The Foundation of Youth

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It has begun! Not the start of our 2nd session- which kicked off this Sunday, but the “Back to School Mania” that strikes every year on the 5th of July! We had barely had time to recover from the Independence Day festivities before we were reminded that summer is indeed, fleeting. It’s an affront I should be accustomed to, but it always catches me off guard.

For us, and the kids who arrived on Sunday, it’s just the half-way point of summer. Our campers are just starting to find their groove, rest and recuperate, and make valuable connections.

Last week as our first session ended, I had the opportunity to listen to both campers and staff as they talked about the impact of their time at Camp Mishawaka. First, at a Boys Camp Vespers service, and then again at the Girls Camp closing campfire.

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Reflecting on his time as a camper, and now as a staff member, one counselor put it this way:

When you hear people talk about camp, you don’t normally hear it through descriptions of main campus, the dining hall, and the cabins; You hear it in the names, the stories, the friendships, the memories, the ups, the downs, and the things that you’d have to be there to believe. You ever wonder why it’s so hard to describe camp to friends back home? This is why. You must be here to believe it. Every person here is helping make our summer experience and giving one to the person next to them. Camp is not anything without me and you.

At a time when simple human connections are anything but simple, Camp remains a haven for just this.

It’s a tradition for our CITs (Counselors-in-Training) to give a speech at the final campfire, and this year’s offerings were profound. I watched as seven young women reflected (often choking back tears) on their time at Camp Mishawaka with an astounding sense of self, and appreciation. Each of them, in their own way, acknowledged the past- recalling funny events, challenges, and friendships they formed at Camp. But rather than dwelling on the past, each of them also acknowledged the present and the emotions that come with the end of something. They also looked forward to their future, grounded by an experience at Camp that they will be able to draw on as they head back to school, and beyond.

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The new campers arrived at the airport on Sunday, some flying in from far away, some being dropped off by their parents to continue to Camp via bus. I could see the worry in the new campers’ eyes. “Will I fit in? Will I be accepted? Will I make a friend?” I watched the nervous anticipation in the parents’ eyes too, as they hovered, knowing full well that they, and I, were helpless to do the work only their child could do.

Three days later I see those same nervous kids laughing and playing, holding hands on their way back to the cabin, and navigating their new surroundings like veterans. I start to see the groundwork for the foundation that led this staff member and these Girls Camp CITs to the place where they were able to identify what is important to them, and why. And why they feel called to preserve and protect it, just as they share it with others.

There are days that we wonder if we are making the difference in these campers’ lives that we hope to. Today will not be one of them.

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