The Value Of Summer CampPosted by Róisín O'Malley on December 19, 2016
Growing up in rural Virginia meant there weren’t a tremendous amount of options when it came to camp, and 4-H camp was an opportunity I wasn’t going to pass up. I will be forever grateful for everything I learned during my week spent at 4-H camp each summer. From the age of 9 to 18 I truly loved my days at camp, and anticipated the day I would get to climb on the bus to return to the magic in the mountains. My experience at 4-H camp continued as a staff member throughout college and it wasn’t until then that I truly realized the value of summer camp. During those summers I was able see the impact that camp had on the lives of the thousands (yes, thousands) of campers I saw each summer. It was then, as a staff member, that I truly “got it.”
Value of Summer Camp: Realizing Abilities
It was during this time that I changed my life goals from being a pediatric physical therapist to being a camp director. My mom thought I was crazy- I’d had the dream of helping disabled children realize their abilities since I was ten. It was during my summers of teaching swimming and kayaking that I realized I could help all kids realize their abilities. And I could do it in an environment where I thrived. I convinced my mom to volunteer for a specialty family camp that I helped organize in the summer before my senior year of college. After the first day of her first ever summer camp experience, she pulled me aside and said “I get it. I see your passion. This is where you’re meant to be.” It was then that she too truly understood the value of summer camp.
That was 16 years ago, and my passion for camp has only increased. This past summer my appreciation of what camp brings to the lives of the thousands of individuals around the globe completely changed. The 2016 summer brought a change for me that impacted me in ways that I truly didn’t expect. This summer I was not only a camp director, I was a first-time camp parent.
Continuing the Tradition of Camp
I always knew my children would become campers one day. I felt strongly that while Fernwood Cove is an amazing place, they would be campers elsewhere so they could have their own camp adventures. This summer marked the beginning of those adventures for my daughter, Gabi. At the ripe old age of 7 she embarked on a twelve-day journey that gave her opportunities to learn and grow…away from her parents, surrounded by new friends, and supported by amazing counselors. I received a few postcards during her stay, no more than two sentences were written, but it was enough to tell me she was enjoying camp. When I picked her up I found my goofy, fun-loving girl enjoying her final moments of the summer with her bunkmates. The giggles among the girls were signs of amazing experiences they had shared, and the friendships they had developed. The smile on Gabi’s face was enough to tell me she’d had an extraordinary first summer at camp.
The multitude of things Gabi gained from camp have emerged in the months since she departed camp. They tend to pop up at the most random time. There are the discussions in the car about how to shoot a bow, and how she “actually got most of the arrows on the target” by the end of camp. Or when we’re having pasta, and how it’s amazing at camp because they let you choose the sauce. Bonus points for the fact that my plain-Jane pasta lover now enjoys pesto! The stories about the older campers and CITs – and who went out of their way to hang out with her. Her ability to problem solve situations and identify traits she values in her friends are things that really take me by surprise. And she’s a pro at the safety rules for the wood shop!
And yes, she is returning to camp in 2017. This time for a full session, where she can experience even more of the magic of camp. Gabi received a post card this fall from her camp directors, welcoming her to Summer 2017 and Gabi’s face immediately lit up. It was in this moment that I knew that Gabi had found her home, a home where her family of campers, CITs and counselors will help her learn and grow in ways I’ll never be able to provide- this is the true value of summer camp. As a camp director there’s little that could make me happier than knowing that my daughter will be benefiting from her own camp experiences for many years to come- while I continue to work to provide the same for Fernwood Cove girls.