Summer 2023 has been a busy, exciting time for Run Home Camps original location in Pennsylvania. For the first time ever, three separate week-long camps were held so that even more boys could experience all that RHC has to offer. With so many new campers and volunteers between the June, July, and August camps, it has been a summer that many will never forget.
In some ways, all weeks of Run Home Camp are the same. Every Monday starts with the boys showing up to the drop-off location, some excited and others nervous. As soon as we arrive at the field, though, the cheering volunteers with banners for each camper show the boys that this is going to be a week unlike anything they’ve experienced before. Tuesday brings team day, the official announcement of who’s on red and who’s on blue. The newly-uniformed kids get their official photos taken that day and add their handprint and name to the home run fence hall of fame. Later in the week, trips to a minor league baseball game and a birthday party for everyone are always highlights for rookies and returning campers alike. It all culminates in the big game on Friday morning where the red and blue teams get to showcase the baseball skills they’ve been practicing all week.
For those of us who have volunteered at camp before, and especially the ones who did all three weeks this summer, this routine is easy to fall back into. I know I look forward to RHC more than anything else in the summer, and I wouldn’t doubt that it’s the same for many campers and other staff. One thing that makes it exciting, though, is that you never really know how each week is going to play out. Even having three camps in the same location in the same summer, each one had its own special moments due to the different combinations of volunteers and kids attending that week.
June camp wasn’t all that long after school let out for the summer, and our week one boys came ready to learn. There were a handful of returning campers as well as many new to RHC, and most of them were all about baseball, all the time. We did more drills and practice than I’ve even seen a group get through on a Monday. By Tuesday, these all-stars were ready to start playing scrimmage games. Even with Thursday’s temperature barely reaching the mid 50s, the coldest day in Run Home Camps history, the boys were out there running and throwing and hitting and catching in their sweatpants and hoodies. Friday’s game was amazing to watch. Despite some of the kids never playing baseball before this week and others only practicing the one week of summer they’re at camp, both teams looked Little League ready. They raced through the official six innings and wanted to play more despite each team scoring at least 15 runs.
One of my favorite stories of the summer comes from this first week. While at the minor league game, the boys get to run out on the field with the players, stand with them for the anthem, and get a baseball signed. June’s gameday was a doubleheader, perfect for these baseball-obsessed campers. It also gave them a chance to see the players in action before meeting them, since the kids were introduced with the starting lineup for the second game. A returning camper became fixated on the shortstop and was delighted to find out he was the very player he was meeting on the field. When we all got back to our seats, the boy told his coach, “#10 said he’d hit a home run for me.” The shortstop was the first batter for his team, and he cranked one over the left-field wall. It was the only run the team scored in that second game. Talk about an unforgettable moment for that camper.
July camp was the official “returners camp,” as it fell during the week RHC has traditionally happened in PA. The group was mostly veteran campers with a handful of new kids as well. While not every boy was as baseball-focused as in the first week of the summer, this group of campers loved to play and have fun. From morning until night they would hang out together on the swingset and challenge coaches to card and board games. The sense of camaraderie was awesome. Despite having a few boys that weren’t all that interested in playing ball during the week, everyone showed up ready for the final game. All of the campers had at least one base hit, showing a huge improvement not only in skill level but also in focus and diligence. More than just the kids were impacted; a group that attended as volunteers wants to start another Run Home Camps site in their town sometime in the near future.
August camp came around just two weeks later, our last RHC of the summer and smallest group of campers. All of the boys who attended this camp were new, which was so refreshing for both first-time and veteran volunteers to experience. With no returning campers, everything is a surprise, making always exciting events that much more special. This group of kids was one of the sweetest, most generous, and most grateful crews of campers we’ve ever had at RHC. It was so fun watching their reactions to all that camp has to offer. Many boys at this camp also connected with each other, forming friendships they may struggle to make at school or other places due to their circumstances. My personal favorite moment might have been one boy organizing all of his fellow campers to sign a baseball to give to the camp manager on the last day. Overall, it was a great way to close out the season in PA.
During training and other preparatory times with volunteers, those of us who have worked at Run Home Camps before often remark how difficult it is to explain what it’s like. As much as we have stories that are funny or crazy or heartbreaking, camp is the ultimate “you had to be there” (I stand by this even as I try to provide this brief summary for all of you who weren’t there). It’s one thing to hear “it doesn’t rain at Run Home Camps,” and it’s another to watch a storm split and go around the stadium as we watch the minor league game. It has been so amazing seeing so many new volunteers experience the magic that is camp this summer. Not only are the kids lives impacted forever, but many who come to help with Run Home Camps find themselves as touched as the campers. I can’t wait to see what new boys we’ll get to meet next summer and who will be there to encourage, teach, and learn from them. Until then, we’ll have to attempt to live vicariously through the unforgettable stories that every person who interacts with RHC brings out of each camp week, not only here in PA, but in Arizona, Oklahoma, and beyond.