Brenda Miller Hurley

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Although it was not then termed “Disadvantaged or Deprived”, my situation was exactly that and had been all ten years of my life. I was culturally, educationally, economically, and socially disadvantaged and most of all, deprived of the bare necessities and interactions of everyday living.

During the summer of 1958 and by the grace of the Newark, New Jersey, Children’s Aid Society, my sister and I had the opportunity of going to Camp Vacamas for two years, located in Butler, New Jersey. NOTHING will ever replace or surpass my more than fond memories of two weeks at camp Vacamas, which I refer to as “My Utopia”, a place of ideal perfection.

For the first time in my life I left the city of Newark, where I was born. I actually boarded a bus and went somewhere! It was the first time I had ever gone anywhere.

For the first time in my life I actually saw big trees with lots of green leaves (that seemed to make you smile when you looked up at them.) The campgrounds were covered with a deep green colored grass that you could run and play upon (with out worrying about falling down on broken glass and discarded garbage). The big open spaces at Camp Vacamas had a calming effect on me and the winds seemed to whisper, “Welcome to Vacamas.” For the first time in my life I felt good.

"For the first time in my life I felt good."

I not only met children of different races and from different walks of life, but children who actually had two parents that dwelled within the same household. For the first time in my life, I met children who did not care or laugh about my worn and very wrinkled clothing. These children did not know that my mother had been labeled unfit for motherhood and that my father was the neighborhood bully who mentally and physically abused his own children. For the first time in my life, I was accepted as I really was… a ten-year-old child.

For the first time in my life, I met adult counselors, sixteen years and older who actually smiled at me. These counselors were not afraid to come near or touch my skin that was covered in eczema. I was never separated from the other campers because of being nobody and coming through the Newark Children’s Aid Society. I was included at Camp Vacamas.

"I was included at Camp Vacamas."

Food! I had never had enough food for the first time in my life. I was given enough to eat. I actually ate three meals a day. There was fresh milk, eggs, hamburgers, hot dogs, bread, cereal, fruits, juices, cookies, etc. My sister and I could never understand why the other campers did not like ALL OF THE FOOD. When we were given milk and cookies at bedtime, we (my sister and I) could not believe it. We actually gained weight at camp.

For the first time in my life, I had my own bed to sleep in. Sure, some other people had slept there before or would sleep there after me, but for my two-week stay at Camp Vacamas, THAT BED BELONGED TO ME. I slept on clean sheets that did not smell of urine or some other unpleasant (body) odor. These sheets were so clean that my sister and I had trouble sleeping for the first two nights. We were just not accustomed to clean linen.

I had my own bar of soap that smelled so much better than the “lye” soap bar that we used at home. My father had supplied me with a bar of soap and a toothbrush for camp ONLY BECAUSE HE HAD TO. And I had a washcloth and a towel. At home we used our soiled panties to wash our face and body with. We did not have towels to dry off with, so… we did not dry off. I do believe that I was one of the cleanest campers at Camp Vacamas.

"I had a reason to smile. I felt real healthy."

For the first time in my life, I could participate in activities (i.e., arts and crafts, boating, fishing, swimming, racing, camp fires, talent shows, hiking, theatre plays, masquerade balls, etc.)

For two whole weeks, I was not physically and/or mentally abused.

For the first time in my life, I had a reason to smile. I felt real healthy.

I lived without the reminder that I was nobody. I felt good about myself.

People enjoyed having me around.

I felt like I actually belonged.

I actually felt wanted and liked.

For the first time in my life, I felt the best that I had ever felt.

Leaving Camp Vacamas was very sad because I knew that I had to return to THAT life again…but going back was different. I had lived a different life at Vacamas and I learned that I was SOMEBODY and that life was not all bad.

Because of my experiences and exposure at Vacamas:

- I attended high school and graduated with honors and an academic scholarship.

- I enlisted into the United States Army and was honorably discharged after my tour of duty and received my college degree at Rutgers.

- I returned to civilian life and applied myself further to a higher and more formal education. I am presently working on a Doctorate degree at New York University in English.

Vacamas taught me that I belong… and I do.

Vacamas showed me that there was another way of life…and I live it.

Vacamas helped me to become the best person that I am capable of becoming………and I’m yet striving.

Showers of blessings upon all those who made it possible and brought Vacamas into my life. I will never forget you.

Thank you so much for saving my life.