The Winter Solstice which occurred Monday is one of my favorite days of the year! I have cheered this day for decades. Although January and February are our coldest months, the reason I like December 21 is that finally the daylight grows longer and longer, and that means summer camp is just around the corner! Yipee!
Let me introduce myself for those that don’t know me. I am Mary Helen Franko and I serve as the Executive Director of Camp Grady Spruce. I have lived and breathed camp since the ‘60’s (yes since the 1960’s). I grew up as a Camp Fire Girl in Fort Worth, going to Camp El Tesoro for 11 years before jumping over to Camp Grady Spruce in 1971. Each year I counted the number of days until the end of school arrived and when summer camp would start. And the countdown began with the Winter Solstice.
I think that Christmas Day is the only day in the year that I’ve never spent at camp, and that is because church and family take top billing for the day. I can tell you that often my camp friends called or came to visit on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Camp relationships run deep, and camp friends are my second family.
Other things that make this time of the year so special is that camp counselors come home from college and you get to reconnect with them, although they look quite different. They are dressed in long pants, with sweaters and coats, hair that is “done up,” girls wearing make-up and all with a lot less tan. As a summer camp staff member, it was amusing when you were out shopping for Christmas presents and you’d see some kid across the mall pointing at you and whispering something to his/her Mom. Yep that was one of your campers from the summer before. Those little eyes look up to you even when you are away from camp.
As a Camp Director, this was the time of the year when I would re-interview last year’s staff to see if camp was still as important to them and lay the groundwork of my expectations of them if they were to be offered a job for the coming summer. By the time counselors were heading back to their spring semester, I would have most senior staff hired and I could turn my attention to searching out the right high school students to become Junior Counselors. It brought me great joy to hear the plans of teens and young adults as they told of their dreams and goals for the future, in addition to camp dreams.
As an Executive Director, this is the time of the year when we are focused on asking for contributions to support the experiences of many youth and families who come to camp throughout the year. Soon there will be over 100 volunteers who will be asking friends and family to make a contribution to Camp Grady Spruce. For most of those 100+ volunteers this is a real stretch outside of their comfort zone, yet they do it because they know what camp meant to them as a camper. They tell stories of how a Camp Grady Spruce summer camp experience changed their lives forever, or how they did things with their Dads in an Indian Guide (now called Adventure Guide) program, or how the Outdoor Education field trip launched their thoughts of a future career. So while asking for money is a challenge, asking for others to support us in our cause which is to deliver exceptional outdoor programs that inspire, build and strengthen relationships with God, His creation and with each other.
In the next 2 weeks, find a time to step outside and look at the stars and the moon. If you plan it, all of your camp buddies can step outside at the same time around town, around Texas or around the world, and all of you would be looking at the same stars and the same moon. Really we are all connected.
And, if you’ve been really, really good, perhaps you’ll see a sleigh pulled by reindeer in the sky heading north.
Have a very Merry Christmas! We’ll see you in the New Year!