Ian Williams-Buckmaster, endured parental struggles with addiction and multiple relocations. Ultimately, both his mom and dad died young. Low self-esteem and defiance characterized a youngster who faced grown-up decisions when most kids were playing Xbox. His anger, fear, and loneliness accompanied feelings of pain and grief.
Camp Erin turned Ian’s life around. Held each summer in rural King County, its high-energy programs transform vulnerable lives, offering emotional support and guidance in an atmosphere of fun and companionship. The journey back to childhood joy often begins with a single step at Camp Erin.
An uncle and aunt urged Ian to attend. Like many kids, he arrived against his will. Here are his words:
“When I came to Camp Erin, I was on the verge of being kicked out of middle school. All of the things that had happened to me – I wasn’t dealing with any of it. Instead, I was acting out, grabbing as much negative attention as I could. I’d seen social workers and counselors, but I never thought they really understood me.”
Change took place on the second day, when the campers created floating luminaries in memory of their loved ones. They gathered by the lake at dusk for a commemoration, releasing the candles onto the shimmering water. This ceremony – this “permission to let go” – is part of each Camp Erin experience. Years of suppressed feelings often rise to the surface.
“When we paddled out to float our luminary tributes on the water … I saw that as the turning point for me. I hadn’t shared much at camp up until then. But after that ceremony, I just bawled like a baby. I didn’t want to leave.”
After the tears came transformation. Ian began to channel his energy and passion into sports, theater and student government. “I figured the way to stay out of trouble was to stay busy,” he said. He insisted his siblings attend Camp Erin the following year, and last year he volunteered as a camp mentor to younger kids.
“I realized I could contribute something from outside the circle because I’ve been inside the circle. I saw my younger self in one of my campers – he was messing around, not taking it seriously. He was me. But when I told him I used to be a camper, his eyes got wide. ‘You went to camp, too?’ he said, and I knew I’d broken through.”
Today at 21, Ian manages a restaurant full-time and attends college part-time. He has many career options available to him, including counseling. He’s thoughtful, compassionate, fun, a leader — living proof that programs like Camp Erin can alter the course of a human life in remarkably positive ways.