A Simple Act of Kindness

By Abby Hurst, Vice President of U.S. Programs

One of the most powerful service experiences I have witnessed takes place each summer in the unlikely town of Lexington, MI. The YWCA Camp Cavell invites buildOn students to volunteer as camp counselors to support the women and children from the YWCA Interim House for a much needed week of healing. The YWCA Interim House is a shelter in Detroit that offers services to battered women and their children.

The buildOn students are responsible for getting the families to meals on time and taking the children and mothers to the different activities around camp. They also play games with the kids during free time. Over the week buildOn students and the women and children from the Interim House participate in swimming, kayaking, tree climbing, horseback riding, hayrides, arts and crafts, camp games and dancing.

buildOn staff and students discuss at length how this week is a critical step in the healing process for these women and children. As relationships form and trust builds some of the women share their powerful and tragic stories. Our students quickly begin to realize the strength and resiliency that it took for these women to protect themselves and their children. By supporting, encouraging and nurturing the women and children of the Interim House, buildOn students make a difference in their lives and learn from the women and children. Over the week, buildOn students learn about domestic violence and how to avoid it, but they also learn about giving and the simple joys and aching sadness of life.

Lisa Kraiza is a buildOn volunteer and teaching advisor at Oak Park High School. Here is what she wrote about her time at Camp Cavel:

My real breakthrough moment came at horseback riding. It also happened to be my wedding anniversary that day. While I was waiting for all the kids to take a turn, including my own daughter, Essence comes up to me and says, “While you are celebrating your anniversary, I am celebrating a divorce.” She then began to share parts of her life with me. Essence had this glow of positive energy around her. She knew that she had a dark past, but she was resigned that from now on she would look to the future and do what she could for herself and her son. I was so proud of Essence and so happy that she opened up to me. I told her as much.

The rest of the week I would check in with Essence and she would reveal a little more about her life to me. We cried and we hugged. I found her a stone on the beach that was worn down like a worry stone. I gave it to her at dinner and told her to keep it in her pocket to remind her of camp on those rough days. She responded with a letter to me that moves me every time I look at it. I will keep her letter forever. Her last line sums up what buildOn is all about, “Thanks for your simple, but much needed act of kindness.”