The other night I was hanging out with a couple of my friends, lying on a couch with my feet hanging off the arm rest. Not the most comfortable of positions, but it was getting late and it would do the trick. While scrolling through my Instagram feed, one of my friends began to tug on two pieces of string that had been tied to my lower ankle for the past three months. My friend chuckled a little and asked me in a cynical tone, "Why do you have strands of yarn tied to your ankle?"
For me, the answer was simple, but at the time of questioning, I couldn't exactly put it into words.
See, these strands of yarn are from one of my favorite activities at Camp Firefly that had a large impact on both the campers and me. The activity goes a little something like this; you have a ball of yarn that needs to be unraveled but can only be undone through conversation.
You might be confused so let me try to explain further. The ball represents a conversation, comment, question, or topic. The ball can only be passed if someone else has something to add or share. So let’s say you’re talking about camp. The only way for the ball to be passed and unraveled is if someone else can make a connection and talk about that topic. The point of the game is to have a fluid conversation, which sometimes can be a struggle for anyone, let alone a camper with autism.
The orange and pink strings on my ankle represent a conversation I had with a camper using this activity that really illustrate his growth and improvement over the summer. He really struggled with interpersonal relationships and putting himself in someone else’s position. One day, this camper asked me a question; this was the first time that he had taken an interest in my life, or the initiative to ask a question. It was almost the end of camp and I could see his attitude toward talking and making relationships changing. Curiously, he asked his question and I handed him the yarn. We went back and forth, talking to each other and the turns started to grow into full-length sentences, including commentary, questions, and excitement about what we were saying.
When all of the string was unraveled, I asked him if he thought we should keep pieces of the string to remember our conversation and always have that as a reminder. He seemed to love the idea. From this activity, he gained confidence as well as understanding in having a conversation about someone else’s interests. Because I am so proud, I keep the string around my ankle and it remains tied there today.
So to answer my friend’s question, I keep it there not because I need it to remind me of my amazing experiences at Camp Firefly, but rather because it is a conversation-starter. It allows me to talk about my life-changing time at camp. The strings show off a camp that goes above and beyond all expectations and constantly influences these campers’ lives in such a positive way. To me, the yearn signifies my need to brag about a camp that compares to no other.
That being said, the staff at camp is so supportive of the campers and each other, but we also need support from you, the people who care about these kids and their summer adventures. Our fifth annual “Give for the Glow” fundraiser is at 9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 8 at Sluggers World Class Sports Bar, 3540 N. Clark St. Proceeds from the fundraiser go toward camper scholarships, as well as camp resources. It’s an amazing bar package with a fantastic raffle drawing. Please consider coming out and supporting the camp, because it would mean the world to me, my colleagues, and our campers. If interested in purchasing tickets, or simply making a donation, please visit our webpage here.
Ali Katz is a junior at Indiana University and a counselor at Camp Firefly, a camp for boys and girls ages 7-18 who have been diagnosed with social disorders. Camp Firefly is a program of Jewish Child & Family Services.