PUTNAM VALLEY, N.Y. -- Destiny Paradiso discovered important pieces to her personality as a young girl at Camp Felix in Putnam Valley. Now 17 and a volunteer at the camp for foster care children from New York City, she’s hoping to help other young girls do the same.
Paradiso has spent part of 10 summers at the Camp Felix, which is hosted by The New York Foundling and The Felix Organization. Nearly 200 campers ages 8-13 visit the facility each year to enjoy swimming, recreation, music, dance, nature exploration and the usual assortment of summer camp activities. Camp Felix is known for helping children in the foster care and child welfare system,
Paradiso attended Camp Felix as a camper for eight years, and has spent the past two years as a volunteer. She is working her way to becoming a paid worker.
Most importantly, however, Paradiso got in touch with herself at the camp. She found out she likes children. She likes reading, taking leadership roles, theater and finding out how to cope with the mood swings of the adolescent years.
Destiny said that if she had been asked two years ago how her career path might unfold, she saw herself as a singer. Now she sees herself as pursuing a career in education. And when she talks with the children at Camp Felix, she sees herself in many of them.
“As a camper, I was probably one of the craziest girls here,’’ Destiny said. “I’ve been able to reflect on that and see how much I have matured over the past few years.”
Paradiso’s maturity is reflected in her new interests. She said she has found passion working with kids, writing and exploring the creative mind, and theater. “My plan is to become an English teacher, theater teacher and then eventually a philosophy teacher,’’ she said. “That way I’ll be able to work with kids in a lot of different age groups. I found that passion coming to camp. I want to know about every single kid that comes here.”
Paradiso started coming to the camp when she lived in the Bronx. She was adopted by a Long Island family a few years ago. Maturity, a stable home environment, caring teachers and her own self-exploration have helped her find a path that she hopes will lead her to college next year. Camp Felix also played a huge part in helping her find out who she was.
“When I was in foster care, I was troubled, I didn’t trust people,’’ she said. “I didn’t like opening up, I was angry. I didn’t even want to be adopted. When I got to camp, I learned to open up. I wanted to be around here. Now I want to give the kids the same experience that I had, make them feel like anything is possible and that there is someone that actually cares.”
Paradiso sees the struggle some of the campers go through. They like to talk when they are in their cabins with their friends -- and immediately shut down when they have to engage with people with whom they are unfamiliar. Paradiso said the trick is breaking down walls when campers step outside their comfort zone.
“The thing I think about is what was the main thing I wanted out of my counselors,’’ she said. “Sometimes you have to step back and give them their personal space. Sometimes you have to let them talk it out. If you let them talk and ramble on, eventually you’ll hear what’s bothering them. They just want to be heard.”
The camp day is full for all of the kids, between meals, talent shows, singalongs, dancing, cabin activities and scavenger hunts. Destiny enjoys them all, but she especially enjoys seeing herself in the girls with whom she works. And showing them that despite their current hardships, there is hope for a brighter future. “They just have to find it, and I want to help them,’’ Destiny said. “This is my home away from home. It’s where I belong.”
For more information about The New York Foundling, click here.
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