7.09.2014

My Love Affair With Camp

Over the weekend I brought my wee family to Ojai to visit a friend of mine who is spending the summer working at the camp where I used to work. It has been about ten years since my last summer there but in the off-season, I spent four years employed at the main office in Los Angeles, just off of Mulholland and the 405 Freeway. This job was my first real office job and over the weekend I think I finally came to terms with why it was such a magical place for me. I think part of it was because it was a nonprofit organization so I spent most of my time dealing with things like fundraising and scholarships and it was quite rewarding knowing I was helping kids. I also worked with an incredible group of people - both employees and donors - who made work actually feel like fun, despite how challenging it could be at times.
Camp Ramah is a Jewish summer camp and I was raised Catholic so suddenly I was immersed in an entirely different culture. I was using Hebrew terminology like it was second nature and sort of accidentally eating kosher the majority of the time. I had very little experience with computers but my boss, TML, was deeply in love with spreadsheets so she basically forced me to learn Excel on my own. I learned databases and was a natural at memorizing names and addresses. I had to deal with Regional Centers who helped children with disabilities attend camp, some of whom worked with me in the Ojai office. I needed to be comfortable doing collection calls and setting up payment plans. Everything I learned about working at an office happened there and I believe the skills I acquired are responsible for any and all success I achieved afterward.
It was in the LA office that I met a girl who would soon become one of my best friends: Beanie, the other non-Jew in the office. She immediately took me under her wing and we developed a very close friendship quickly. We even decided to be roommates so we literally spent every waking moment together, both at home and at work, until she left to live with the man she'd eventually marry. We had was such a good time together and she really inspired me to break out of my comfort zone. She took me to clubs just to dance, to Yosemite to hike, on road trips to her home on a ranch. We drank red wine and listened to country music til we cried. She's also forced me to go on walks after work and when I realized just how much I loved taking a good walk it would eventually inspire me to participate in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer totally solo. She had a huge impact on me.
Before Beanie moved away, my boyfriend of five years and I had just broken up so I moved alone to an apartment in Koreatown where I smoked too many cigarettes and developed a social anxiety disorder so stupid I could barely make it to the grocery store down the street without the assistance of my friend Albert. In hindsight, I think this was sort of the beginning of my struggles with depression. At that time, I was babysitting for my friend (the one currently at camp) who has three sons ranging from a few months to seven years old. She recognized I wasn't doing so well and invited me to live with her and her Rabbi husband as a part-time au pair. I didn't know it then but she, and the love of those three little boys, really sort of saved my life.
It was while I was living with them that I met a guy I really liked and sort of came to terms with the fact that I wanted to move back to Oxnard. That summer, my last at camp in Ojai, I packed up my things and moved back in with my parents. Finding a job was a lot more difficult than I had expected so I made the decision to go back to school to get my degree. Leaving camp was a catalyst in starting a new chapter of my life that really led to who and where I am today. I still keep in touch with everyone I worked with despite it being a decade since I left. I cherish the many things that Judaism taught me and I credit those three boys for making me the mom I am today for my own children. Who knew that what started as a temp job would turn into such a pivotal, magical, life-changing experience for me? 

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