Summer camp was a lifeline for a social kid such as myself. Three months off from school during the summer felt like an eternity. Couple that with living 30 minutes outside of town, and you had a kid who was “dying” of boredom. There were a few kids that lived within biking distance, but we didn’t seem to have much in common. It’s not like there was anything for us to do where we lived, anyway. The closest gas station was a 10 minute drive and didn’t even have a soda fountain. Camp provided the perfect reprieve from my childhood boredom, my teenage angst, and in later years, my adulthood loneliness.
The rules of camp are simple: Do your part, be kind and enjoy yourself. That’s it. The community that was created by being away from home instantly leveled the playing field amongst your peers because you were all in this together. We got to practice autonomy and were relieved of the pressures we might face at school or at home because the environment at camp is much different.
I may or may not have showered that first week at camp as a third grader, but it was my choice, darn it! And, I survived. Stinky? Sure, but I survived and maybe even thrived for a week without any rules or expectations. I learned that I was capable of being without my parents, and it was the beginning of recognizing that I was my own person. Camp gave me confidence and the ability to be present with no concern of what I “should” be doing.
As I moved into my teenage years, camp became even more important to me because of the relationships I was making. Sometimes at camp, you make fast friends for the week, but lose contact with each other until next year — or sometimes forever. Other times, you see the same faces year after year and reconnect each summer. What was even more common for me was that I made lifelong friends. I have attended weddings, baby showers and graduations of friends I met at camp. We have walked with each other through life’s tribulations as adults, and it all started with a secret around a campfire.
It’s hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it yourself, but camp breaks down barriers. Just by being at camp, you immediately have something in common with the person next to you. They are just as vulnerable as you are — you’re both in an unfamiliar place without your family. But as summers went by, that vulnerability often disappeared because you knew what to expect and knew what was expected of you.
Camp has been so impactful to my life. Even as adults, I and many others return again and again — now as the adults that lead the kids, just as they were led when they parted from their parents for the first time. We become counselors, cooks, nurses and directors, to continue the legacy of what summer camp became for us.