Home is where The Club is

By Katie McDonald
Sacramento State University, 2020 – BS Deaf Studies and Minor in Child Development

It’s June 2000, and the Saint’s Peter and Paul church bells just rang. It is noon, early dismissal. Children flood the playground and rush into the Salesian Boys’ and Girls’ Club. The last day of school is exciting for many reasons, but the only one that was on my mind was, officially becoming a member of The Club!

My older brother, Michael McDonald, was already a member, and I longed for the day that I was either eight or going into third grade so I could finally join too. Once the membership card was signed, The Club was the place to be. Most kids can’t wait to go home after school, but growing up, I couldn’t wait to go to The Club. I remember the summer field trips always being posted right outside the office and for a city kid who did not travel, the field trips were everything. I remember riding front row on Medusa at Six Flags for the first time, and jumping off the high dive at Heather Farms. Most importantly, Randy always tells us to meet at the van by 3:00 or we would be left. It was those times that taught me to be accountable. Those moments that have helped me to be open to new experiences as an adult like traveling to Chicago and New York City. The summer of 2000 was coming to a close and one of the last field trips the club held was sleep away camp. For the first time ever, I was leaving my parents for a week, and I was extremely nervous. I smiled and waved to my mom goodbye as the girls
bus took off. Shortly after, the nerves disappeared and my focus shifted to mastering the camp song and clap. I remember being told multiple times to sit back down because I kept wanting to talk to my friends behind me.

Fast forward to 2022 and I am now the one telling the kids on the bus to sit back down.

For the last few years, I have returned to sleep away camp. It is funny how spending a week away from your childless home and comfy bed to sleep on a creaky cot with a sleeping bag surrounded by a bunch of kids still gives the feeling of being home. Comfort and bliss fill my body as I exit the bus and see the grass field. I instantly feel my inner child start to shine through. I am a grown woman and I still can not wait to be outside and play endless amounts of activities with the campers and create more camp memories. The kids all rush from the bus into their cabins to claim their bed for the next few days.

This year, at Camp Saint Francis we were able to escape from the fog and have a stunning week of sunny weather. Of course, there were gloomy mornings, but after the counselors served the delicious breakfast, the sun would start to peak out and shine just in time for softball. The camp has a private access to the beach with a slight trail down, which can feel like a lot when you have kids and things to carry, but once your toes hit the sand it is always worth it.

It is dinner time and after our bellies were full and the sun began to set on Camp Saint Francis you notice some of the children gathered practicing their skits. They are all getting ready for campfire hoping to land a triple classe (the secret camp clap and stamp of ultimate skit approval). Prior to camp I recommend paying attention to the news and reading up on random facts about Disney and sports, and entertainment. Wonder why? Randy DeMartini leads a competitive round of trivia every night to close out the day, you really never know what he will ask.

Being outside surrounded by kids again, playing endless hours of sports, and sharing friendship bracelets is why camp will always be one of my favorite places. It is where my inner child free radiates in the foggy sunshine, while being around ones that have watched me grow up. My time at The Club has slowly dwindled after going to college and now starting my full time job. But, that has never stopped how much I care for The Club and what it’s done for me. The club has given me confidence to be my true self and reminds me to not take life so seriously. It is a place that you can go to if you just want to be a kid again. Being around ones who love you unconditionally and will always have your back, that type of support is hard to find. The amount of joy that The Club brings to the community is truly unbeatable and unique. It truly is a home away from home for myself and for many.

Whether you are an athlete, artist or interested in theater, one thing that The Club is able to consistently provide for everyone is friendship and memories. Working at The Club as an adult now is just as fun as being a member, because I am now helping and witnessing these children create core memories just as I did.

This year at camp, I witnessed a 4th grade boy get his first serve over the volleyball net and win the game for his team. The team shouted with glee and ran over to him! Moments like those are why The Club is so impactful and the reason I come back. When I see the kids learning, growing and thriving, I am truly proud and thrilled for them, because I remember what it felt like, all those firsts and early successes. Honestly, deep down, I am still that excited little third grader who just got her membership card, just waiting to go back to The Club.