Fishtail Braids, Painted Nails & Countless S’mores | How Three Young Men Went the Extra Mile for Camp Good Mourning

Jess Gowan, a Camp Good Mourning volunteer and instructor at the University of North Dakota, wrote this open letter to the parents of Deane B., Wade and Wyatt, volunteers at the 2016 Camp Good Mourning.

CGM Volunteers

Coming from a family of sports fanatics, my son had barely entered the world when my husband and I began fielding the big question, “What sports will your son play?”

As entertaining as it is to debate this topic, it is the least of my concerns as a new mother. Instead, I lie awake holding our sleeping child at night and ask myself, ‘How do we raise a young man who is selfless? How do we teach chivalry? How can we show him the value of honest, hard work?’

After spending the weekend volunteering with your sons, I realized I should ask you these parenting questions, because clearly you know the answers.

I met your sons through my work for Altru Health System. I was tasked with coordinating volunteers for  Altru’s Hospice Camp Good Mourning, an annual grief camp for children and teens. Each year, as soon as our application opens, females immediately sign up to volunteer. However, males are not as quick to apply. A month before the event, I posted on social media a desperate cry for male volunteers. Thankfully, many men, including your sons, responded to this plea.

Two weeks before camp, your 20-year-old sons received an email stating they were not assigned to be counselors. Instead, they would be helping with arts and crafts.

Although this was not what your sons signed up for, I never received a message saying any of them wanted to back out. I never heard an excuse or complaint, even though they would be giving up an entire summer weekend to lead kids in painting and making tie-dye projects. Instead, they showed up to camp ready to take on the challenge.

Embracing Their Role and Going the Extra Mile
These three men impressed me and the entire staff from the moment camp began. They didn’t just go through the motions; they went the extra mile and completely embraced their role as arts and crafts counselors, with humility and responsibility.

When they got to camp, these men learned they were in charge of teaching campers how to make jewelry from t-shirts. Deane, Wade, and Wyatt took notes as they received a crash course on jewelry-making. They borrowed a fellow volunteer’s phone to look on Pinterest and learn different ways to create bracelets and necklaces. They even researched how to make fishtail braids as a technique to show campers. With hardly any advance notice, they did everything in their power to be the best shirt-jewelry designers in the state of North Dakota.

Jess and her sonThroughout the weekend, Deane, Wade, and Wyatt were selfless and empathic. In between activities, they could have taken naps or sat in the lounge. Instead, they walked around camp asking staff members what they could do to be helpful. They moved tables, cleaned up paint, took inventory of craft supplies, and helped campers make more than 100 s’mores. They swept floors without being asked, and they did every task with enthusiasm. When young campers set up a nail polish station, they agreed to be their customers even though that meant they would go through the entire weekend with colored nails.

Deane, Wade, and Wyatt did everything with passion and purpose. I hope to have them back at camp so they can be role models to fellow volunteers. It was a privilege to volunteer with them at camp, and it would be an honor to work with them in the years to come.

As a mom, I can see how hard it is to raise good kids. It gives me hope to see what a great job you did as parents and, as my own son grows, I hope to instill similar virtues.

Jess GowanJess Gowan is a Camp Good Mourning volunteer and instructor in the Communications department at the University of North Dakota. After completing her undergraduate degree in Ohio and her master’s degree in Illinois, she backpacked through Europe to explore different cultures first-hand. Jess is a wife and mother who enjoys running, organizing and technology.

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