I believe every child should go to summer camp.
When young people leave the unfamiliar territory of home and neighborhood for a few weeks and settle in with trees and wildlife and strange people, they have a chance to try on whole new ways of being and believing. What better way to help prepare young people for the requirements of engaged citizenship than living side-by-side with people from red and blue states both, who say their own prayer before meals or speak an entirely unfamiliar language? Life at camp is the best kind of community.
I grew up in the shadow my fearless tomboy of an older sister. I was the awkward and anxious one, scared of moths and skinned knees. But at camp, I caught lizards and stroked snakes. I discovered unknown agility in steering a canoe and exhibited surprising leadership skills in helping my team-mates balance on a rope. I came home from camp an even better version of myself. The confidence I unearthed at camp has carried me into an adulthood of risk and adventure – in my travels, my studies, my work, and even my ability to reach out and build relationships beyond familiar circles.
At the beginning of each camp session, kids walk through the gate one kind of person. The urban adolescent wearing a hip outfit and fierce scowl transforms by the second or third night at campfire into a goofy kid again, flapping her arms and sticking out her tongue, bellowing out songs at the top of her lungs. With the right kind of support, the boy who has fought a lifelong battle with asthma and believes he cannot make it labors his way up a mountainside, and is cheered by everyone when he reaches his goal.
Camp helps kids tap into parts of their minds, bodies, and spirits that might go unnoticed in the worlds of classroom testing, soccer practice, and video games. When they board the bus at the end of the week, their beings resonate with new possibilities.
Because both of us cherished our childhood camp experiences, my husband and I decided we wanted to make camp possible for other kids. We live and work at a YMCA camp year-round, and we are expecting our first child this fall. While I know we will never be rich and camp life can be lonely in the off-season, I want our children to grow up close to the earth and right alongside the people who make our community tick. They will know where their water comes from and who maintains the septic system. They will know food is made by hands and not microwaves. At camp, our kids can explore their world deeply at their own pace. When summer comes, children and young adults will arrive from around the globe and from all kinds of backgrounds, and these strangers will grow into friends.
I believe that at camp, our kids will become the best of who they are.
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