Peninsula woman revisited: Portrait of a Camp Victory volunteer

Peninsula woman revisited: Portrait of a Camp Victory volunteer

Pete Seeger was a folk-singing revolutionary, both man and musician determined to bring about change and make a difference in the world. He played his guitar, wrote his songs, sang to crowds of thousands, and touched hearts all across the land. He didn't know about Camp Victory when he was writing all those protest songs. Camp Victory didn't even exist in the sixties. Nonetheless, Pete Seeger wrote one of Camp Victory's theme songs when he penned "Step By Step."

Step by step the longest march/Can be won, can be won.

Many stones can form an arch/Singly none, singly none.

What in unity we will/Can be accomplished still.

Drops of water turn a mill/Singly none, singly none.

Seeger protested war and traveled the country singing for peace. Maybe that's why this one song means so much to the Camp Victory Mama Lions - as the women who volunteer in Camp Victory are called. Mama Lions are fierce when they are protecting their young. Camp Victory Mama Lions have adopted that ferocity in protesting the abuse of little girls and women, young and old. They wage an on-going war to help the survivors of abuse, and they sing every moment along the way, pulling songs from everywhere, both anonymous and well known. Like so many of the Camp Victory volunteers, some songs find their way to Camp Victory, become an integral part of camp life and memories, and for a long while remain anonymous, like David Mallet and his "Garden Song," now a Camp Victory standard.

Inch by inch, row by row

Gonna make my garden grow.

All it takes is a rake and a hoe

And a piece of fertile ground.

Inch by inch, row by row

Please bless the seeds I sow,

Please warm them from below

'Til the rain comes tumblin' down.

Pulling weeds and pickin' stones

We are made of dreams and bones

Feel the need to grow my own

'Cause the time is close at hand.

Grain by grain, sun and rain,

Find my way in nature's chain,

To my body and my brain

To the music from the land.

Plant your rows straight and long.

Season them with love and song.

Mama Lions do just that: "season them with love and song," and in so doing, Camp Victory becomes something of a miracle, with people coming together out of love for children and turning miracles into every day experiences, trusting whatever powers that be to guide something called Camp Victory in the work to be done. There's a song for that, too, called "Yes, Yes, Yes," by Karen Riem.

Let me hear you say, YES! YES! YES!

Let me hear you say, YEAH! YEAH!

Oh, I know I'm blessed

'Cause love is everywhere. I said love is everywhere.

Some days I feel a boundless joy!

I know we can save what we've destroyed.

I hear our voices all joined as one.

We have the strength. YES! It will be done.

Let me hear you say, YES! YES! YES!

Let me hear you say, YEAH! YEAH!

Oh, I know I'm blessed

'Cause love is everywhere. I said love is everywhere.


You may know this already. Nonetheless, it bears repeating. The Long Beach Peninsula in the state of Washington is a giving place. The longevity and success of Camp Victory is testimony to that fact. Camp Victory is an entirely volunteer program. That does not mean that a few kind souls come together a couple of times a year to be nice to a few children. It means that for thirteen years a group of women who call themselves Mama Lions have gone quietly about the Peninsula establishing a program for girls five to seventeen who are survivors of sexual abuse.

It means some husbands quietly volunteer for a lot of the grunt work, hauling the heavy stuff that needs hauling, working in the kitchen running the dishwasher for three meals a day, or cooking meals for the three-day training that every Mama Lion must go through every year. It means that no one receives a salary for working in Camp Victory. It means hours of weekly, monthly, and sometimes daily planning and organizing to keep Camp Victory going. It means that most of what the Mama Lions do is done quietly and anonymously and tirelessly and with great determination and dedication. It means that even the Mama Lions can't do it all alone.

That's where the Angels come in. And come they do. This Peninsula is remarkable in its population of Angels. Camp Victory Angels are everywhere. They manifest themselves individually and in groups, quietly anonymous and boldly representative. They anticipate needs even before being asked; and when asked, they exceed all expectations.

One of the women's guilds on the Peninsula asked for a specific task they could take on as their year round contribution to Camp Victory. A request such as that is like a manifestation of "angels we have heard on high." Camp Victory has many such tasks. One such task, which needs doing once a year, is a simple task which has been defined in one way for years, and has become burdensome for one person to handle. Every year Camp Victory needs stuff for stuffing stockings for the annual holiday party. One person canvasses the businesses on the Peninsula asking them to donate stuff for stuffing stockings. The businesses are always generous and donate freely. It isn't a hard task, but it needs doing.

Another example of a simple task which takes time and dedication is the making of the stockings themselves. For the last several years, the stockings have been made a year in advance by a Mama Lion who used to live on the Peninsula selling real estate and who now lives in Idaho, a Mama Lion whose health no longer allows her actually to be in camp or at the holiday party. Nonetheless, sewing the stockings is something she can still contribute to Camp Victory - and so she does - faithfully, dependably, and beautifully. Hand sewn stockings every year. Without fail. No one has to worry about it. Mama Lions know the stockings will be ready when the party time rolls around.

In the same way, local service clubs quietly give Camp Victory a check for $500, $200, whatever the treasury can afford in any given year. Or like one resident of the Peninsula, a man retired from his traditional job, and physically unable to do very much beyond simple tasks, uses his skill and remaining years in a meaningful pastime. He cuts scrounged lumber into blocks for elementary school teachers to use with their students or shapes of birds, animals, and insects for any youngsters - like those at Camp Victory, for example - to paint, decorate, and take home to display with pride. The contingency of Angels grows larger every year to encircle more and more of the Peninsula.

Miraculously- that defining word again - many Camp Victory Angels live off the Peninsula - as do many Mama Lions. It seems just hearing about Camp Victory is enough to engender participation. Led by one Mama Lion who is a nurse, a group of nurses at Washington State University in Vancouver rallied students, teachers, and friends to donate stuffed animals for the holiday party. That long tether from here to there resulted in almost a hundred stuffed animals. This year as one of Santa's elves handed out each stocking, which already contained a small stuffed animal, each girl also chose a big stuffed animal from under the tree. Several of the stuffed bears and dogs and lions and kittens were bigger than the littlest of the little girls. Think about the significance of that.

Angels also see to it that there is plenty of kid friendly food at camp and at the holiday party. A local restaurant opens its doors as the site of the party. Ten dozen sugar cookies in the shapes of trees, gingerbread boys, snowmen, and bells appear - at half the selling price - to be decorated by the girls and then taken home. Festive tablecloths and napkins decorate the tables, compliments of a local business. Whole meals appear during the training from one of the church guilds. One year Camp Victory joined the World's Longest Garage Sale, and a business man from somewhere in Oregon outside of Portland made two trips to the Peninsula with two truck loads of items Camp Victory could sell that Memorial Day weekend. That weekend Camp Victory took in over four thousand dollars from selling things people had donated for the cause.

Angels don't just provide food and things and money. Angels give of their time and talents. A local artist makes, for a considerable price reduction, the one-of-a-kind Camp Victory pins and pendants, beautiful glass hearts, which are sold to help pay for camp. Angels take time off from their own jobs or take the weekend away from their own families and their own recuperating to make three meals a day happen for 25 to 30 kids and anywhere from fifty to sixty adults. This is not always easy, especially if you're a minister and your main week's work is on Sunday. Not easy if your job is to cook somewhere all week and then you volunteer for more cooking on the weekend. Any wonder Camp Victory calls these volunteers Angels?

The origin of Camp Victory's use of the term Angels began at the camp. After four days of camp - singing, playing, lacing dozens of shoe skates, helping to make dozens of take home crafts, sitting around campfires, not sleeping until the girls do, eating kid friendly food - Mama Lions are happily tired. The first year Angels appeared, they came in the form of five or six women who were there to put the camp back together again. To take down, pack up, sort out, clean up, sweep out, round up, and close out camp for one more year. Camp Victory began to recognize angels everywhere.

At the end of camp, the girls go back to their homes somewhere in Pacific County. Mama Lions go back to wherever they have come from. Many from right here in Pacific County, but many from off the Peninsula, too. The Camp Victory mailing roster of volunteers reads like a national phone book, mostly for Washington and Oregon, but also many from more far flung places: White Salmon, Vancouver, Seattle, Seaside, Port Townsend, Snohomish, Boise, Hoquiam, Olympia, Gearing, Boring, Gearhart, Allyn, Portland, Sacramento, Aberdeen, Rosburg, Gilbert, (yes, Arizona), Lacey, Everett, Shoreline, Raymond, Renton, Beaverton, West Port, Montesano, Malo (up in the mountains, for goodness sakes!), Shelton, Truckee (yes, California), Federal Way, Renton, Bellevue, and Mesa, Ariz. One Mama Lion flies back and forth from Dallas, Texas, for the training one month and the camp another month, and she brings with her a Mama Lion recruit from Cypress, Texas, thank you, ma'am. And these are just some of the Mama Lions and Angels Camp Victory knows about.


Mama Lions refer to Camp Victory, not as "hard" work, but as "heart" work. It is work that speaks to the heart, comes from the heart, and heals the heart of both the child survivor and the adult volunteer. Camp Victory heart work is more than just creating a camp once a year, although that is the event the girls like and remember most. The whole program involves much more, which becomes clear when listening to your heart. Besides the once a year camp and the annual holiday party, Camp Victory makes available counseling - for any girl who has attended camp - and sometimes for care givers, when requested.

Professionals who work with sexual abuse survivors say that survivors do better when they receive counseling as soon as possible after the abuse. Sometimes that is a problem because many of the Camp Victory girls are 5, 6, 7, 8 years old. It has not been easy to find counselors whose expertise is working with survivors of sexual abuse who are that young. Even so, as the girls come to camp year after year and grow in their own awareness of their own history, they sometimes ask for counseling or they are encouraged by family members to go into counseling. Camp Victory recommends a number of counselors trained in counseling survivors, especially young survivors, and this annually updated list is made available to parents and guardians. Camp Victory then pays for a certain number of counseling sessions based on periodic updates and recommendations from the counselor.

Heart work. The work of volunteers who are or have been journalists, teachers, counselors, hospice coordinators, doctors, nurses, actors, writers, ministers, artists, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers. Heart work. The work of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, single, married, divorced, remarried. Red or yellow, black or white. The circle of people doing the heart work of Camp Victory grows. The tide goes out. The tide comes in. The wind blows from the south. The wind blows from the north. The wolf-wind huffs and it puffs and it tries to blow down the house built by all the people on this Peninsula and afar. It will not be blown down.

Camp Victory's abiding symbol is that of a butterfly, which decorates Camp Victory's letterhead, its envelopes, and its brochures. To paraphrase what another anonymous person once said: the life span of the butterfly is only twenty-four hours. That's not much, but it's enough. The work of Camp Victory is only a tiny Peninsula of people giving from the heart, hoping to heal a heart. It isn't much, but it's enough. Because the children of Camp Victory may never be able to tell you themselves, Camp Victory wants to say it for them. Thank you, all of you, for all you have done to support the work of Camp Victory. Thank you from the heart.

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