Like many of you, I have spent the past month at home, allowing a lot of time for reflection. One memory I keep returning to is when my mom dropped me off at camp for the first time. I waved goodbye to her as I walked across the field. I was nervous about making friends and what the summer would bring - would I have fun? What would I learn? Who would I become? This experience may sound familiar to you, but perhaps unlike you, I was 18 and my first summer at camp was as a young counselor, and I had no idea what a deep and lasting connection I would form with North Country Camps.
It's now nearly a decade and a half later, and I have a bit more perspective on what a summer at NCC can bring. In part because I found my summers at Whippoorwill so rewarding, I pursued a career in education and have been a high school history teacher since 2012. With my educator's hat on, I see even more clearly how valuable camp is for children. I often talk with my colleagues about how we help students develop the dispositions and habits of mind that will help them live a purposeful, ethical and fulfilling life. This is complicated and difficult work for schools, but I think that work often happens in a beautifully organic way at Lincoln and Whippoorwill for both the staff and campers in their care. Looking back, I know that my summers on staff were absolutely formative in my own sense of self and habits of mind. I'd like to share a few of the key character traits that camp develops in its campers and staff.
Initiative - Camp is a place that depends on the initiative of both its campers and counselors to create a sense of fun. Counselors and campers are co-creators of afternoon program, skits, trips and so many other parts of camp. My first summer (2007), I was blown away by final banquet. The theme was fairy tale and the dining hall had been transformed into an enchanted forest all through camper-made decorations (aided by adroit counselor guidance from Meg Keiffer if I remember correctly). I was shocked to see even many of the youngest campers get started on their peanut presents well ahead of schedule. These lessons about the fruits of their initiative are baked into flow of the summer at camp, rewarding campers who chart their own course and start projects early.
Teamwork - It is appropriate that the first big event at camp is Pioneer Meet. Even as the two teams compete, the sense of group spirit is high! The bucket brigade brings everyone together to work as a team and my favorite event, the crosscut saw, can't be won by muscling through, it has to be won by working together. It isn't just at pioneer meet that this team spirit comes through. It is embedded everywhere at camp. I've seen campers take extra weight from their peers on backpacking trips, help each other with peanut presents and work together to build their workgroup projects. There is a very real belief that campers benefit not only from receiving help, but from giving it.
Resilience - I'm a big fan of NCC's trip program. It's where I came to love the outdoors and what led me to a summer job leading trips for NOLS in Alaska. The outdoor classroom has expansive possibilities for teaching lessons about resilience. The first time I led a Lake Colden trip, the final day of backpacking brought constant heavy rain. As we slogged up Colden, I worried the girls would be discouraged or complain. They proved me wrong though: they sang the whole way up and down the mountain. Resilience doesn't mean you don't find the conditions challenging, it means finding ways to keep your spirits up even when times are challenging. This humor, perspective and joy even in the face of adversity are of particular use now as we navigate a difficult reality.
All of these are important, but the most important thing that I have witnessed at camp is children developing a sense of belonging and ease. When I visit camp for a week each summer, I always try to be there for a Sunday night so that I can hear the campers give each other commendations for achievements and kindnesses both small and large and sing with them while the sun sets. Watching the campers as they slowly walk up the hill, hand in hand, singing their way to bed, I am filled with a sense of gratitude to have found such a magical place tucked in the pines along the shore of Augur Lake.
I proudly invented this trash bag fashion show competition when I was a counselor!
Some of that lasting camp community
Team work at it's finest for the Cross Cut Saw competition at Pioneer Meet
Cementing my love of the outdoors with WG 2010 in Bolivia (many of whom are past or current staff)
And a little teamwork with Logan Birdsall - camp style!
Written by Meg Johnson