National Volunteer Week: Meet James Noronha

james standing in front of brick wall

When you volunteer at Campfire Circle, you bring with you your passion, skills and your lived experiences. Enter James Noronha, a 46-year-old law student and Senior Consultant at Special Olympics Ontario, who has been volunteering with Campfire Circle since 2015.

Even though he taught drama for the city and runs youth groups for social causes, in 2015, James wanted to volunteer differently than he had done in the past, and his friends recommended Campfire Circle.

“The reason I came to camp was because I was looking for something. I was looking for a community and a way to make an impact different from what I was used to. And I was looking to have fun. One thing that was surprising but rewarding, was seeing kids having fun outside of the hospital environment,” he says.

Because of his drama and arts background, James spearheaded many musicals at camp. He was a camp counsellor in his first year, but came back in his second year volunteering in drama programs. He started a program where campers and volunteers interested in the performing arts could flourish.

“I was able to get staging for the musical by using old fundraising equipment. The first play was called Silly Cheese Man. We turned Campfire Circle’s downtown office into a whole stage. We got Jazz the Clown from SickKids, who was this improv musician and he created a musical on the fly. It was a community program that kids would come to for a few weeks. But then we realized they could do something more! We ended up having campers write their own script and they started acting them out,” says James.

The musicals were filled with campers from all age groups. Kids were as young as five and some were up to age 14.

“The same way that organized sport gives you a sense of belonging, art does the same thing. Art gives kids the freedom to be expressive and be somebody else for a day. If you’re an introverted kid, or a kid who doesn’t feel like they always have a voice, the stage gives you one. There are kids who are super shy, but they come on a stage and sing. It’s also very empowering. Art gives you a sense of control that’s healthy, and that’s even truer for kids who feel isolated in a hospital.”

James says his favourite part of volunteering is the ability to create really elaborate stories with campers. He is fascinated with how campers get so invested, and he and other volunteers often wonder how certain dramas will unfold.

“When you feed that imagination into a group of really engaged camp leaders, the results are wild,” he says. “We did one play called Nintendo Inpretendo where we pretended all the Nintendo characters came out of the video game. Then over the course of two weeks we did live action versions of every video game you can think of!”

Creative projects can last for weeks and can get very time consuming, but James always finds the energy to come back. He describes campers and volunteer peers as an extended family.

“We keep coming back because it matters, it matters to me and it makes me a better person. You forget what you get out of it. You volunteer because it’s a rush. Even when I’m tired and want to call in, I’ll go in and it’s always a blast.”

James’ unique story shows how anyone from any background can be a volunteer. To be a volunteer, all you have to do is show up as yourself. Your skills, passion and personality are all you need to connect with all types of campers. Cancer isn’t the only thing volunteers and campers might have in common, having fun is!

“One of the great strengths of Campfire Circle is that you will meet people from different backgrounds. A lot of people come to camp with this idea of how they are supposed to be, but it’s important to be yourself at camp.”

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