During training we were advised that these children came from traumatic backgrounds and that these backgrounds gravely affected them. While I’ve always known and been advised that these campers are not necessarily like others, I wish I had known more about how they might be different before I began this summer.
Many times during craft or a quiet activity, one of the campers would start talking about their home life. One child referred to her father as a monster of whom she was still afraid, another child spoke of his father’s shooting, and yet another spoke of the yelling and hitting that occurred in their home. Today, an inconsolable child spent thirty minutes trying to open a locked door as I stood by with Child Advocates. He had been removed from the classroom because he had begun hitting and kicking his brother, and with the locked door between them he was unable to force the brother into doing what he wanted. Similarly, a couple of weeks ago, two of our older campers stopped showing up regularly, and we were eventually informed that the older sister had been caught trying to strangle the younger brother. Situations like this never really occurred during any of my past jobs working with children, and I had to learn how to adapt to engaging with traumatized children.
However, I’ve also learned just how resilient these children are. Some of these kids have been in abusive homes their whole lives and are just now starting to get a sense of what safety truly is. Despite all that they have been through in their short lives, they still show up to camp with smiles on their faces. When selecting their feeling at the beginning of the camp, they oftentimes talk about how excited they are to see what activities are planned and what the “theme” is.
Most of the time, these kids are no different than any others—they laugh, they sing songs, they try to trick you into spelling I.c.u.p.—so it is oftentimes difficult to remember the trauma they have been through. It is oftentimes difficult to remember that at the end of the day they have fled for their lives.
During training, one of the exercises that really stood out to me was a group activity in which we were placed into the roles of fictional domestic violence victims. My character was a wealthy lawyer who married the good-looking attorney that visited her workplace. It started with controlling behaviors, emotional abuse, and financial abuse. Then, the physical abuse began. As we worked through the game we were forced to make choices: would we speak to our local minister or try explaining the situation to our best girlfriend, would we call the domestic violence hotline, or simply wait, hoping that our mother would ask about the bruises dotting our neck? Even during the game the choices seemed nearly impossible, and even though we tried making the best decisions we still ended up back at the “Abuse Happens” station, where we had to each take a Band-Aid and place it on our physical body. The visceral image of being covered by Band-Aids is one that I will never forget.
I really enjoyed my time interning at WINGS. It was such a unique experience that led to an invaluable summer. Being given the opportunity to step into such a leadership position was something that I truly think I needed to experience. Through the position I was able to develop my planning skills, social skills, leadership skills, interpersonal skills, intrapersonal skills, and a plethora of other things. I learned so much about a crisis that affects so many across the country and across the globe. Domestic violence knows no race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, class, etc. Domestic violence is a real problem that affects millions. My experience with WINGS is one that will stay with me, and I am immensely grateful that I had the opportunity to interact with children, their parents, and the organization as a whole.