This week I was lucky enough to be a leader of the Tomorrows Children’s Fund event at the Adaptive Sports Foundation, where teens with cancer from Hackensack Medical Center visit the ASF for a few days of kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, mini golf, and good old fashion outdoors R&R. The Tomorrows Children’s Fund (TCF) was founded by a group of committed parents to help their children and others like them with cancer and serious blood disorders. TCF among many other things, offers an array of activities, events, outings, special guests and parties, designed to provide young cancer patients with a brighter tomorrow. This program at the ASF is one of TCF’s events to help bolster the spirits of these young warriors.
This year, we had five participants and seven volunteers, all who were similar in age, giving each person the chance to make a real connection and strong friendship during their time here. Who doesn’t love making friends and enjoying nature together? The volunteers arrived first on Tuesday morning where we either welcomed them to ASF for the first time or we welcomed them back from previous events with smiles on all of our faces. After introducing ourselves, I led them through a series of name games and ice breakers that they would be leading for the participants the next day. We all had a good, positive energy throughout these games that made for a friendly and spirited group. After lunch we ran through kayak training on the water to be sure all the volunteers felt comfortable with their skills.
The teens from Hackensack Medical Center rolled in on Wednesday morning with happy, enthusiastic faces. We gave a warm welcome and began with the team building activities. We all finished knowing a lot more about each other than we did at the start and found a lot of interesting things in common with each other. This broke the ice and put our day on the path to success! After a lot of laughs, we went out to the lake where each volunteer paddled with their new friend. It was sunny and warm which added a very calm, peaceful aspect to the day. We swam, we looked at the wildlife, we talked and told stories, and we even pulled out some water guns for some goofy fun. The afternoon flew by and before we knew it, it was time to come in off the water. We got some rest and then met back up for a big BBQ at ASF. We played a very intense game of Kan Jam and Uno that everyone was absolutely loving. When a winner was determined, we mellowed out by a campfire with s’mores for the rest of the night under the stars in awe of the mountains around us, enjoying the company of all our new friends.
Thursday was already our last day together but we knew we would make it one to remember! We met at the lake where the sun was shining bright for us again. We did some Stand Up Paddleboard yoga (or at least tried), played with water toys, and paddled around the lake taking in all the beauty, warmth, and peacefulness surrounding us. Being on the water in the mountains was an escape for both the volunteers and the participants. It allowed everyone to forget about the stresses of everyday life, their daily challenges and be completely at peace with the world around us as well as connected to this moment and the people we were with. My heart was filled with joy when I looked around and saw that everyone was laughing, smiling, and truly loving their time here whether they were relaxing, or using all of their energy. We played a game of mini golf in the afternoon, which was very difficult, but no one gave up! We enjoyed some delicious ice cream as well before we had to say our goodbyes.
What a week full of happiness, new experiences, and new friends. I felt so honored to play a major role in making this event happen because everyone involved deserved this time for fun and merriment more than anything. These faces and these memories will never be forgotten because I will hold this program close to my heart forever. These teens left feeling like they can thrive in any environment. I hope this experience has made an impact on at least one of these teens’ lives.