Dec 27, 2010 is the day that I signed up for what would be a truly life altering experience for me.
Ever since that day, my world has revolved around camp in some way. If I wasn’t there, I was making decisions based on how they would affect my ability to get back to camp the following summer. I am hooked on camp life and I don’t see myself giving it up anytime soon.
Some people call it an addiction, and I can definitely point to three things that keep bringing me back every summer. The people, the chance to see growth happen, and the awesome activities and jobs I get to do every summer. These three aspects of my time in the states are what makes it all worth it. I get to spend time with people who are like family to me, doing really fun stuff, and making a difference in the lives of campers and other staff. So I think that I prefer to view it as a calling.
A call to come back for the fun and friendships every year.
The biggest and most important reason for me, that keeps me going, year after year, are the people in the camp community. The staff, the campers, the parents, even some of the random tradies that come by regularly. They all play a part in making camp the place it is, they contribute to the caring community that lifts you up when you’re down, and helps you to celebrate when you’re winning. These close friends get harder to say goodbye to every year, but it is definitely comforting to know that I have the ability to return 7 or 8 months later. Landing in North Carolina really does feel like I’m returning home and it is a thrill to look out the window on the approach and see landmarks I know well, coming up to meet me. I’ve gone from having one family to two and it is one of the greatest moments of my year to get to see them again each summer. While they are not the only reason I keep coming back, if it weren’t for the great people, I definitely wouldn’t have returned to camp as many times as I have.
The other big driver for me these days is the chance to see the growth in campers and staff members over the summers and see the people they are becoming.
I look forward to seeing how much taller Micah is since last summer. How much Dylan’s drum playing has improved since I last saw him play. What Erika is doing now that she has finished school. These are a few of the campers, and now staff, who I spend my summers with and who I have seen grow up over my time at Chestnut Ridge. Every person that I come into contact with have some impact on me. Some, it may just be something small; but others, like the three listed above, and many others, have impressed me with who they are becoming and make me feel like a proud uncle. I get to see them grow and mature and sometimes even see them become staff that get to have the same experience as I do, and change campers lives through the power of summer camp.
While some of the growth, I get to see over the course of years, some growth I get to see over the course of just one week at camp. Campers that don’t want to let go of Mum and Dad on Sunday that are crying because they don’t want to leave on Friday. Campers who have been demanding I call mum and dad to come pick them up, enjoying time with their friends. That one camper that’s acting out because they’re scared, helping another camper feel comfortable trying something new. Campers that don’t even want to leave the ground on Monday, climbing the zip line and going down with a big smile on their face by Friday. These are the moments I really cherish because it makes everything worth it.
The long days, the time spent flying between NZ and the US, it all doesn’t matter when you get to see a camper so proud of themselves for overcoming what was a giant obstacle for them. I live for those moments and they don’t come along very often, but when they do, it is always the highlight of my summer at camp.
On top of all of this, the actual activities that drive this growth and connection are fun! My favourite place at camp is still the zip line platform because I get to spend time in the trees and help campers conquer their fear of heights. My favourite class is turtle day, when we set traps and catch turtles in the lake and teach the campers about their place in our ecosystem and how they have adapted to thrive in their niche. My favourite ‘sport’ will always be Gaga ball and you better believe I’m playing to win when I play with the middle schoolers. I get to spend a large part of my days outside and facilitating outdoor experiences for campers and helping them to see how great it is to play outside and how they are capable of so much more than they can imagine. While it is no longer a driving force behind me coming back year after year, it is still an important piece for me. When you enjoy your work, the people around you are going to see it and it can be infectious and encourage and inspire them to give it a try too.
When I first got to camp, our mission statement really resonated with me. So much so that I try to live my whole life following it, not just limiting it to camp. Like I said at the start, camp is a calling and something I can really believe in.