ESP by the Sea was my very first trip with ESP. As a Java Joy Americorps Member living in Atlanta, I was overJOYed when the Programs Team asked me to attend the family beach trip with ESP (pun intended). I got to take photos and videos this weekend, but I don’t think anything could capture the magic and love that was created this weekend.
I wasn’t the only one who was new to the ESP family on this trip. Two Joyrista families from Atlanta and one Joyrista family from Rome also got to attend this trip. I can confidently speak for all Java Joy families in attendance when I say that this trip was more than just a beach trip.
Eric was the first Joyrista that I saw when I got to Jekyll Island. He and his father Dale quickly walked over when they saw me on the beach. They shared how excited they were to see a familiar face. Being new to ESP, they were hesitant to attend the trip.
Both Dale and Eric shared that they spent the entire day prior deep sea fishing! They showed pictures of fish that they caught and I was blown away to see how many sharks they managed to reel in!
As the trip progressed I slowly saw Eric open up and let his guard down. By the end of the first night, Eric was up dancing and singing with his new found friends, and I could tell that Dale was also excited to see him having fun. The wonderful thing that is hard to put into words is how welcoming of an environment ESP creates. Looking over to see Eric surrounded by new friends at dinner was a memory that I won’t soon forget.
Where do I begin with Allison? Talk about an instant friendship. Prior to this trip I had never met Allison or her family, and I am sad that I have gone this long without knowing them. Allison is the only Joyrista who attended from Rome. I was INSTANTLY greeted by Allison with the biggest hug. She shared that she had heard of me through the Rome Java Joy team and was greatly looking forward to meeting. Within minutes I knew that Allison was special.
For the first evening together, ESP hosted the Family Lip-Sync Battle of the Bands. I heard DJ Matt announce her name, and the song Wanna Be” from Spice Girls played over the speakers. Collectively our jaws hit the floor as Allison, her mother Angela, and her father strutted onto the stage in the perfect Spice Girls costumes nailing their performance. Any father willing to rock a crop top and wig in front of 150 strangers is a father that loves his daughter.
Before we knew it, it was Closing Ceremony and Angela, Allison’s mother, stood up to share her experience. She shared that she was also hesitant to attend the trip. In years past, Allison struggled to make friends at summer camp with different organizations. She had a traumatic experience at a previous camp and her parents swore they would never send her on a trip if that was how she would be treated. This trip changed that mindset for them.
“Allison hasn’t always felt accepted or included. This trip Allison wasn’t just an attendee, she was finally someone celebrated and included. I feel like she gets to start over here. She has a new life now, and we cannot thank everyone enough for making us feel so loved and welcomed. We will not be vacationing without ESP again.”
Mallori and I have always had a very close bond. Being her Program Leader, I get to work with her on a daily basis. She is one of our hardest working Joyristas and attends virtually every event. I have also fostered a unique bond with her parents Geneva and Ron. Knowing that they were attending made me even more excited to be able to experience this trip with them.
To say that I was surprised to see Mallori and her parents have a FULLY choreographed performance to “Boyfriend” by Justin Bieber would be a lie. Their support for their daughter is unmatched, and so is Mallori’s love for some JBiebs. What I will say that surprised me is how great of a dancer Mallori is! After all of the families performed we all got on the dance floor to celebrate the start of the trip. Mallori jumped right in and was breaking it down all night. That girl can work a crowd too! She had an entire group following her around cheering her on.
The next day on the beach I got some time to talk to Ron and Geneva. As I said before, their support is unmatched. After finding out about ESP they immediately signed Mallori up for 360 afternoon classes and would drive to Athens twice a week. That trip is over an hour both ways. They shared that there is nothing that they wouldn’t do for their daughter to feel like she belongs. As we sat on the beach watching Mallori build sand castles with her new friends I was brought to tears (for the third time this trip). There are no words to describe the feeling of happiness watching someone else experience a sense of belonging.
Ron shared how happy he was to be able to not only spend time with his family, but be able to spend quality time with his wife when the parents went out together on night two. He said that he doesn’t get much alone time to spend with Geneva and to be able to leave Mallori with the ESP crew made it that much more enjoyable because he knew that she was not only safe, but having the time of her life.
Geneva also shared that she loved the weekend.
“I have had the time of my life. I know that everyone has enjoyed their time with Trent and Miss Kimberly, but just know that they are coming back to Atlanta with us. You guys can enjoy them on fun trips, but they are our Atlanta people!”
I think that sentiment speaks volumes on the consistency that ESP is able to create while operating in 3 separate cities. ESP has put time, energy, and effort into recruiting staff that not only spreads the mission but does it in a way that makes every interaction special.
As I sit here and type this blog I am brought back to this trip. We danced until our bodies ached. We walked on the beach late at night to find ghost crabs. We flew kites and built sand castles. We got in the ocean (some of us for the first time EVER). We comforted those struggling. We grew the ESP family and created a lasting bond.