Antoine arrived at Camp Agape in 2008, a reticent, wary nine year old with three years of loneliness and anger just under the surface. He hadn’t seen his mother since she began serving her prison sentence in Vermont when he was just six years old. Antoine lived in New York City with his “godmother” Tina, whose minimum wage job was the sole support for a household of seven. She had done a good job caring for Antoine, but she had just about reached the limit of her ability to tolerate his explosive behavior. Meanwhile, in Vermont, Kids-A-Part facilitated weekly telephone calls between Antoine and his mother. With the kind of amazing collaboration that is possible in Vermont, Kids-A-Part started looking for someone able to enroll as a Fresh Air family for Antoine. He could come to Vermont on the Fresh Air bus, visit his mother, and attend Camp Agape. I volunteered. The Vermont Department of Corrections transferred Antoine’s mother to the closest facility just for his visit.Antoine was the last child off the bus. I was in awe at the courage it must have taken for him to leave New York City and get into a car with a white stranger in rural Vermont. Every morning for a week, I walked him down the street to the women’s prison to get re-acquainted with his mom. Every day, it was terribly hard for him to go for the visit, and every day, it was terribly hard at the end to say good-bye. It was especially hard to stop the visits and go to this strange thing called Camp Agape.
Amazingly, he quickly bonded with two cabin-mates. They had nicknames and called themselves The Three Musketeers. They brought out the best in each other, and sometimes, the worst. Their volatile behavior was a constant challenge to maintaining safety and agape simultaneously. That first summer, I asked Antoine what he wanted to do with his life. His answer: “Nothin”. “How will you support yourself?” “I’ll step off the curb and get hit by a car. Then I’ll sue.”
Since 2008, Antoine has been reunited with his mother. He has had periods of further abandonment, homelessness, and multiple school changes. At times, he has been enveloped in fog from attempts to use medication to treat a childhood of chaos and loss. In spite of all this, he is a good student, and now wants to be a lawyer someday. He habitually bows his head before meals. He says thank you often. When anyone is hurting, he is empathetic. He has returned to Camp Agape and his “Fresh Air home” many times. One year, when leaving camp, he said: “Camp Agape is the only place in my life that my anger doesn’t blast everyone.”
from the Spring 2012 Newsletter