The Truest and the Best

Happy Thankful Thursday, everyone!

I am thankful for summer camp. I don’t think I would be running my own business if it wasn’t for camp. I wouldn’t be married to Suzy if it wasn’t for camp. I don’t know if I’d be talking to you right now or done much of anything with video if it wasn’t for camp. And so much more.

So let me say it again. I am thankful for summer camp. More specifically – Camp Sandy Cove. The absolute best camp ever. But I know there are some other pretty great ones out there. Seriously though – much love to camps in general. This is a love letter to camps. There is just something about shipping a bunch of kids into the woods for a few weeks to act like fools, sing songs, and shoot things with arrows. People are forced out of their comfort zone to quickly discover that this insane, wood-smoke-scented alternate reality actually IS their comfort zone.

When my parents first sent me to camp when I was – 9 or 10? I was so uncomfortable. My best friend went too and we were in the same cabin, so at least I had that, but I felt perpetually lost.. I had fun, but I was definitely not in my element.  I didn’t poop all week. That’s how anxious I was.

If I had a say in the matter, I probably wouldn’t have gone back the next year. But my mom – she was a camp person. She knew what was up. And so I went back. And then I went back again. And then I went back again.

Long story short – camp changed my life. One summer at a time. When I aged out of the traditional camp program, I returned for the 3 week Leader In Training wilderness program, and then continued on to the CIT Program, and then ultimately became one of the crazy camp counselors I was so intimidated by just a few years earlier.

Okay, I don’t know if I was one of the crazy ones. I was pretty chill. But compared to rest of civilized society, I was completely unhinged.

And that’s when the rubber REALLY met the road.

Let’s put a high school kid in charge of a bunch of kids not much younger than himself. He has to keep track of them, keep them on schedule, keep them safe, keep them entertained, manage the group dynamics of the cabin, be the first responder for behavioral issues, emotional issues, medical issues, teach them, help run activities, design their own Cabin Night program each week, put together a skit for talent show each week, co-lead a day-long wilderness trip each week, work with other young counselors to put together a weekly Unit Night activity, handle the occasional fight, or runaway, clogged toilet, or three-legged-bear incident.

You’re having the best time of your life with minimal adult supervision, and watched from a distance it looks like a bunch of immature kids, shouting, skipping showers and playing a 2 month long game of capture the flag.

But get a little closer and you start to see it’s actually a crucible for leadership, confidence, community, and creativity. You have a ton of freedom that you don’t typically have back home and in school, but you also have a ton of responsibility – watching over younger kids, needing to work closely with other weird and wacky high schoolers and college students, and managing yourself. I’d say it’s actually harder work and more responsibility than what young people have to carry during the rest of the year when things are a little more confined and coordinated for them.

Camp helps young people understand that work can be purposeful, and satisfying, and fun. It helps young people understand what true and trusted friendships look like. It helps young people have a healthier relationship with stuff and time and nature. And it gives young people an opportunity to observe and learn from truly great teachers and leaders. 

Camp directors and their kin  – at least the ones I’ve met – are some of the hardest working people I know. To manage the absolute circus that is camp – literally – we had a trapeze. In order to with one hand create a level of craziness and chaos for the sake of a fun and memorable experience, and then with the other hand, try to hold it all together to make sure that nobody dies, make sure all the paperwork is in order, that the cabins don’t fall apart, coordinate the emergency rendezvous to pick up the kid on the hiking trip who sprained their ankle, and then play guitar and lead crazy songs later that night – it takes something special. And a little bit of insanity.

Tim Nielsen and Tim Glass are S-Tier human beings. There are so many other remarkable people I’ve met and worked with at Sandy Cove. But the Tims set the pace and they set an incredible example for everyone. The campers, the counselors, heck even the parents. They invested everything they had in themselves into the camp. Their energy, their compassion, their knowledge, their prayers, their time. With everything I just mentioned – everything that was on their plate at any given moment, they never overlooked anybody. They made everyone felt known and cared for, and that you were an invaluable part of the team. I don’t think I fully appreciated that when I was at camp. Now that I am a little older, and there’s a lot more that I’m managing in my own life and work, thinking back on EVERYTHING that was required to keep that place running, and to remember just how much they personally invested into me. And that they did the same for so many other young people… I’m just really blown away, and I’m thankful for their friendship and leadership.

I’m thankful for all of my cabin counselors when I was a camper and my CIT/LIT leaders – I’m going to try to remember them all: Justin Pennington, Tom Hudzina, Tony (gah I forget his last name! Do you remember what his last name was?), Mike Townsend, Andrew White, Clifton Eaton, Dave Howe, Bill Stevens. And I’m thankful for all of the people I worked alongside –  many of who are still really good friends. Especially my CIT brothers, Jacob, Talain, Nick, and Phil. There are too many others to name right now, but I will mention Mike Rome only because I’m scared that his feelings would be hurt if I didn’t and he’d publish some awkward photo to spite me. And I’m thankful for the kids that I got to teach. Who gave me the opportunity to grow as a leader. And I’m thankful for the place. Camp is definitely 90-95% the people. But the land, the paths through the trees, the flag pole, the dining hall – the camp itself is definitely an important character in this story. I’m thankful for the space and the season to connect with nature, and God, and others, and myself. 

And I’m thankful for my parents for sending me there. And I’m thankful to God for all of the ways he’s woven these people and experiences together, and for miraculously protecting me from catching fire, drowning, getting eaten, or falling of a mountain.

Camp Sandy Cove closed permanently a few years ago. Which is really sad. But I am encouraged to know that there are lot of other great camps and other programs out there. That some of these programs are being helmed by Sandy Cove people, and other people who I don’t know, but I trust they have a similar level of drive and fun and eagerness for kids to have amazing experiences and make great friends that will lay the foundation for a purposeful life. 

Are you a camp person? Do you know what this is about?

I hope you’ve at least had some sort of experience like this and I wish that every young person – and if you’re watching this, I want you to encourage the young people in your life to go to camp, or take advantage of some other opportunity to break out of the regular routine, get outside, get out of their comfort zone, have a space to be a little crazy, but also be given some responsibility and an occasion to rise to. And to share this experience with other people.

If I had to choose between sending my kids to summer camp or college…. I dunno, college on the whole is great, but I think the life skills, experiences, stories and friendships you gain at camp just give you a unique perspective and appreciation for life that you don’t get anywhere else.

I really like that as a conversation starter. What would you choose? Let me know in the comments below.

And who are you going to thank today? There’s plenty of time left on the clock. Go reach out to someone – maybe your old cabin counselor, and let them know you are thankful for them.

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