Year-Round Effort

November 11, 2013

Guest post by Jean G. McMullan

The season of thankfulness and of giving is upon us. Summer gifts of leadership from our staff to campers produce ongoing positive effects that last all through the year. We savor the memories of difficult times during camp season as well as small triumphs when campers feel the warmth and support of their counselors. Ideally, camp is a year-round gift.

The powerful effect of the camp experience is working as campers in their winter venues tackle more difficult school projects or make friends with someone whom they never before cared to know. And some campers may find that they now have the guts to stick up for a person being bullied or who needs some extra help.

We revel in gifts of e-mails and calls that trickle in to camp leaders during the off-season. These earnest notes from campers, staff, and parents give momentum to keep going — to plan for yet another effective and exciting camp season. A gifted trip counselor just wrote to her camp leader: “This summer my co-leader and I asked our hikers to tell us about who they look up to the most and why. My first and immediate instinct was you. Primarily I look up to you because you make each and every person you interact with feel special and listened to. It’s an incredible gift and I hope to one day be able to exude half the amount of warmth you do every day . . ." The optimism of the camp experience is truly a gift.

And yet I hear “Tut, Tut” — the bleating of those who call out to be realistic. “This constant optimism is simply impractical idealism.” I am reminded of a student who had an assignment from a college English professor who asked her to write the “perfect definition of idealism and realism.” She pondered this for several days and one night she awakened from a deep sleep with the thrilling realization that she at last had an answer. Groggily she jotted down her thought and fell back to sleep. Imagine her chagrin when she read her masterpiece in the morning: “He sat on a golden throne and spat into a golden cuspidor!” Definitions, after all, did not matter. What mattered was to have an idealized goal and then to make it work.

To visualize a goal, research the possibilities and develop a plan — use idealism as a practical tool. Off-season months become the springboard for practical camp plans. I submit that the most practical realism is to be idealistic.

This season of thankfulness also reminds us that there is a whole world of camping that we must address. As camping leaders, we are challenged to stretch the power of the camp experience to more campers than ever. ACA’s 20/20 Vision calls for upwards of 20 million children to experience, by 2020, the adventure of camp. Our work becomes a year-round effort to move diligently toward this wider goal. Realistic? Absolutely. Idealistic? But of course.

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.