Two weeks ago, it was the first Camp Everytown of the 2016-2017 school year. Many tears were cried; many hugs were given selflessly; and many unforgettable stories were shared.
On the second day of Camp after our disability exercise, Eli from Leigh High School, who had attended Camp before and came back this year to be a Counselor-in-Training, stood up and courageously shared his story. It wasn't to seek sympathy or attention - it was told in a warm and dignified way that made you want to cheer for his progress, youth, bravery, success, and everything that was conveyed through Eli's voice of determination.
(Pictured here: Eli speaking)
Eli was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety when he was 13 years old. It was the general anxiety about the safety of his mother and sister. Because of his mother's attempt at suicide, Eli got sent to a foster home. Without any fatherly figure in his life, he was "forced" to learn to be a man from a very young age.
School was difficult because of Eli's mental condition. He couldn't keep track of the countless pills he was prescribed. Side effects were causing Eli to be more depressed, and at one point he was developing male breasts. He started doing drugs to deal with anxiety. Consequently, he missed a lot of school, and eventually had to be enrolled in a special program for substance abuse.
The good news is: Eli is doing very well today, both mentally and physically. We would have never been able to tell from his confident smile and positive energy that life has not been easy for this young man.
"Never to be afraid of failure," said Eli, "It's part of learning."
We all saw the most charming sparkle in his eyes when he told the audience that he was trying to get back on his feet now. He also gave us a firm and reassuring nod at the end of his story.
Thank you, Eil, for the way you made us all feel in that moment.
This is why we do Camp Everytown. This is how we create an environment for our kids to learn to be vulnerable, accepting, and empathetic.
This is why we need YOU to continue to support us.