My First Day at Camp (The First Blog)
How does summer camp affect youth transformation?
Posted Nov 16, 2011
When I was 8 years old, I had a crisis of confidence. My older brother (10 years my senior) was the All-District center on the football team. In West Texas, home of "Friday Night Lights", this was the gold standard. My brother was undersized and often blocked people substantially heavier than he, earning the nickname "Mighty Mouse". In fact, the winning homecoming float was a 16 foot paper mache Mighty Mouse wearing his jersey.
This was wonderful for him, but a challenge for me.
I was a chronic asthmatic who was allergic to Bermuda grass. My efforts to play were met with asthma attacks. That was not a problem. The problem was the fact that other people looked at me as if I would never measure up to my brother. I wondered about my own self worth. Sure, my parents told me it did not matter, but that was not comforting. It was their job to make me feel better, so their encouragement felt hollow.
That summer they sent me to camp. I did not want to go and arrived terrified. I was among the last to arrive and walked in like I was approaching a firing line.
What happened next was among the most important moments of my life.
A young man aged 19 or 20 walked up to me, knelt down to make sure he made direct eye contact, and started to talk.
"You must be Steve. I'm Bill. Wow, I have been waiting all day for you to get here. In fact, the rest of the guys are back in the cabin and they have been dying to meet you. Come on, buddy - let's go play!!"
For the next 5 weeks, every interaction I had with Bill had a simple message embedded in it - his life was made richer because this asthmatic 8 year-old had been part of it.
I went home confident that I was spectacular. OK, I could not play football (I would soon adopt tennis instead), but an awesome role model had decided I was special. I never looked back.
When Bill knelt down, he had no idea what he had done for me. I suspect that he has not thought about me in over 35 years. Yet had he not connected with me, I would certainly not have eventually become a camp director or had the opportunity to work with thousands of families over the past two decades.
My experience as a camp professional has provided me with a fairly unique perspective on families, parents, young adults and children. I get the rare opportunity to see a wide variety of families while creating an intentional community committed to the emotional, social and physical grow the of children.
In this blog, I plan to share what I have learned about youth development and families. Some articles will discuss the summer camp experience specifically, while others will share observations about youth development and education beyond camp.
I also want to encourage an active discussion. I plan to suggest some ideas that are unfamiliar and even extreme. I hope you will push back when you disagree and chime in when you think I am onto something. I have no real interest in being right, but I am fascinated with finding the right answers.
So please consider this my effort to mirror Bills' effort 28 years ago and look you eye-to-eye and invite you to join me.