Camp Truths Are Forever

May 20, 2013

Guest post by Jean G. McMullan

Again we are roaring into the summer camp season. The months spent before camp opens are some of the most pressing, most challenging, and often the most anxious of times. Will parents adequately prepare their campers for the thrill and fun of the camp experience? Will staff measure up to the high expectations of the directors and the campers?

Since the very first organized camp experiences over a century and a half ago, it is a pretty safe conjecture that preparations for camp are, although very different in specifics, still quite similar in nature. I wonder if we actually capitalize on a basic reason that camping is so viable. What is there about camp that holds thousands of past and present campers in a state of excitement and anticipation — or as an indelible memory? Even if a camp experience has had an occasional negative outcome, how can a simple, small camp or large, multi-activity camps have such a powerful effect? Few other institutions may lay claim to that which garners such positive outcomes: growth in independence, gaining control over fears, learning new skills while forging lifelong friendships, and living in a group where kindness and encouragement are the norm. Where else is the sheer joy of play, as well as the pride of conquering seemingly impossible goals, so effective? Lifelong habits are honed as we make forays into ways to develop and preserve a sustainable community. How can pure fun actually affect the quality of our own future?

I submit that it is the sheer adventure of the camp experience that is unmatched in its effect. Once a group of our campers canoed to a Maine island and found that they had forgotten the large cooking pot essential for meal preparation during their three-day trip. In an imaginative “save,” an aluminum canoe was scrubbed with ocean water and the spaghetti cooked in the bow of the canoe propped over an open fire. What adventure!

Organized camping is a force for peace in our world. As daily media images of violence recede in the culture of a camp setting there is gradual movement toward multi-cultural and international camp friendships. It becomes pure adventure when campers are allowed the dignity and resolve of leaving home; when youthful staff teach campers responsibilities and provide a light touch to the atmosphere of camp; when camp leaders help campers learn to be flexible and resolute. The adventure of camp is ongoing in its magic.

High idealism and stark realism surround camp leaders everywhere. Let’s take time during camp season to delight in the marvels going on around us. Let’s savor the creativity that comes with the solving of day-to-day concerns. Each of us will have our own story. Each of us will have the adventure of camp as a basis for pragmatic and imaginative decisions that actually work. Camp truths are forever.

See you in camp!

At Alford Lake Camp in Maine, Jean has promoted camper independence, helped campers enjoy the adventure of simple living, and forwarded international friendships. Her American Camp Association activities include work in professional development and association leadership in Maine, New England, and on the national level.