Summer camp can be the best words in a child’s life or the worst. For me, it started off as the absolute worst thing to come out of my parents mouth and, the next thing you know, these words were coming out of my mouth because I adored summer camp.
When I was growing up, I went to a Bible Camp in a small town in Wisconsin and I have never regretted my decision. Looking back, summer camp was the best thing I could ever do for myself. I spent four summers there as camper and every time I would go was a different experience. I made new friends, I met tons of new people, and I had the coolest counselors. My counselors were the best and I remember looking up to them and just thinking, “Wow. I want to be just like them someday.” To this day, so many years later, I still want to be just as cool, kind, and inspiring as they are. But the coolest part is that 4 years later, I would be in their position as a camp counselor at this Bible Camp.
I went in with a mind racing with questions. “Am I going to be good at this? Are the kids going to like me? Will I make friends? What if I’m actually awful at what I do?” The questions never stopped and throughout my four summers of being a counselor, these same questions would pop up time and time again. All I knew is that I wanted to go in with a positive attitude and make sure that these kids knew that they had a place to come back to. I wanted to make sure that they knew just how loved they were and that camp is a safe place for them to be who they are. It’s a place to grow, to learn, to ask questions… Camp is judgement free zone, and what kind of kid doesn’t want that? Towards the end of my career there, I wasn’t going back for me. Yes, I still loved camp, but I ultimately went back for the kids. I made it my mission to make sure that they understood how important they are.
I never expected to have made an impact. I never expected to have kids looks at me the way that I looked at my counselors when I was a camper. I mean, I see me as a clumsy, 21-year-old child who secretly still hopes of becoming a rockstar, and thinks she’s okay at writing sometimes. And during the summer, I was constantly comparing myself to other people on the staff. I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, I would as funny as Heidi, as happy as Sammy, as smart as Laura and Hanna, as energetic as Bryce, as creative as Jess, and as musically inclined as Arden and Kirsten. I was hoping that I would be seen as someone special in my bosses eyes – someone who would they would look at and say, “Katie is very gifted at (*this really cool thing*), and we love that!” Now, I can’t tell you exactly what they were thinking, but I have never felt that way. I’ve never felt that I was a good enough counselor. All I know is that I did my best and the connections that I made with my campers is one that I will never forget.
However, some of those connections are deeper than others. The second a camper tells you that you changed their life… that’s when you realize that it doesn’t matter if your bosses don’t think you’re really great at that really cool thing. It doesn’t matter that, sometimes (or more often than not), you’re the only one that laughs at your jokes. It doesn’t matter that sometimes you need to take a 30-second breather to find that extra energy, creativity, and patience. Because somewhere you did something right. Sometime in the week that you had with this kid, you did something that made an impact. I had a camper a few weeks ago tell me that I changed his life and his view on God. He thanked me for it. I remember sobbing and thinking, “I was just doing my job. I’m nobody special.”
This past summer (2016) I was on a program that allowed us to stay up all night. Something you should know about me is that I believe that night time has the power to bring out deep and meaningful conversations. I believe that the night is a perfect time to truly get to know somebody. We happened to have had a camper that was having a really rough time at home. I took it upon myself to talk to this camper the first night and ask how I can help them have a better week. They said there was nothing I could do. And, I’m not sure how, but by the end of the week this camper was engaging in our nighttime activities. They were interacting and laughing with the other campers, they were singing songs with us and praying with us. They did a complete 180 that week. This camper came up to the four of us counselors on this program and made sure to tell us all thank you for the best week they’ve had in years. And to think… we were just doing our job.
Summer camp matters because it allows kids to find who they are, to do what they enjoy, to try new things, and it gives them a place to come to that is healthy. I fully believe that summer camp is an even more magical place than Hogwarts or Narnia because it allows kids to explore and not hold back. Summer camp matters because it changes lives in more ways than we’re able to count on our fingers and toes. Sure, the campers may be treating the summer staff as though we’re rockstars, but secretly, we’re their biggest fans. The campers are the true rockstars.