Camp Is Not The Perfect Experience!
As I reflect back on the great summer we recently concluded on the shores of Hunter Lake, I am impressed with the fun excitement that was consistently had by all. With the excessive rain we had resulting in a bumper crop of mosquitoes, one would conclude that the summer might have been challenged to meet expectations. Yet, our campers had a remarkable experience with most hoping to return next summer. Yes, that is a testament to the enthusiasm and energy of our staff team (they were very good!), but it is also a metaphor for the power of the camp experience.
As camp directors around the country begin the planning for the camper recruitment season, many of us focus on the fun embedded within the camp experience – the friends, the campfires, the silly songs, the craziness, and so on. We want to put our best foot forward to entice new campers to consider joining our program and have the summer of their lives. Everything at camp is fun, exciting and we all are happy and successful every moment of every day! Actually, not so much!
Camp is fun most of the time and campers experience success and happiness quite frequently. More importantly, however, the experience is about personal growth. Many of us understand that campers try new things at camp and often the first time they try, success alludes them. That can be disappointing, but with nurturing, caring, and enthusiastic staff, most campers achieve the satisfying feeling of success soon thereafter. And if they don’t succeed, they go on to other things to discover new interests and gifts unknown to them before. This is an easy concept to understand and to explain to prospective campers and their families.
But what about personal relationships? Camp is the ultimate utopia where everyone gets along and works together all of the time, right? Well… no! As adults, most of us understand that personal relationships with our neighbors, co-workers, and others can be tricky business. It is nearly impossible to get along flawlessly with everyone we interact with – we have varied values and unique perspectives that can collide and conflict. With campers coming from a wide range of families, geographies, and cultures bringing their own views and preferences, conflict is only natural. Yes, it is a natural part of the camp topography! Camp directors often do not say too much about this aspect of the experience when inviting families to consider their program.
So, if my child is going to have to confront some challenging personal on her/his own, maybe camp isn’t such a good choice? Remember we said that camp is about personal growth and growth often occurs when faced with a challenge that must be overcome. Experiencing conflict in a personal relationship provides a critical growth opportunity for each camper. The conflict creates stressful feelings that the camper does not enjoy. With no one to immediately swoop in and eliminate the conflict, we have seen time and again that campers can often navigate to a successful resolution on their own. And the sense of satisfaction the camper feels at this point is remarkably powerful. Without knowing it, the camper has experienced personal growth that will impact her life for the rest of her life!
Where are the camp counselors when all this conflict is happening? The staff at WeHaKee Camp for Girls are trained to identify, understand & monitor camper interactions. They also know when it is appropriate to intervene (to ensure the physical & emotional safety of each camper) and when to let the campers work it out. Most importantly, they provide positive role models that handle personal conflict respectfully and effectively.
Camp is not a utopia, but it still is a positive and powerful experience for each camper. Growth does come with pain, but it also comes with a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction! The chances that your camper will have a perfect time every moment at camp is unlikely, but she will return with a greater sense of independence and confidence along with the ability to appreciate and get along with a greater range of personalities. Growth can be messy, but camp is all about helping each and every camper learn to get through the mess and even clean it up afterward!
Have a great week everyone!