Reflecting on the Gift of Camp

John Dockendorf26 Feb, 2012
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Relaxing after a Sunday dinner, my wife Margo and I engaged in a lively conversation about camp with my visiting parents.  I asked what it was 31 years ago that inspired my parents, who had never been to an overnight camp themselves, to make a huge financial stretch and send their 8 year old son off by himself for two weeks to summer camp in the mountains of Western North Carolina.
A great discussion followed:

My Mom was the first to talk; she described how she took me to the camp movies and saw incredible excitement in my eight year old eyes. She knew that 2 weeks at camp away from her would be a stretch for both of us. But she knew I would be able to do things that were not part of my daily world in Gastonia, North Carolina. She hoped that those two weeks away would build confidence and resilience and that it was now  time for me to step ever so lightly out of my “comfort zone.”  It was time to learn that the world was bigger than my home town, school and family.

My Dad followed with his take on camp. My dad is a businessman; he is all about value, if you don’t get a fair value out of something you are shopping at the wrong store. He understood the value of camp; he just had to get past the cost.

My dad grew up in rural Tennessee. He was always outside and grew up with swimming holes not swimming pools.  He also knew that the forests and streams that defined his childhood were no longer accessible for me to explore. He understood the value of hands on outdoor experiences and thought I was getting a little soft in my world of TV. (Fortunately for me, I didn’t have an I Pad or DS to further distract me) He hoped that camp would make me more confident and independent and teach me things that I could never learn at home.

After my first successful summer at camp, we moved to South Florida.  As I now had even fewer outdoor opportunities, the value of camp became even more apparent. My summers at camp planted the seeds of resilience, and responsibility. It helped me learn to take reasonable risks as I faced new outdoor and social challenges. I gained confidence through those difficult middle school years, I knew who I was and wasn’t defined by where I lived or what I had (or in my case didn’t have).  As a result of camp, my parents watched me go through High school without having to worry about me making unsafe choices in order to “fit in.”

When I went to college, they joked about my freshman roommate who was homesick for the first two weeks, knowing I was reaching out to others and making friends I would have for the rest of my life.

I have to admit that Summer Camp was and still is the best gift that I have ever received from anyone.  It is what made me who I am today and it has done the same for many more.
So thanks Mom and Dad from your son, for making me a better person by giving me the opportunity to experience Camp. Thanks for understanding the value of camp as a youth development experience.

Most importantly thanks mom and dad for giving this gift to me!

 

Ben Lea

Director, Camp Pinnacle

 

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