Smiles and happiness are the first things volunteer Heidi Felix, 24, mentions about the children at Tu Nidito’s Treehouse Summer Camp.
Smiling faces may be the norm at most summer camps, but for Tu Nidito, a local nonprofit agency that serves children who are grieving, seriously ill, or have parents with cancer, smiles are a significant sign of success.
“It’s a great place,” says Felix, who just earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix and plans to start a master’s degree in behavioral psychology. A volunteer at the Tu Nidito agency (the name means “your little nest”), she jumped at the chance to be a counselor at its camp. She spoke to the AJP in late July, during the second of her two weeklong camp sessions this summer.
“It was a great experience getting to know every kid’s story, behind their happiness, behind their smiles,” she says, explaining that although the camp’s focus is on involving the children in fun activities, some of them will tell the counselors their stories “little by little,” adding to the information volunteers receive about the children at the beginning of each session.
The camp serves up to 30 children each session, with 15 to 20 adult volunteers. Some campers are the siblings of seriously ill children; their challenges include dealing with fears about their brother or sister’s illness as well as being pushed aside when parents are busy taking care of a sick child.
Campers participate in traditional activities such as arts and crafts, says Felix, as well as a weekly field trip to Pump It Up, a party venue with jumping castles and other inflatable play areas.
A member of Congregation Anshei Israel, Felix said that she prayed daily for the strength and patience to give the children the support they need.
“I am grateful to HaShem for giving me this opportunity,” she says, using the Hebrew term for G-d that translates literally as “the name.” Felix notes she’d also be happy to volunteer at day camps run by local synagogues or the Tucson Jewish Community Center.
But for now, she gets satisfaction from helping Tu Nidito’s campers enjoy themselves and put aside, for a time, the troubles that are often part of their daily lives. “We give our best to the kids,” she says.