I don’t think that anyone can really say it better than The Beatles: “There are places I remember, all my life.” For me, summer camp is one of those places. I started going to camp in the summer of 1994 at a Jewish summer camp, Camp Yavneh. From ‘94 to ’01 I spent the bulk of my summer at camp. I remember after the first few summers of only going to camp for a month, I told my parents that I wanted to go for the entire summer, and I did.
In 2002 I went to work as a counselor at Camp Micah. The biggest reason for the switch was my sister, who went there as a camper in 2001 (Micah’s founding summer) and told me that I had to go, it was great. At that point in time I was on the younger end of the staff, having just graduated high school, it was a very interesting transition going from camper to counselor.
I spent three summers at Micah, and they were probably some of the most educational summers I have had. I started as a cabin counselor, learned how to really work with kids. I ran my own activity, and helped out around camp. Since the camp was new, I even helped start what may become traditions.
After that third summer at Micah, my college professors really encouraged me to find some work in my field of study for the summer. So I took a 3 year hiatus from camp. It never really occurred to me how much I missed being at camp until I was sitting with the good friends of my family, the Waldmans. I never thought that while sitting around after a day of skiing at Deer Valley that I would sign myself up to go back to camp, but I did.
So, here I am at Indian and Forest Acres, two wonderful camps tucked away on the Saco River in Maine. There are not too many places on earth that compare to the wonder and beauty of the northern Appalachian Mountains and New England in general. Everyone should experience a summer here, especially at camp. There is something about being here, in this setting that is just relaxing and comforting, and shouts “HOME!”
From the first moment that I set foot in Indian Acres I knew that I was going to be in for a great summer. I arrived a few days before staff orientation, and even with a small number of people around, the air was still buzzing with the anticipation of the start of the season. The first few days were a dizzying blur, getting familiar with a new camp, meeting lots of new people, figuring out how things work, doing my job, and having a lot of fun.
Then the kids came, and before you knew it, we were almost at the end of the summer! I spent my days running around with the kids and cameras, documenting the summer. We also got into building model rockets for display on parents weekend. The summer really shaped up to be one of the best summers I had in a few years. I started to really remember, and get back into what camp is all about, and then here I am back again for my second summer.
I realized a lot of things that summer. First off, I was only 24 years old, and yet, I was older than probably about 80% of the staff. I forgot that most staff members are still in college. When you are a camper, your counselors seem so much older than you, and you look up to them. Once you are staff you realize that though the difference in years may not be that big, it is the difference in maturity and life experience that makes counselors so charismatic. I also found that many of the things that I had been taught over the years, both at camp and school started to actually have a meaning, go figure!
A couple weeks ago I was talking to my sister about coming back to camp. We both get very excited about it, and look forward to it all year. Unless you have been to camp, you don’t always understand how that works. In any event, one of the things that came up in our conversation was about how we as staff impact the campers. Leah said to me: “I hope that one day my ‘kids’ will look back on camp and realize that I taught them something that they do or use for the rest of their life.” I told her: “Chances are, we the staff, have more impact on these kids than even their own parents do!” I really believe that, and it is one of the biggest reasons that I return to camp year after year. If there is one kid that I teach at camp who takes away a life lesson, then I have done my job.
There are campers who I had in my cabin who I still keep in touch with. They ask for advice or sometimes just want to chat. It is great to know that even though I have not been their counselor for a few years now, that I still play a role in their lives.
Sometimes it takes a while for new staff, even first year ex-campers, to “get” what camp is about. You can tell that there are people who come for the socialization; ex-campers who think they can come and hang with their friends, and new staff who are in it for the time of with the girls or guys and the chance for summer romance and whatnot. Those are the people who generally don’t come back for seconds, and the ones that do have figured out why they are there. Usually there is something at camp that touches you, or changes you and it all clicks. Be it sitting at campfire looking out over the river, signing traditional melodies at Friendship Circle, or something that happened at your activities. Maybe it is that feeling that you get when you help a camper achieve something that he or she spent all summer trying to do. Whatever it is, it is like a switch goes off and everything about camp makes sense. Then, every time you set foot on the grounds, you feel like you never left, and you never want to have to leave again.
I suppose that maybe I should say something about what is special about Indian and Forest Acres. First of all, from the moment I arrived, I felt like I was accepted into the camp “family.” By the end of the sumer, I knew that there were people from camp who I could call up any time if I needed help or advice, or just someone to talk to for a while. How many places really offer that? Even though I was new to the IA/FA family, when I got to camp my first summer here, within a day I felt like I had been there forever, and I knew that it was a place that I could call home. I don’t think that it is possible for a boy to walk through the IA totem poles or a girl to walk through the gates of FA and not be accepted into the camp family. There is a place for everyone here at camp, no matter who you are or what you like to do.
As I have become a part of the Indian and Forest Acres family, so to have they become a part of me. This is a place that I love to be, and enjoy being a part of. That is what camp is about for me, and that is why I will keep coming back as long as I am able to do so.