Connected through experience
A camp community is a community for life
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely somewhere in the process of sending a child to camp. Maybe you went to camp and are thinking of sending your own kids. Maybe you didn’t, and the prospect is a bit scary. Perhaps you have a parent or grandparent lovingly nudging you toward a particular camp.
No matter the reason, the question is, “how will my child benefit from going to camp?” The concrete benefit varies from family to family, but the potential for personal growth, and to build meaningful connections for life, is far too great to be ignored.
This past summer, my wife and I were married — at camp, no less. As I looked around, trying to take in as much of the moment as I could, it dawned on me that nearly half of all the folks attending my wedding were connected to my camp experience.
In the months since, as we perused our photos, sent thank you cards, and reminisced, this sense of community grew more tangible. My camp friends, coworkers, and fellow alumni have become an extended family of sorts. A ragtag group from all over the world and all walks of life, we share the common experience of summer camp.
While camps may differ in activities and the ways in which they teach them, there remains a common thread. The mission of most camps is to not simply to teach kids to swim, or force kids to hike a mountain. It typically revolves around helping young people become the best possible version of themselves. While no small task, it is what camps do best.
Much like covering broccoli in cheese to develop a child’s appetite for vegetables, camps often mask indispensable life lessons in the form of activities.
• Swimming the laps needed to move up a swim level — determination.
• Putting equipment away after you use it — self-reliance.
• Cleaning your bunk together as a group — the value of teamwork.
Sure, camps are great at making these lessons a bit more palatable by weaving them into the traditions, values, and “magic” of camp. But at camp, you don’t embark on this journey alone. It is often while developing those “hard” skills that friendships emerge. And newfound “soft” skills lend depth to those connections, giving them staying power.
The gentlemen standing by my side at my wedding didn’t just hike in the rain with me. We learned to rely on each other when the weather took a turn for the worse (there’s a metaphor for you). We didn’t just learn to row; we cheered each other on when the water was rough and our hands blistered. As campers, we helped each other make our beds, supported others when they were feeling homesick, and gave horrible advice to those writing letters to their girlfriends back home.
More than learning how to do, we learned how to be. So it’s no surprise that 20 years later, I was surrounded by my camp friends on one of the most important days of my life. Camp is just as much a part of me as I am a part of it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
James Hart is the director of development and alumni relations for Camp Mowglis in Hebron.