BENEFITING: SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young
Camp SAY is a life changing experience that positively impacts the lives of so many children and their families. Camp provides an environment of inclusivity and patience, where campers are free from cruelty and bullying. Your generous support today will help send an amazing young person to attend Camp SAY, empowering them to grow strong, while they discover their place in this world.
Stuttering...Over 70 million people stutter on a daily basis, including 5% of all children. Young people who stutter often face ridicule, teasing & bullying and many feel isolated and alone.
"When I first arrived at Camp SAY I was petrified. Come on Sarah you can do this, I thought to myself as I stepped out of the old van into the buggy North Carolina atmosphere. My camp counselor showed me to my cabin, while I dragged my old rolling suitcase reluctantly behind me. "Oh! Friend!" said a girl who eagerly grabbed my hand and shook it vigorously as I walked in. "I'm Emily!"
"I'm Sarah," I answered meekly while looking at the floor, which all of a sudden seemed fascinating. While I began to unpack my things I watched Emily. She seemed too friendly, too happy. I convinced myself that she must have some ulterior motive. Bitter experience had made me think that no one just wanted to be my friend.
Five years ago, the summer before I entered seventh grade, my best friend Hannah and I had been preparing to go to summer camp together. We had been inseparable since fourth grade and had been looking forward to a sleep away camp together for years. I left home excited, but as soon as we arrived at camp things went horribly wrong. There was a girl in my cabin named Chloe. She was an eighth grader, but about the size of a high school senior. She immediately identified me as vulnerable. I sensed that she knew that I had been bullied before because of my stutter. Chloe quickly became alpha dog of the cabin, leaving a trail of fear in her wake. She picked on everyone in the cabin, and the fear that she would bully them more kept everyone ‘in check’. As a result they stayed quiet.
She stole my towel and my toiletries while I was in the shower and she made fun of how I spoke. She wasn't like other bullies, the people who had hurt me discreetly in the past. Chloe didn't seem to care that others knew how she treated me. In fact, she seemed to enjoy it. I told the counselors about her behavior countless times but they ignored me, or told me that I deserved it. Once they even joined in on the teasing, when all I had wanted was for them to intervene.
I used to hide in the bathroom during meals to avoid the name-calling. When I would come out of the bathroom, Chloe would tell everyone that I was just avoiding cleaning the tables. Now it sounds ridiculous, but she held so much power over everyone and the rest of the cabin would always join her in the teasing. Things were hard that summer, but they had been hard before. I thought I could do it. I mean, I had my best friend in the whole world there. Hannah and I did everything together. She wouldn't let anything bad happen to me.
Then, one night Hannah left her iPod on the bed. As I was passing her bunk I looked over and saw that it read, "Camp with Sarah :(". I thought it was weird so I asked her what it was. She sighed, rolled her eyes and said it was nothing. After insisting that I wanted to see it, she said that she would show it to everyone else in the cabin and they could decide if I deserved to look at it. As she showed it to them they laughed, saying things like, "Wow, that's so true". I sat on my bunk in confusion, dying to run away. Finally, after everyone in the cabin had seen it, Hannah handed it to me saying, "Fine, you can see it, but you can't cry because it is all true." The insult-filled note talked about how much she hated me and how she wished she had never become my friend in the first place. After reading it, I lay on my bed trying to stifle my cries while they threw shoes at me telling me to shut up. I fell asleep on my tear-soaked pillow to the sound of their laughter.
Hannah had been my best friend, or at least I thought she was. Arriving at Camp SAY years later, all I could think was, what if this Emily girl does the same thing? She seemed so confident, and I thought that being confident meant that you were ‘popular’ and being ‘popular’ meant that you were mean. Most people would tell you that I’m the furthest thing from shy, but Emily scared me. I was confident in front of my few friends at home, but I was quiet as a mouse in front of people I perceived as popular. I decided that Emily was the type of girl who would hurt me. I didn't want anything to do with her.
Then camp got rolling and, to my complete surprise, Emily and I clicked. She helped me remember who I was before Hannah and Chloe. She helped me realize who I really was. I became confident. Camp SAY made everything fun, and Emily made everything even more fun. We became inseparable. One time we were sick and had to stay in the nurse’s office. We were both so tired and bored that we drew faces on our stomachs and made them talk to one another. Emily was weird, but so was I. I learnt that I was likeable, that I deserved to have friends. I learnt that I deserved to be happy. Camp SAY was my safe haven, a place where no one interrupted me when I spoke, where no one bullied me because of my voice. It was the best feeling in the world.
Today, I try to see the goodness in people and give them the benefit of the doubt. I try to understand why the others in my cabin were bystanders, and why my counselors didn't take me seriously. I try to live by Anne Frank’s assertion that, "In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart." She suffered and put up with countless acts of cruelty, yet she tried to see past it. If I can do the same, I believe that Chloe and Hannah and all of my old camp, will one day become a distant memory, one that has no power over me.
In the meantime, I still struggle with those memories. But, they haven’t stopped me living my life, I don’t believe they never will. Knowing first hand what it feels like to be left out, has pushed me to help children with special needs who feel the same way. Participating in a club called Best Buddies I ensure that kids with special needs make friends and get the fair treatment they deserve. Being able to help these kids makes me feel like I'm not a bystander to bullying.
I did not get to this place alone. I had the help of everyone at Camp SAY, and my best friend Emily. People may think I regret going to my old camp but, even with everything that happened, I don't. Now that I'm older, I can see that my experience there helped me become the person I am today. For that, I would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to both Hannah and Chloe. If I hadn't gone through living hell with you, I would never have met my real best friend, Emily. "