During the summer, Academy MetroWest runs a small day camp. Some weeks at camp adhere to a specific theme and this week is one of them. It’s our second annual LARP week and it’s the brainchild of a long time member of our staff, Adam Hurley.
For the uninitiated, LARP stands for Live Action Role Play. According to Wikipedia, a LARP is:
“A form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters’ actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules or determined by consensus among players. Event arrangers called gamemasters decide the setting and rules to be used and facilitate play.”
Camp is quite a scene during LARP week. Kids create their own characters, design their own costumes, and play all sorts of wacky games designed to advance the overarching story of the LARP. On Monday, one of our counselors played a game while wearing a duck bill and wielding a (foam) battle axe. Today, one of our CIT’s is wearing a tux. You can’t get this kind of entertainment just anywhere!
Adam spends a substantial number of his weekends LARPing and he’s been talking to me about it for years. At first, my reaction to his LARP enthusiasm was not charitable. My standard response was “Dude! – LARPing and fan fiction are the two activities that separate the men from the boys in the land of quirky kids! You, my friend, are upping your game!” But as time has passed, I’ve noticed how happy Adam has been as a part of this, shall we say, idiosyncratic community and I’ve tried to back off a bit. It’s really wonderful to see Adam this happy. He hasn’t always been this way.
Adam came to us in 2001 as an 11 year old prospective client. His mom brought him in for an initial interview and he clearly wanted no part of it. I did the interview and, as I usually do, I introduced myself and went over the agenda, expecting some mild anxiety and a few questions about the process. His response was to fire a barrage of sarcastic remarks and snotty comments at me.
An “appropriate” response to Adam would have been something like “Adam, it sounds like you’re not all that happy about being here. Try to bear with me for this and then if you still don’t like it, we can talk to your mom about whether or not you want to join a group.” That night, I just didn’t have it in me and my response to all his sarcasm was “Okay. Are you done now?” When the words left my mouth, I thought I had made a big mistake. But Adam responded by saying “Yeah. I guess I am.” We’ve talked about it a few times over the years and he said my response showed him that I was willing to be real with him and it made him start to think that we were going to be nicely different from other agencies. We did the rest of the interview without a hitch and Adam went on to spend 5 years or so as a member of various groups here. He also attended camp every summer. What he really did was find a home.
I like to tease Adam that, like the scrubbing bubbles from this 1978 commercial, he works hard, so I don’t have toooooooooooo…..I
Adam attended public school and it did not go well for him. He’s a very bright guy but is decidedly quirky. His diagnosis has never been firmly established but it’s safe to say that he hovers somewhere between a Non-verbal Learning Disorder and Asperger’s Disorder. Throw in some intermittent battles with depression and anxiety and you have the recipe for an extremely angst-ridden teenager. He tried a number of different school settings and no one really seemed to know what to do with him. When Adam got frustrated, he’d get stuck. Really stuck. He didn’t read social cues especially well and he tended to be overwhelmed by his emotions.
In our program, Adam started to really hit his stride around the time he turned 14. As he matured and began to feel comfortable in our setting, he started to show some leadership skills and started working at our camp as a CIT around the time he turned 16. He was a great fit for the role and he kept getting better and better and, despite not being able to finish college, he has become a fixture on our staff during camp and during the school year.
Now, I’ve been running groups centered on cooperative physical activity for 26 years. I’ve managed to help keep the doors open at a private practice for 21 years and, at the risk of sounding really full of myself, when it comes to working with kids, I’ve got some game.
But when I watch Adam interact with our kids, all I can do is watch and be in awe of a singularly talented counselor. Adam’s work with children is informed by the empathy and compassion that grew out of a desire to help them avoid the anger, frustration, and stumbles he experienced. He knows what our kids are going through because he lived it. He has a relentlessly creative imagination, takes tremendous initiative and has an supernaturally high energy level. He is adored by all kids. Adam may be a young adult now but, like most of us here, he’s an overgrown kid who’d rather be loud and silly with a bunch of middle school kids than hang out with a bunch of stuffy grown ups any day. I’ve always had the feeling that if we told Adam he was going to have to pay us for the privilege of working here, he’d immediately reach for his checkbook.
Above all, Adam is driven. Helping kids succeed and be happy is a vital mission for him. When he sees a kid struggle, he wracks his brains to find a way to make things work better. He doesn’t rest until he is satisfied that he has done his absolute best. It sounds like hyperbole but it’s not. He’s that good and that dedicated.
Adam and I share a revulsion for wasted potential in kids. At Academy MetroWest, we see a lot of kids with the intellect to take on the world and thrive. Often, to get to those assets, we need to dig through some layers of behavior issues, social skills delays, problems with emotional regulation, among other obstacles to success. It’s tragic when kids, for reasons beyond their control, are not able to reach their potential. For awhile, I was worried that Adam was going to be one of those guys. But as I write this, Adam is gainfully employed, engaged to be married, and is considering a return to college. I’d love to have him stay on here as a co-leader/assistant forever but he has the potential to do so much more with his life. Someday he’s going to get there and it’s going to be a beautiful sight to see.