Empowering the Next Generation: The Joys of Volunteering with Camp Fire First Texas, a Camp Fire First Texas blog by Jacob Wright

The Connolly family has a whopping 29 combined years of volunteering for Camp Fire El Tesoro de la Vida grief camp as a family. Erica began volunteering for Camp Fire in 2009, with her dad Steve signing up in 2012, and her brother Nicholas joining them in 2016. The Connolly’s join campers in their activities, participate in group therapy, eat meals, live with them in cabins, and try to create a fun and memorable camp experience for them.

Erica Connolly

Erica Connolly, Camp el Tesoro de la Vida grief camp volunteer

How did you first get involved with El Tesoro de la Vida grief camp?
I was recruited first by camp director Denis Cranford. I was hesitant and almost didn’t go – I was only 18 years old, had never been a camp kid or experienced the death of loved one. But I showed up, stuck it out for the full week and at the end of camp declared that I would never have a job that wouldn’t let me come to camp. And I haven’t missed a year since.

What was your favorite camper conversation that reinforced the importance of this program to you?
One year maybe 12 years ago, I had a girl who had tragically lost both her mother and her father. Her grief was overwhelming and she kept saying that no one understood what that felt like, even the other girls in our cabin. One day at the pool, I overheard her strike up a conversation with a little boy her age. They figured out they shared the same birthday, and she lit up. Then she learned that he also lost his mother and his father. There was a visible exhale that happened with both of their bodies. They had an instant connection as they both finally found someone who can understand and relate to their unique grief journeys.

Why do you continue to volunteer?
Camp teaches me about resilience, gives me comfort in my own grief journeys, and centers my perspective and outlooks for another year. It makes me even more thankful for the important figures in my life and fills me with gratitude. I love the chance to disconnect from the real world and be a kid with my kids for a week. I love the opportunity to pour into kids who have been through more than any child should have to experience. Camp is a magical place and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.

“It’s so hard to describe the magic of camp to people who haven’t experienced it, so I love that some of my family understands all the intricacies of a week at ETDLV. I love anticipating camp and prepping together before we leave, and debriefing all of it when we get home. I’ll always treasure the memories we’ve made together as a family at camp—it’s truly so special. ” – Erica Connelly

Steve Connolly

Steve Connolly, Camp El Tesoro de la Vida grief camp volunteer

What does being able to volunteer together as a family mean to you?
I love volunteering with my own children as I love seeing them interact with the children in their respective cabins. It makes me very proud to see the empathy and care they put in to being a cabin buddy. I appreciate seeing them work hard yet have fun to make sure the children have the best experience possible. What more could a parent want out of their children! Plus, as a bonus, Nick is now married to a fellow volunteer who started the same year as me, Katy. So it is awesome to see her there too and to watch her interact with others at camp. What better person for my son to want to marry!

What would you tell someone considering volunteering?
I would tell anyone that if they want to volunteer it will be very hard work but equally rewarding. If you enjoy the outdoors and you enjoy being a kid yourself, you can have a lot of fun at camp, even as an adult. But because this camp deals with grief, you also need to be able to handle the tough emotions that are sometimes brought to the surface. You will definitely see the impact you make in the lives of the children in your cabin if you choose to be a volunteer, and that’s pretty cool!

Why do you continue to volunteer?
I continue to volunteer because I know first hand (through my experiences at camp) the good it does for the children who go there. I believe in the mission and I know that the camp cannot operate and help the children without volunteers.

“The best conversations for me are usually when we are hiking and we just talk about life. Oftentimes this is when the children open up about how they really feel about the loss of their loved one and how they try to cope with it. It’s good for me to see that they feel comfortable in sharing their very personal stories about their loss while we are out in nature.” – Steve Connolly

Nicholas Connolly

Nicholas Connolly, Camp El Tesoro de la Vida grief camp volunteer

What do you do as an El Tesoro de la Vida volunteer?
I am a cabin buddy in the dinosaur cabin. This is the youngest boys cabin with 7 year olds. As a cabin buddy, we spend the week looking after our group of boys from sun up to sun down. We eat meals together, go to activities together, and do group therapy together.

Favorite moment from camp?
One of the best moments that summarizes camp perfectly is a few years back, during the closing ceremonies at the end of the week one of my boys was sharing about the loss of his dad. It became too difficult for him and he ran off. I went with him and helped him work through the moment. Within thirty minutes, he was back with his friends and having a dance party. Back to being a kid again.

Why do you continue to volunteer?
I volunteer because camp is one of the most treasured places on earth to me. I love getting to be a positive influence on kids that have been dealt an unimaginable loss. Attending camp reminds me of how fortunate I am to live the life that I do, and I am just so glad that for one week out of the year we are able to let these kids experience the magic of camp.

“Volunteering with my sister and dad at camp is a special experience. Until someone experiences camp, there are just no words that can adequately explain the magic of it all. Each year I am so proud to watch my dad and sister’s impact on all the kids throughout the week.” – Nicholas Connolly

Our Annual Camp Fire El Tesoro De La Vida Benefit Dinner is April 23, 2024

The annual Camp Fire El Tesoro de la Vida Benefit Dinner directly supports our week-long grief camp for children and teens, which provides an accepting, normalizing camp experience where children and teens who share the experience of the death of a loved one can cry, play, laugh, and heal together.

Last summer, more than half of our resilient campers needed financial aid to continue their healing journey. Thanks to our generous supporters, no child was turned away due to financial constraints. Consider showing your support by attending the benefit dinner or making a donation to our scholarship fund.

individual tickets are available for free now.

Make a contribution towards El Tesoro De La Vida’s Scholarship fund.

If you are interested in volunteering with Camp Fire contact us at 817.831.1111, ext. 160
or complete the form here.