CLARKSVILLE, Ohio -- It’s difficult to believe now, but there was a time when Samantha Morrissey didn’t want to go to Camp Joy.
She was 14 and recovering from her treatments for Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer found in children and teenagers. Her hair had barely grown back, and she felt anything but confident.
But her doctors and nurses at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center convinced Morrissey that N’Joy It All, a camp for kids with cancer, would be a good for her. So she agreed to go with her sister by her side.
Fast-forward 10 years, and Morrissey couldn’t be a bigger advocate for the camp that she says changed her life. She went for four summers in a row as a teenager and worked there as a counselor as soon as she was old enough. Now a middle school teacher, Morrissey brings sixth-grade students to Camp Joy each spring. She even convinced her fellow faculty members at St. Ignatius School to take part in one of the adult professional development activities.
“I know what Joy can do for a person,” said Morrissey, who is now 24. “Being able to come back in whatever way that I can is really important to me, and I love sharing that joy with others.”
In that way, Morrissey epitomizes what Camp Joy is all about, said Jennifer Eismeier, the executive director of Camp Joy.
“Being open to the Camp Joy experience and having the opportunity to come here at a point in your life where you need to be accepted wherever you are,” Eismeier said.
It’s something Camp Joy provides to more than 2,500 kids each summer and 13,000 people total each year through its various programs for children and adults.
The goal is to leave participants, no matter what their ages, feeling changed.
“We were there for Sam when she needed us at a point when she was vulnerable, and that really meant a lot in her life so she kept coming back for more of that,” Eismeier said. “And as she grew, we grew with her.”
The ‘domino effect’ of Joy
Camp Joy is known best for its summer camps and programs throughout the school year for children. There is the camp for cancer patients and survivors that Morrissey attended all those years ago, along with a camp for kids who have had amputations and special programs for children in foster care, among others.
But the organization’s programs for adults have become increasingly important over its 80-year history.
Its Venture Out! Programs are designed for businesses, nonprofit organizations and universities to strengthen their team development through the experiences Camp Joy can provide.
“Coming to camp sounds like you’re slowing down, but what we really do is provide a place for organizations to accelerate their team-building and move people closer to tackle the challenges they’re facing in their businesses,” Eismeier said.
Those programs aimed at businesses also help generate revenue to support the camps for children that serve low-income youth.
“We are very intentional at Camp Joy about providing opportunities for all kids to come to camp, and we do not want money to be a hurdle in their being able to experience camp,” she said. “So absolutely the companies that are coming out here for Venture Out! investing in their own teams are absolutely also investing in the next generation of campers.”
That’s not to say it’s always an easy sell.
Morrissey said some of her fellow teachers were wary of camp because they didn’t know what to expect or what to pack or what the schedule would be like each day.
She assured them they just needed to trust the place, and she said they told her afterward that she was right.
“There’s a lot of learning you can do here,” she said. “That experiential learning you can’t get in a classroom.”
It’s the kind of experience that builds bonds that last for years.
Just the other day, Morrissey was visiting Camp Joy and ran into Trinity Guthrie, a two-time leukemia survivor who was a camper when Morrissey was a counselor.
Having Morrissey on staff at Camp Joy meant a lot, said Guthrie, who will be 18 this month and now works as a junior counselor.
“Someone who has shared that kind of thing with you, you can talk to them about everything,” Guthrie said. “She’s a very impressive woman.”
So much of what Morrissey is now, she owes to Camp Joy, she said.
“It was like a domino effect,” Morrissey said. “Had it not been for cancer, I wouldn’t have come to Joy. Had it not been for Joy, I don’t know that I would have been led to teaching.”
It’s a place that helped Morrissey see possibilities instead of limitations, she said.
That’s something Camp Joy has been doing for 80 years and counting.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.