Do you need a reminder of the tremendous importance of what you do as a camp director? Whether your answer is yes or no, I encourage you to read Michael’s story.
At thirteen, Michael, an indigenous teen from Parry Sound, Ontario, attended camp for his second summer with assistance from the Kids in Camp charity. Here, in his own words, is Michael’s story.
Dear Kids in Camp,
Hi, I am Michael. I am 13 turning 14 in September. I live in Parry Sound, Ontario and I am in grade nine. I used to live on Bear Island that is one island away from the summer camp I got funding for. Bear Island is a small community that was fun to live on. Going to camp this year was like going home. My camp is a canoe trip camp and you learn how to make campfires, chop wood, and cook on a fire. There are other things you can learn as you get old enough to do it, being a stern in a canoe, and doing higher levels of rapids. I made so many friends this year, like people from America (mostly from Ohio) and I saw my friends.
On my group’s first seven-day trip, we went to the second highest point in Ontario, Maple Mountain. My second trip was down the Temagami River, and my last trip was for 21 days, which was up to New Liskeard and then down to Wanapitei Lake – that’s near Sudbury. Then on our way back to camp we went cliff jumping- that’s when you jump off cliffs into the water- and my staff jumped off a waterfall and it was awesome. This summer I learned a lot about how to carry a canoe, and also to stern the canoe. That made me lose a lot of weight and gain muscle. I have never been in better shape, ever.
Camp is important to me because over the last two years I have been in a bad place with my friends. I think I would have gotten into a lot of trouble this summer if you guys didn’t give me the money to go to camp this year. At camp I am with kids that don’t get into trouble because we don’t have time to get into trouble. My summer was so fun and I thank you for making this happen for me.
Chi-Miigwetch [thank you very much]
Dear Parents and Guardians Alike,
Please send your kids to camp.
For your benefit. For theirs.
For the camp and for the campers there.
Please send your kids to camp.
At camp, they will be a part of a community all their own. They will become emotionally attached to burnt rope on their wrist, and have a song for any occasion on cue, and forget how to shower or flush, and think sunscreen is moisturizer. And they won’t bat an eye at the thought that it is weird.
They will fight over who gets to set the table, and 7:00 a.m. no longer sounds absurd to wake up to on a summer morning. They will learn to do things on their own, and they will learn to rely on others. They will learn how to survive on their own for two weeks, and they will learn how to help each other through it.
They will grow up on summers away from TV, and forget Facebook exists. They will relish the joy of sleeping outside, swatting mosquitoes at campfire, swimming everyday. They will savour the feeling of pushing water behind them with a paddle, the curl of earth under their feet as they scale a mountain, the whoosh of air behind the tail of an arrow as they fire. They will forget about appearances, relish tan lines, recognize the beauty of a smile over anything else.
They will strive for a job that fulfills them and pushes them over the final paycheque. Or maybe they will labour all June for money to balance the counsellor job. Or they will leave the camp behind with a heavy heart. Either way, they will learn to pick a job they love over the paycheque they want.
They will branch out further in life, used to leaving home. They will know how to lose track of time, knowing time only by activity change. They will appreciate downtime, but love flurries of activity. They will be there for one week, two weeks, a month, but it will end up influencing their lives.
So please send your kids to camp. Send them so they will learn to set tables and make beds and wake early. Send them so they will know how to be a leader, paddle a canoe, weave a bracelet, and sing as loud as they can. Send your kids to camp so they will learn to love, learn to love themselves, and learn to love others. Send your kids to camp because they will realize who they are, or who they want to be.
And prepare yourselves for a year of camp stories, and for a flurry of songs. Prepare to learn names of kids you’ve never met. And for your kids to have a need for sunshine, a need for campfires and companionship.
Because camp is an infectious melody, and a life-changing time, and a crazy, indescribable summer.
Send your kids to camp.
For your benefit, for theirs.
Please, send your kids to camp.
Your friendly neighborhood camp kid
As a retired camp director, I frequently enjoy visits with former staff and their children. It is rewarding to watch these graduate camp counselors apply the valuable lessons that they learned about being a good counselor to raising their own children. A visit to my grandson’s kindergarten class demonstrated that regrettably not all parents have the benefit of this training.
Last December, I had the pleasure of visiting my grandson, Aidan’s, kindergarten class. His teacher had invited the parents to join the children for a gingerbread-house-making holiday activity. In the classroom, there were six sets of desks shoved together in groups of four to accommodate the twenty-four students. Add that many if not more moms, dads and grandparents and the room was happily crowded and chaotic.
In front of each child lay a stiff cardboard base, a small milk carton, several graham crackers and an ample supply of white icing. When Aidan got started, I willingly held the graham cracker walls to the sides of the milk carton house till the icing-glue stuck. With wild abandon, Aidan then proceeded to decorate his house and surrounding garden with smarties, candy canes, jube jubes, marshmallows and pretzels as he saw fit. I encouraged and praised but resisted interfering with his wild creativity. The end result was neither tidy nor symmetrical, but Aidan was pleased with his efforts. As there was no parent to assist the little girl sitting beside Aidan, I also offered her encouragement. She too produced a unique product.
Across from us, I observed one mother assisting her daughter and a father assisting his son. Actually, assisting is the wrong word. These parents were mostly doing the work for their offspring in an effort to produce the perfect gingerbread house. Most of Aidan’s creation was devoured by him and his sister before the day ended so does it really matter that the candy cane fence was not perfectly aligned?
Regrettably, these parents did not follow a basic tenet of Camp Counseling 101 i.e. ”Never do for children what they are capable of doing for and by themselves with effort.” To act otherwise is to imply, whether one intends to or not, “Perfection is the goal. Your effort is not good enough. Watch how I do it. I can do it better.” Thank goodness for camp where children are encouraged and allowed to do what they are capable of; where it is OK to be less than perfect and where, as they learn at their own pace and by their own efforts, their confidence and self esteem flourishes.
By Catherine Ross, CCA Communications Officer
Summer camp and my camp counsellors have made me who I am today. The summers that I spent in the forest and near a lake, thanks to the leadership of my counsellors, allowed me to experience some of the most influential and defining moments of my life.
Not everybody can be a camp counsellor. It takes a special kind of leadership. When I was fifteen, I went on my first canoe trip in Algonquin Park, Ontario. The only other people on that trip were six other guys and two counsellors. We spent hot days paddling the swampiest, buggiest rivers and rainy days portaging the wettest, muddiest trails. At first it sucked. On the third day into our seven day trip, I had had enough. We were portaging up a giant hill, and halfway up, I threw the canoe I was carrying down to the ground and sat down in the mud. My camp counsellor, who was further up the trail, came back to me, and asked me what was wrong. I told him that I couldn’t carry the canoe anymore, to which he said, “Ok, but the nine of us, together, can find a way to do it.” And sure enough, I and three others who had already finished the portage took turns carrying that canoe to the other end, and we continued our trip from there.
It was this simple lesson in teamwork and group problem solving that inspired me to be a camp counsellor and canoe trip leader years later. Over the course of six summers, I guided over twenty separate canoe trips involving almost one hundred and fifty young men and women. It is often a thankless job. As camp counsellors and trip leaders, we are entrusted with the safety of people’s most precious assets, their children. In addition to dealing with the everyday issues of having children away from home: bed-wetting, bullying, homesickness, cuts and scrapes, or the challenges of growing up into young adulthood: relationships, self-confidence, identity and self-esteem, camp counsellors are expected to inspire confidence, resolve conflicts, care about the environment and be effective leaders, not just to the campers, but to their peers.
Camp counsellors work longer hours than any other ‘average’ job, and get paid less to do it. As a camp counsellor at an overnight camp or perhaps on a canoe trip, one does not work nine to five, Monday to Friday. In fact, it is more equivalent to the hours of being a full time parent. Camp counsellors are on call twenty-four hours a day to deal with any issues that may arise at night, and still have to wake up the next morning with a smile on their face. It is the equivalent to having a job where the requirements are working all day, every day, but only being paid for forty hours a week at minimum wage.
I still chose to be a camp counsellor. I did so because the personal satisfaction that I had was far greater than any monetary compensation I received. The skills that I have learned from camp, both as a camper from my counsellors and as a camp counsellor myself have influenced the way I am and the way I view the world. This experience has taught me not just that there is value in leading, teaching and inspiring others, but to do so without reward is the true meaning of leadership and service.
The counsellor on my first canoe trip could have just as easily taken that canoe I was carrying and brought it to the other end of the portage himself. He was more than capable. He could have also just as easily told me that I was “useless,” “weak” or “not part of the team” for not being able to take the canoe. But instead, he chose to allow me and the others on that trip to find a cooperative solution to our challenge.
There have been several times in my life when my non-camp friends and colleagues questioned why I would spend the summer at camp, when there are so many “better” jobs available for young people. However, none of these “better” jobs give the opportunities for broad professional development, nor do they give a sense of value and pride in work that camp does. Being a camp counsellor has brought out the best in me and has taught me how to deal with the worst in others, and while this is my experience at camp, my non-camp acquaintances don’t seem to understand this. Maybe, at the end of the day, they never will. But I think as camp people, we all have a responsibility to share our camp experiences, if anything, to encourage the types of positive thinking and learning that camp has taught us.