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What Camp means to me

Friday, May 10, 2013 ← Return to listing

What Camp means to me

By Katie, Camp Counsellor & Camper

“Does anyone know how to make a fire?” Claire asked. I glanced around at the eleven unfamiliar faces that surrounded me in the depths of the woods, expecting somebody to speak up. Everyone looked hesitantly at the meager supply of wood surrounding the charred fire pit that lay at our feet. It was the third night of staff training to be a camp counsellor. Throughout my years as a camper, it had traditionally been the counselolrs’ job to be a fire tender, and I had never built one myself. I tentatively volunteered; little did I know that this decision marked the first in a summer of self-confidence and discovery. 

Camp has always had a special way of gently pushing me out of my comfort zone and teaching me to believe in myself. For the past five years, the most important days of my life have been spent in one place—summer camp. I doubt most people can easily pinpoint the exact location in which they have learned their most important lessons, made their most valuable relationships, and experienced the most significant memories of their lives. For me, camp has always been a means of exploring the way I want to live my life. At camp, it does not matter what brand of clothes I wear. It does not matter what grades I get. It does not matter where I live, or how much money I have. There are people from Africa, from Scotland, from Spain,  and even my hometown. People from all walks of life can come, be themselves, and gain strength and self-confidence.

I was thirteen—the age of awkwardness, uncertainty—driven by the desire to “fit in,” when I first came to camp. I had no idea camp would be different from the pressures I felt at school. On the first night, my counselors decided our cabin would have a “Wacky Tacky” themed dinner, where I had to dress as crazily as possible. I remember hesitantly putting on something bland, a striped shirt and plaid shorts, while my counselors were piling on wigs, makeup, capes, sequins, and tutus. I wondered what strange planet they had come from. When we arrived at dinner, almost everyone else was dressed as flamboyantly as my counselors. The campers were full of spirit and excitement. I realized that I did not have to hide anything about myself at camp. The community valued all my quirks, enthusiasm, and creativity. When the next night’s “Witches and Warlocks” theme was announced, I threw aside my hesitations and unabashedly sported a wizard’s beard and a magic wand. I was the most wildly dressed of them all. I had never felt so unrestrained.

As a counselor last summer, I had the chance to pass these lessons on to a new generation of campers. One of my younger campers refused to participate in any activities. With her arms crossed, she dragged her feet all day. At lunch she refused to eat. The staff and I tried everything to turn her around. We had nearly given up, when one day, we took the girls to visit the camp’s puppy. With its tail wagging, the dog trotted up to my unhappy camper and flopped into her lap. I held my breath, and to my astonishment, the sad little girl unveiled the biggest smile I had ever seen. She began to stroke the dog’s soft fur, and as if something inside of her clicked, she suddenly transformed. She began to radiate joy and soon developed friendships with the other girls. I learned that by not giving up, I was able to help her have as meaningful a camp experience as I have had. I worked hard to find her place in our camp and help her build self-confidence. I was proud to have made a difference.

“Does anyone know how to light a fire?” With my face deep in the fire pit, I was beginning to regret my decision to accept the role of fire tender on that third night of staff training back in June. I was trying to remember how my past counselors built their roaring campfires. I could feel the eyes of my group mates watching me with expectancy. I grew discouraged as one match after another died out. I stopped and pictured all of the fires that I had seen lit in my years as a camper. I closed my eyes and thought, “I can do this.” When the first piece of wood finally caught, my shoulders relaxed in relief and I breathed deeply. For the first of many times that summer, I saw that I would be able to lead and provide for others. I often think back to that night: How the damp wood seemed as if it would never catch on fire and the fear of disappointing others and myself. I surprised myself with my own abilities. It was empowering to show people how to navigate the world.

At camp I am a student, a teacher, a role model, a follower, and a leader. Most of all, I am who I want to be. I am someone whom I can be proud of. The end of every summer at camp is always heart-wrenching. When I was a camper, I would dread going back to school where dressing “Wacky Tacky” is socially unacceptable and where being able to build a fire is an unacknowledged skill. This summer, leaving camp was still difficult. However, I bring the confidence I have at camp with me, wherever I go. I walk up and down the halls of my school friendly and outgoing to everyone I see, no longer restrained by feelings of uncertainty. Camp immersed me in an open and welcoming community that builds its strength by uniting its individual members. Each day I try to use the lessons I learned at camp to help me reach my potential as a caring and active member of society.