Four friends from childhood reunite often and maintain their relationships through adulthood: It's the makings of countless best-selling novels. But this story is real — no fictional characters, no made-up locations — just four girls who met before their teens and journeyed through life with the help of summer camp. A couple of years ago those same four friends shared an evening together and were reminded once again of the meaning of friendship.

It was at Dorothy P. Flint 4H camp on the Long Island Sound in Riverhead, New York, that we all first met. There we learned about ourselves and experienced so many firsts. There, in countless cabins every summer, our friendship began and flourished.

We always looked forward to eight weeks together in wooden cabins with no electricity and no bathrooms in the bunk houses. We dreamed of bunk beds, giggle fests, council fires, friendship circles, co-eds, cabin nights, and the 209 steps down to the rocky, seaglass- filled beach.

We weren't just at camp — we were home.

I've always felt that all I needed to know in life I learned at summer camp. Although it was difficult for my parents to let me go, it was one of the greatest gifts they have ever given me. I could be myself at camp. It helped me grow and introduced me to people and things that life from September to June could never offer. Camp gave me confidence, taught me to swim, and shared life's lessons.

After the hundreds of meals we have shared together and nights we have stayed up talking till dawn, our get-together two years ago was different. Life had come full circle. Jill, whose oldest daughter was nine then, was looking at sleepaway camp for the following summer. As she regaled us with her search for the right camp, one comment stood out for me. Even though she, like many parents (including my own), wasn't ready for her daughter to leave for the summer, she couldn't resist giving her the opportunity to make lifelong friendships like she had.

Thirty years of friendship have given us endless memories and a plethora of adventures. We have that special bond formed in our youth — shared experiences that lead us to finish each other's stories and smile when one starts knowing exactly how it will end.

Four girls couldn't be more different. Even at camp we signed up for different activities, liked different types of boys, and had different favorite counselors. If we'd met in school, we would never have been friends. That's what camp does. Friendships that would never have a chance in the harsh world of middle school cliques and teenage judgment are able to not only develop but thrive. At camp your character mattered. The girls in your bunk backed you at all times — through break-ups, your first period, homesickness, your first try at something new, achievements, and disappointments. They saw you in your ratty old sweatshirts and your favorite pajamas. They saw you when you were at your best and sometimes at your worst. These friends were different.

Our lives have taken different directions, too, but our relationship began and is grounded in that shared past at camp. Those memories of summer on the Sound bring smiles to our faces every time we get together. As in all relationships, through 30 years there have been ups and downs, but through the good and the bad we have been there for each other. We are a true testament to time and distance knowing no boundaries. In our youth we made s'mores on the beach, raided boys' camp, and had countless slumber parties. Although the reunions may be less frequent now, we still spend them laughing until our bellies ache, reveling in our lifelong bond, and of course, making s'mores.

Our latest get-together was another sleepover (this time with little ones asleep upstairs) that had us up late gabbing and enjoying the company and comfort of old friends. Just past midnight Jill fell asleep; she rested easily knowing that, though she would miss her daughter for seven weeks during the summer, in 30 years' time Allyson just might be up late giggling with her best friends from the sleepaway camp her mom and dad sent her to all those years ago..

Stacey Ebert is a camper at heart who has spent over 25 years in the camping industry. She has a love of writing, travel, the beach, and anything chocolate. She can be reached at

Photo courtesy of Sugar Bay Camp, Zinkwazi Beach, Darnall, Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa.

Originally published in the 2014 November/December Camping Magazine.