Holt adoptee and camp counselor Leah Ferriby shares the story behind this photo from Holt Camp 2016.
Holt Camp is an interwoven community threaded with commonality, strength and resilience. The picture above represents a moment when I finally understood the power of community. I attended camp for nine years and had the amazing experience of getting to know other adoptees on the East Coast who shared a similar aspect of their identity. This year, I had the privilege of being a counselor — not only at the East Coast camp, but also the Oregon, Nebraska and Wisconsin camps. Never had I imagined that the adoptee community could reach and impact so many lives. Each camp had different dynamics, but in the end, was built on the same foundation. Camp is a place where our own vulnerabilities are open, and I have found over the years that it’s these vulnerabilities that connect us so deeply to one another. This summer, I found community within crisscrossed arms, tear-stained faces and heavy-hearted goodbyes.
The photo above was taken after the closing ceremony at the East Coast camp. As I watched all of my campers say their final goodbyes, I was surprised to see them huddle together — acknowledging the communal power they felt and would continue to feel outside of camp. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my summer any other way. This one moment truly captured Holt camp and what being a counselor meant to me.
My campers also reminded me why I kept coming back all those years. I was adopted from Korea at 1 year old and have grown up with two brothers who are also adopted from Korea. I was lucky enough to have my brothers as a smaller support group growing up. When I turned 9, I was able to join my older brother Luke at Holt Camp. Sleep-away camp was very intimidating at first, but when I arrived, I was comforted to see so many faces that looked similar to mine. I was able to finally understand that there were other people who shared similar stories and backgrounds. I tried to explain the importance of this camp to my friends at home, but they never understood how I could get so close to people I only saw for one week out of the year. As a camper, one week is all I needed to feel connected and understood. This community was an open environment where I was given the opportunity to further explore my identity and how adoption played into it. This community is a place where I felt I belonged regardless of my past. In the end, it is our past that connects us and I couldn’t be more grateful.
At the end of each camp, counselors take time to gather everyone around decorated paper lanterns and reflect on the week together. Campers who have reached the age limit look back on their experience and share why they came back each year. I loved hearing the answers at each camp and learning the impact and role it played in their lives. This time of reflection showcased the importance of having a community where vulnerability was a strength and not a weakness. Growing up as an adoptee is not always easy. We are faced with questions that most of the time we don’t know the answers to. As a counselor, I learned that every adoptee has a different story, a different view of adoption, and a different beginning. Adoption has brought each camper the gift of connection. I believe that our beginnings and stories can shape us but do not define us. Adoption is a single piece to the puzzle that I’m still building.
As I reflect on this opportunity, I am thankful for all of the campers and staff that have helped me understand the role that adoption plays in my life and how I can use this knowledge and experience to help others. As a counselor, I was able to share my own experiences to help other adoptees understand that they are not alone. Every day I am grateful for the campers I had, the experiences they shared, and the community that continues to serve such an important part in my life. Holt offers a safe environment that fosters healing, support, self-discovery and strength. As the final East Coast camp came to a close, I realized that this community was not found in one camp, or even four camps combined. The adoptee community extends far beyond the cabin walls, glitter bombs and flickering paper lanterns. I remember these moments and how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard. Until next time.
Leah Ferriby | Holt Camp Counselor