Growing up, I never went to sleepaway camp. I’d go to day camp in town for a week or two each summer. It was fun, but talking with my friends who went to sleepaway camp, I knew it was a unique experience. They would either come home on a post-camp high, aglow with stories of people and traditions that seemed to be from a different world, or in a post-camp slump, as nothing at home could ever compare to the glory of camp. I listened to stories from camp with the keen interest of an outsider. I couldn’t relate, but I recognized how powerful the weeks they spent at camp were.
My first sleepaway camp experience came when I was 20 years old and working at a camp after college. It turned out that, despite my lack of experience, I loved camp, and I returned home at the end of the summer a changed person. I had met a new side of myself – my camp self, who was adventurous, outgoing, and creative – things that I did not really consider myself to be prior to working at camp.
After camp, I was at first unable to reconcile “Camp Me” with the person I knew myself to be in the “real world.” It was harder to be this person without the supportive community and all-encompassing environment of camp. I eventually began asking myself “What would Camp Me do?” which helped me channel a more confident and brave persona in moments when I was feeling anxious or unsure of myself. When I returned to camp the following summer, it was a relief to be Camp Me again. It was a reminder that the person I was at camp was not a mythical being, but a side of me that was available year-round. As the years went on, it got easier to take Camp Me home at the end of the summer.
Every August, I leave camp changed for the better. I’m very grateful for the ways that spending my summers at camp has positively impacted who I am during the rest of the year. I can’t help but wonder, what if I had gone to camp as a kid? I am a bit envious of those I knew growing up who had gotten to tap into this limitless feeling at a young age. I think this is why I love working at Camp Alsing so much: knowing that these two to four weeks have the potential to impact the next fifty-two.
At Alsing, we strive to help each camper meet their own “Camp Self”. The physical, mental, and emotional benefits of meaningful social connections are many. For our campers, finding and making these connections can be hard in a world that is not designed for them. Coming to a place where they feel part of a group that accepts, respects, and celebrates them can be life-changing. They may meet a new side of themselves at camp – one who gets up on stage at the Talent Show, who lives with a roommate, who reaches the top of the rock wall with their GoF (Group of a Feather) cheering them on. Camp ends after a few weeks, but the confidence and self-esteem gained through these experiences linger on.
Although it might not be easy for a camper to feel in touch with their Camp Self during the rest of the year, my hope is that memories of camp can bolster them during hard times. I hope that they carry a bit of camp within themselves, to return to when they need it, until next summer.