Oconee, Pickens, Saluda, Spartanburg, Union, and York counties.

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