There is no doubt that camp changes you.  

Every camper and every staff member are changed every summer even though every experience is different. My experience, which consisted of seven summers over the course of the past decade, molded me into the teacher that I am today.

  1. I learned that you need to leave it better than you found it.

Every position and every action is important at camp and is crucial to the day-to-day functioning. Making sure to hang the life jackets even when you are sunburned and hungry is essential to maintaining the equipment, the sanity of the next counselor, and to the time schedule. My actions and work ethic or lack of it, directly affected all of my co-workers and the camp as a whole. I learned to leave it better than I found it because if I didn’t, who would?

Camp makes you more accountable for your actions and that has carried over into my current profession and life.    

  1. I learned the power of encouragement.

Being a camp counselor, unit leader, waterfront director, or site director consists of 22/7 (two hours off a day), day after day, week after week, of work. Everyone gets tired and are sometimes not their best self, which requires help from others.  I’ve never been so reliant upon encouragement from others as I have at camp. It is the lifeline for the staff and has the power to motivate you when you don’t think you can drive one more skier, save another sail boat, or lead another devotional.  The support from co-workers (now best friends) brought life to me. Today, in my current job I try to always acknowledge the good things other teachers are doing and bring life to them.    

  1. I learned the importance of good leadership.

Since camp was one of the first times I had a boss, my summers helped define what good and bad leadership look like. I was able to see charismatic life-loving directors that could make a whole camp get excited about a ridiculous and silly evening program. I was corrected by an intern director, also alumni and role model in my life, with gentleness and patience when I hiked a peak with eight 10-year-olds before a thunderstorm without a walkie-talkie or cell phone, oh and without telling anyone. I had the honor of getting to put into practice all the data I accumulated of the years when I was director.  All of these pieces I’ve picked up from people and made into my own style of leadership are a part of my daily life as a teacher, coach, graduate student, and soon to be school administrator.    

  1. I learned to love teenagers.

Adolescence is a wild jungle for not only teens, but for their parents and teachers.  I learned to love them for all their complexity. They have so much going on in their hearts and minds and though it can be exhausting helping them navigate all their emotions and thoughts, I was reminded every year of how beautiful it is to be formed and grow up. They see the world in a unique way and bring so much life, hope, and just fresh eyes into our adult jaded world. I love that I was taught to love them. And liking kids really helps when you work in the education profession.      

  1. Probably the best lesson I learned was to live with integrity.  

Camp also leaves no room for a false self. The heat, the time commitment, the kids, the food, can all almost break you and in moments when you want to leave the work for someone else, say a negative comment about a coworker, or not listen to a kid, your choice will be known be everyone and affect everyone. Your character is put to the test everyday and everyday made me a better person. Camp is integrity boot camp and I am a better person because of my summers there.  

As for how camp affects kids, I wouldn’t know from a camper or parent’s perspective. However, I have made some observations in context of what I know about adolescent psychology and comparing the campers to my students I interact with in “real life.” 

I believe camp can have a profound impact on their emotional intelligence. There is starting to be more research on how social media is affecting the youth of today and one thing we can all agree on is that teens are using devices in situations that used to take place in person. Camp creates a space for teens to break free of their phones and be present with people. They have to sit and listen to other people or sit and talk to other people. I think this simple act of communicating with others in person is important for campers today. They are able to experience glimpses of relationships that are based on real acts of selflessness, kindness, and caring. They sit in cabins at night and listen to others talk about their day which sounds anticlimactic, but is actually a big moment for lots of teens. They had to be present and they like it in the end. 

I believe that kids get a glimpse of their true self out at camp. They befriend someone they wouldn’t at school, they courageously take on a new challenge, they set goals to be more thankful for their parents, they dance like fools in front of everyone, they volunteer to go get the food for the whole table or to re-fill a pitcher even though they didn’t kill it (‘ya kill it ya fill it’ rule), and when they experience being the person they want to be, that moment never goes away. They will always have a feeling and a memory of who they were at camp. I just hope they all know that that person IS them and that camp just supplied a space for them to express parts of themselves that get hidden in the outside world. My prayer is that those glimpses of themselves, those seeds, take root and grow as they grow up.  

Camp has been a space, a space that allowed us all room to grow and understand ourselves and the world more clearly. We’ve all been touched and changed by our time there. I personally could not separate any part of who I am today from the lessons I learned during my summers there.

– JJ Penny

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