Our stay at Camp Aranzazu was amazing. For our family, it was the first time to have an experience like this.

On June 29 we left home towards Camp Aranzazu; a two-and-a-half-hour drive towards Rockport, TX. It was just 50 miles before Corpus Christi. Since we told our Juanito and Gael we were going camping, they were very excited. Juanito sometimes was thrilled and other times a little bit worried. He was asking about staying on a tent, if so, “it’s too scary” he said. Regardless, he was looking forward for the trips. A few days before, Barbara and I went over the list for a 4th time and check that we had all the items we needed to take to have an wonderful experience. We checked and checked. Our luggage included everything! From 8 towels to a bunch of stuffed animals and blankies (children’s blankets).

At 8:30 we hit the road. We set up Lady Maps (Google maps) and followed her voice during the whole trip. After two hours and 41 minutes, breakfast stop and potty stop, we arrived to our destination. The gentle female voice of Lady Maps concluded our trip with: “your destination is on your left.” When we saw it, we saw a huge sign with Camp Aranzazu Logo. We didn’t know what to do, so we followed the path. After some yards, we saw civilization and met with our first two facilitators. They were two youngsters who greeted us and asked us to continue driving to the parking spot. There two other youngsters greeted us and helped us with our whole stuff and took us into our cool cabins. The cabins were huge, around 15 beds and all of them for our family of 4. We were so excited, our expectations were through the skies and how all the staff were with us, we were just thrilled. Barbara and I said that if this was just the beginning, we couldn’t wait how amazing the weekend was going to be.



Camp Aranzazu Entrance


We arrive at 11:40 am. The next activity in the schedule was to have lunch at 12:00 in the dining room. The facilitators left us in our cabin, and we tried to settle down as fast as possible. We refreshed ourselves, took things out from the luggage, while Gael and Juanito (we call him like that, little Juant) were jumping and going up and down the bunk bed. Juanito’s face was sublime. He finally was experiencing a bunk bed.  Since he saw a double decker bed in a cartoon, he has been asking us for one. So, now, he finally got to see and live one. Suffice to say, that that night and the following nights, he slept on the second floor of the bed (as he called it) without any incidents. He did not ask for mom or dad, nor wanted to sleep with us. He was just contempt with the experience.

So, the clock showed 12:00 o’clock. We headed our way to the dining room and a bunch of happy people were there. They welcomed us and asked to join them in huge tables. At least 15 people could be seated. Other families were there as well, and the Aranzazu staff was sitting with all of us too. This was amazing, Sharing a meal with the staff made us feel really welcomed.


As soon as we join the table, the staff started to interact with our sons. The smiles on the facilitators were astonishing. They start talking to us and our kids. Everyone’s positive attitude was overwhelming.  Everywhere I looked there was a smile, people enjoying themselves and showing concern and interest from one another. After a few minutes, we got our food while Juanito and Gael were observing their surroundings. Barbara and I were excited too and see how fluent the day was going. We got our drinks and lunch: it was ham and cheese sandwiches. Barbara and I looked to each other and both of us starting to wonder what we could do. Juanito was not used to that food. We tried him to try it, but he rejected, and before we could do anything about it, Amelia came to Barbara and offered her to grill the sandwich for Juanito. That was our first big huge awe impression: Aranzazu was already aware about our food needs and they were already working on the situation, even before we could think anything else. For me, this was like: MEGA WOW! I’ve been in other places where they treat people really nice, but the way Amelia handle herself during our whole staying was just superb, and not just only her. All the staff members were really, really amazing.

The staff were continuously concern in our wellbeing. Even when Juanito had a meltdown, a staff member would approach him and try to make him feel better or help him to recuperate easier. And this was not only to us, we saw this with all of the families who were there. The staff was just perfect.

This happened again during all the activities. The staff commitment was superb. They were really into made us have an unforgettable experience, and they managed it perfectly. The patience which they handle themselves, the attitude to serve, their care for the children, their content energy towards all of us, made us feel really comfortable. We never felt judged, or out of place, or discomforting anyone. Their concern for us was genuine and always positive. We never saw a frown or non-positive reaction. Whenever I asked for something, I got my answer with a big smile. We once locked ourselves out from our cabin and Amelia came to help us in a beat and with a grin from ear to ear.


So, as you can see, our experience during Camp Aranzazu was just perfect. My family and I loved every aspect of it. The facilities, the participants, the staff, everything was just great. We had a lot of fun, a lot of exercise and movement. We learned new skills and practice others. Both my sons loved this experience and all of the activities. Juanito adapted well to many new situations and did not have his regular reactions. In some activities he was reluctant to participate, but then, when he saw other people doing it, he pushed himself to try it and for us, this was a blessing. That is one of the many reasons I wanted my family to participate in this camp. I knew that if Juanito were to see other kids doing something different, he would try it, and fortunately I was right. Both of my sons enjoyed all of the activities.

One of these activities was the campfire This was the last activity of day one. We gathered around the fire place and gather with all the families and staff. Amelia told us about an Aranzazu tradition in the fire gathering: burn ashes from previous fires just like the one we were having at that moment. In this way, our experiences were linked to the previous campers and all the way down to the first campfire. Joined to this tradition, there was another similar one during our welcome ceremony. This ceremony was held in the sanctuary. A facility in a small hill with a marvelous stained glass.  There we were told the meaning of Aranzazu. It was beautiful, and for me, this were clear signs of the pure and authentic intentions of Camp Aranzazu founders. For Barbara and us seeing how Camp Aranzazu tries to join the mind and soul of everybody is just a blessing. And we the Marquez family felt blessed to be surrounded with such love and care for every single person in Aranzazu Camp.


And well, this activity not ended in just the ceremony. We sang some fun songs and heard jokes. We were having a blast, but then, more fun came: S’MORES!!! When I heard that I said: “Finally I will know what is that?!” I’ve heard of them, I’ve seen something on the supermarket, but never knew what and how they were made. So, for starters we had to burnt some mellows (this is how they like to call marshmallows). Then, put the burnt mellows in a cracker with chocolate and put another cracker above it, and guess what? They were delicious. Now we knew what a s’more was and Juanito loved to burn the mellows. And even though Juanito was reluctant to participate in some games during the campfire, the next two days was asking over and over when to have another campfire! He had a blast, he enjoyed himself a lot!

We had many activities on day one and even more on day two. On day on day one, we made some really cool and interesting crafts, but sadly it didn’t last long enough. When we finally understood how it worked, we had to go to another activity, but it was great! We even created our tiles!


                   

                                                                                                             

       
         



From the many activities we had, ff course, the one the kids enjoyed always was pool time. And not only the kids enjoyed it, parents and staff as well. Here, again, I had a pleasant surprise. All the staff members were in the pool playing with everyone: Kendall, Angel and many others did not were just bystanders. They got into the pool and played with who ever wanted to play. Every moment, every day Camp Aranzazu kept surprising us over and over. Amelia’s team were so engaged and enthusiastic that even at the end of the day, after being all day with us, they came to the cabins and played board games or have share time with the kiddos. They were just amazing.

Other activities we did during day one was archery and visiting the animal den. These activities were most of them totally new for Juanito. We went to archery first. There, Juanito didn’t want to try, but then, he did and had a blast. We even picked up our arrows. After archery, we went to the animal den. Juanito wanted to go really bad on our way to archery, so when I told him we were going, he got really excited. He wanted to see the rodents, but not the reptiles: “Maybe some other time, I don’t like reptiles.” Juanito said when I told him if he wanted to see some reptiles.

We actually didn’t know which animals were there, we could only see the Guinea pigs. So, when we arrived to the animal den, Juanito was excited to pet the rodents, but when the snakes and lizard were taken out of their cages, he didn’t want to touch them, but, once more: SUPRIRSE!!! Juanito wanted to pet them and he touched two snakes and one lizard! I was blown away! Juanito managed to overcome his fear and touch an animal he was afraid of and he enjoyed it! I do not know what happened to him or what was going on, but he wanted to pet the reptiles. He opened himself to a new experience and enjoyed it. We, as his parents, were content and full of joy to see in hours how our son has been changing and adapting extremely well to new experiences and overcoming fears.


This was day one, day two has a different story. Day two started at 8:00 am and ended at 8:00 pm. During the day, we had a visit to the Screamer. It was a big pendulum swing, and everyone had a blast. In this occasion Juanito passed, but he helped by pulling the rope. On the other hand, Gael was really eager to participate. He put on his helmet and kept saying: “Me! Me!” but sadly for him, the harness was too big for him and he couldn’t ride the Screamer. Look at him in this picture!


After the Screamer, we went to play some hoops, frisbee and soccer. There, everyone played with everyone. By now, Juanito made some friends and played with them. Everybody was nice and all of us were having a lot of fun. Soon, the clock hit noon, meaning lunch. When we came into the dining room, we saw something special: hamburgers! But then I remembered that Juanito doesn’t eat them. His little brother Gael loves them, but Juan was always reluctant to eat them. So, we were trying to think what to do. I tried to offer one to him, but he said no. After a few seconds he changed his mind and said: “Oh, yes, yes, yes!” Not sure about what he said, I prepared him one and gave it to him. To mom’s and my surprise, he ate it! And he even asked for a second one! We were amazed. We never thought he was going to eat it. This trip has been amazing. Juan had tried different new things and hasn’t complaint or had a meltdown. Au contraire, he has been asking for more.

After lunch and some wind down time, we joined another activity: fishing. Once more, Barbara and I were so surprised. At first, Juanito just wanted to see, but after a few seconds, he decided to participate. He was eager to try, but he managed to wait for his fishing pole and help with his bait. He paid attention how the worm was hooked into the hook and then we threw the line to the water. Juanito was excited, the look in his face was priceless, when suddenly, just after a few minutes, or even seconds, his line starting to tingle. We couldn’t believe it, Juanito was able to catch a fish really fast! Now, a kid that didn’t want to participate, was excited from fishing a fish and he even did the tradition of Camp Aranzazu Fishing Pond: make a wish, kiss the fish and return it to the pond. “I wish for Mario Kart cars!” Juanito said before kissing the fish and return it to the pond. This happened three times and the three times Juanito did exactly the same. He was very happy. It was amazing seeing him not having an issue from touching, kissing and interacting with the fish. Something inside him started to change and we could tell.    

   

Fishing was done, time for the next activity: kayaking!! Here, both Gael and Juanito were excited about it. Now, since the kayaks were for one and two people, and Barbara doesn’t stand any type of boats, I was not going to be able to take both kids at the same time, so I told Juanito: “This is a partner activity, with whom you will partner up? And just like that, point to his friend and she agreed and both of them kayaked away! It was amazing see how he interacted. Then, I could enjoy with Gael the kayaking activity. It was fun.


After kayaking, we headed to the pool. It helped us to cool down and open our appetite even more. We played, we swam and had lots of fun, now it was time for dinner. After going to our cabins and get changed, we arrive to the dining room. There, again the staff were ready for us. The dinner was fried chicken, but Juanito doesn’t like it. They had chicken tenders for him. Again, all the staff had a superb attention for Juanito.

In this occasion, Juanito didn’t join his family for dinner. He joined with another family and spent his whole dinner with him. I felt blessed and thankful to be around so great people. Not only the staff, but also the other families. The other kids, moms and dads tried to interact with Juanito a lot, and best of all, Juanito interacted with them! He was always talking a lot with everyone. I was surprised how much he talks! He even shares more with others than with me! The most amazing part, every single person Juan interacted with, was always paying attention to him. For Barbara and I, this is priceless, because one issue Juan encounters in society, is that a lot of kids doesn’t pay attention to him and sometimes he suffers when other kids do not include him in their games.

Dinner went well, everything was great. When everyone was done, we were asked to wait outside, since the dinning hall was going to be our party place! We had this amazing party with all campers and staff members. There was music, board games, disguises, hats, skirts, a shark head, building blocks and people dancing. Juan is not a big fan of music, dancing or loud noises. He is actually sensitive to loud noises, but once again, we were surprised! The music was not very loud, but we knew we had to give him his earphones, but we did not know what happened, but Juan did not use his headphones. He was perfectly fine without them. He was excited, he was happy, and he even tried a costume: he wore the Spiderman costume. Barbara and I were really happy, we were speechless. Seeing Juanito enjoying himself and developing so well brought us tranquility and content. We were happy, we were so thankful for seeing our child grow so much. Barbara and I are so happy with this experience; both Juanito and Gael learned a lot, enjoyed themselves plenty, we barely had meltdowns and when there was one, it was not because of the camp, it was a quarrel between siblings, or if there was all the youngsters helped us a lot. They were just great. The staff was so great that once I asked to take care of Juan while Barbara and I were with Gael and they said: “No worries, that is why we are here”. Everything was perfect, the whole camp, the whole everything. It was just a super amazing and perfect experience.

So, everything has a beginning and an end. Sadly day 3 (last day) came. Our camp adventure had to end by noon. So, we started again at 8:00 am, had breakfast, went for our final activities and got ready to leave. We all were sad to leave. My sons didn’t want to leave, they wanted to do more. Mom and dad, we also wanted to stay and do more. This journey was not only a simple camp, it was an amazing experience for all members of my family, for each one of us. For Gael, he learned a lot of new skills, like painting and fishing (he caught two fish!). For Barbara, I could see her content, relaxed, happy. For me, I was able to see Juanito in another environment. I was able to appreciate how much he was grown, and he is willing to take risks, and overall for Juanito, I could tell he is more mature. He opened himself to new challenges, he was able to manage his frustrations better. I feel that his emotional level came up. Now, at home, he is crying less and controls himself much better than last week. He follows directions much better and has less meltdowns.

Therefore, we, the whole Marquez, is thankful and feel blessed for receiving this opportunity. We are thankful with all the people involved to make this happen. Thanks to Hope For Three, thanks to Camp Aranzazu, thanks to Samantha, thanks to Nicole, thanks to Amelia and her team. Thanks to the Skeeter Foundation. Without all of you, being able to provide my family with a similar experience would have been close to impossible.

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for allowing us to have this adventure, thanks you to help our family and our sons. We feel blessed by all the positive energy and energy that you share with all of us.

Sincerely,

Marquez Family