I believe in keeping my youth. Each year in June, my summer surroundings transform my daily routine. I’m no longer in an environment where the stress of the classroom and grades occupy my brains every thought. The textbooks slung over my shoulder are replaced by the limbs of energetic youth, pretending that they are miles from the ground, as they hang from my neck. Ironed oxford shirts and pressed jeans are forbidden, and the only suitable attire are the bright colors of athletic shorts topped with a cutoff T-shirt with the word STAFF boldly bannered across the back. For nine weeks out of the summer I stop studying and I begin the most important aspect of life that is to play.
Play might simplify what I do on my summer breaks, the title of my job is camp counselor, and for the past four years I’ve worked at different summer camps around Maine. At a young age I knew summer camps would play a huge role in my life. As soon I was old enough my parents sent me to different camps to keep me occupied during the summer months. They saw it as a fun way to keep me active and to stay out of trouble; I saw it as a needed outlet away from my everyday life. An “island” away from family and friends, where the only things that mattered were meeting as many new people as possible, and swimming three times a day when it got really hot. And, no matter how scared you were, you asked your summer crush to dance during “Stairway To Heaven” on the last night of camp. It was just a part of growing up. Now, as a young adult I travel back to these memories each time I close my eyes to try and relive each one, even if it is for only a brief moment.
Unfortunately I grew up, no matter how much I tried not to. Being a camper was no longer an option. So I did the most logical thing to keep camp a part of my life, I became a counselor. It was the perfect solution to my dilemma of growing old. I would get paid to play. That mind set of being there only for the fun would only last until my second year working at the Maine State YMCA Camp. I was given more responsibility forcing me to take a different approach to working with these kids. I could no longer be there just to relive my childhood and get a nice tan; I had to make sure each camper had a memorable summer. I was no longer at camp just to teach the rules of dodge ball and instruct the proper way to paddle a canoe; I was providing a shoulder to lean on for any child that would extend a hand my way. I was no longer just their protector who made sure that they stayed safe. Mostly I was simple their friend. I found myself teaching through my mistakes at their age. I was able to connect to my campers and build a trust that these kids needed at this point in their lives.
I could tell that the kids didn’t seem to confide many things about their lives to their family and teachers that were always around them, but they could openly talk to one of their own, just a camper who had already gone through what they were dealing with, a camper who had the patience and wanted to not only talk, but at times just listen. I was a big brother for weeks at a time, and when the summer ended and each camper was picked up, I can only let go and hope that at least something that I said had sunk into their already filled and confused heads.
I spend my summers molding minds. My hope is that when they leave my arena of guidance they will always reach for the stars, and remember that I told them to never give up. Around me my peers spend their summers working at jobs and internships hoping it will pave a way to improve their futures. I guess I have taken the opposite approach by holding on to my past, I hope I can help pave the futures for others. This I believe.
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