A Red Letter Day

April 25th was a red letter day for me, because I got to meet Brennen. Let me provide a little background before introducing you to him.

As many of you know, we conduct The Leadership Challenge® Workshop at a unique outdoor education facility just outside of Cincinnati. It is called Camp Joy, and camp is a very appropriate description. Like many camps, our participants stay in cabins of “rustic elegance,” sleep in bunk beds (six or so to a room), and figure out how to deal with those who snore, as well as how to share a couple of showers.  However, the food is fabulous and the evening campfire underneath a star-filled sky is a terrific way to relax and build relationships. After three days, people leave with wonderful memories of their experience at Joy – although admittedly looking forward to sleeping again in their own beds.

75th LogoWe use Camp Joy for two very important reasons. First, because it is an education center, we have integrated a variety of different kinds of outdoor learning activities into our leadership program. We use them to demonstrate and reinforce the lessons being taught in the classroom. People learn – and remember – more when they are actively engaged, vs. simply setting around a table all day, listening to a facilitator, and trying to remain focused on the subject at hand.  We have thousands who will vouch for the value of “learning by doing” in the great outdoors.

The other reason we have made Camp Joy an essential part of our program process is this. For over 75 years, they have existed to provide life-changing camping experiences for kids of all kinds, This remains their primary mission.  Every time we bring a corporate group to Joy for The Leadership Challenge, part of the proceeds from this “adult program” are used to underwrite camping scholarships for kids in need. Just by being at Joy, our corporate clients are giving back to the community, and they feel really good about that. So do we!

Remember Brennen. He is one of the kids who has benefited from the Camp Joy experience. Brennen is a typical 14 year old, who immediately brings a huge smile to your face with his overly animated descriptions about his love for Camp Joy, and especially its creative arts program, which is his favorite. Brennen can quickly stir up those great feelings (or wishes) of being a kid again, and having the time of your life at a camp in the woods with no real worries – except, perhaps, of how to keep camp from passing by too quickly.

But Brennen is not so typical. When only five months old, he developed a brain tumor, which left him blind. Through the years he has received every kind of possible treatment, but the tumor persists. This warm, high-spirited, life-loving child has already defied the odds on numerous occasions. Today, Brennen continues to explore any option available to help him, and his road ahead will continue to be difficult. Yet after meeting him, I for one will never underestimate the capabilities of this determined, astonishing boy to triumph.  Good news is that his latest MRI showed the tumor has stabilized.

Brennan1In case you did a double take, yes Brennen is blind and he still goes to camp – and builds wooden trucks in creative arts, and plays with other kids, and has the time of his life. Thanks in some part to the growth of its corporate business, Camp Joy now hosts a number of specialty camps for kids with cancer, heart disease, sickle cell, diabetes, and a variety of other debilitating diseases. They even have a camp for kids who are amputees. And like Brennen, they are allowed to be kids for a week, and to do everything that kids are supposed to do at camp, regardless of any “limitations” the kids may bring with them. For these kids, the name Joy is most appropriate.

Helping to provide camping experiences for at-risk children, even in a relatively passive and generic way, does provide a warm feeling. However, when you meet one of them in the flesh, and see in full panoramic 3D, a real person who has benefited so greatly, it changes everything. It makes you realize that relatively small things can and do make a huge difference in unimaginable ways.  Seeing the fruits of those efforts, in the grateful heart and genuine happiness of a kid like Brennen, strengthens your resolve to continue the effort.

When I was first introduced to Brennen, the camp directors told him how I brought “big kids” to camp, which helps provide more camps for kids like him. Looking in the direction of my voice, he said to me, “Can I hug you?”  Now you know why it was a red-letter day for me.

Fortunately, a few of the group with whom I was working also got to meet Brennen. In their short time with him, they too were deeply touched. In spite of their magical and memorable Leadership Challenge experience, they will likely leave remembering Brennen most of all. They now know – and truly feel – how great of an impact their decision to come to Camp Joy genuinely has on the lives of real kids, who can use a helping hand.

We have all heard various expressions which remind us that one measure of a quality life is the people we meet. The quality of my life was just bumped up a notch. Thank you, Brennen, for your gift to me and those in my group this week. You, my friend, have indeed made a difference for all of us.


  1. Steve-

    Great post that reminds us what is truly important and what really matters. Thank you for the smiles and reminder!

    Carrpe Diem!


  2. Laura Tiberi says:

    What a wonderful story Steve! After our first camp leadership experience, I was moved to donate to Camp Joy as an individual. It is heartwarming to know that the corporate training supports young campers. And I LOVED the thank you card sent to me by a camper who benefitted from my personal donation.
    Thanks for Encouraging the Heart with such a beautiful story.
    And yay for Brennan!

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