Years ago I heard famed child psychologist Michael Thompson give a speech to an audience of parents considering sending their children to summer camp. That night he said something that has stuck with me for years. Camp, he said, is an incredibly powerful social experience for children for many reasons, and one of the best parts of it is that it brings children of different ages together and gives them the opportunity to form meaningful friendships. I distinctly remember him asking the crowd "in what other aspect of America life do 8, 12 and 15 year olds get to hang out with one another...and have it be so positive? There certainly aren't many, and few impactful as the relationships that develop between our Camps Kenwood and Evergreen Big and Little Siblings.
Every summer our 15 year old campers have the opportunity to be Big Sisters or Big Brothers to our 8 and 9 year old campers. From the moment they are introduced you can see the awe in the eyes of the Little Siblings, and the love the Big guys and girls have for their new friends. Quickly our oldest campers become mentors and part of their summer support system.
In Kenwood we introduce our Big and Little Brothers to each other at our Ceremonial Campfire on the third night of Camp. From the moment they arrive our team watches our youngest campers closely, trying to determine which of our oldest boys will be the best match and mentor for each child. We look at factors like activity interests, the professional teams they route for, their hobbies, their personalities, and their geography. If at all possible we want to have pair up Big Brothers and Sisters with younger campers they might be able to see and even babysit for during the non-Camp season.
On Monday night our Unit Leaders announced the pairings, and even after just a few minutes of getting to know each other you could see that the bonds were forming. The next morning at assembly multiple Big Brothers told me "it's like you paired me up with a little version of myself", while many of the Little Brothers simply screamed "I love my Big Brother so much. He's so cool!"
After the campfire, as is our tradition, the Big Brothers led their new friends back to the bunks, and with their counselors, tucked the Freshmen in for the night. They spent time telling them about something that they have loved about growing up in this camp community, and how they will be available to their Little Brother should they get homesick, have questions about Camp, or just want to talk with someone who isn't their bunk counselor.
Two days later the boys boarded a bus and spent the afternoon bowling and then going out for ice cream. Throughout the event everyone was gabbing away, getting to know each other, growing closer with every minute. Throughout the summer we'll be carving out time for these Camp Siblings to spend time with each other, and many of the Big Brothers look for any free moment they have to check in and make sure their Little Brother is thriving.
Evergreen's Big Sister traditions are slightly different but with the same outcomes in mind. Today, just after Rest Period, our Evergreen Freshmen and Juniper Girls gathered in the Gym. Juniper is the lodge that houses our oldest girls, and all morning long they were preparing beautiful pieces of artwork as gifts to give their Little Sisters.
As it was announced who the pairings were both young and old began shrieking with delight, and as you can see there was a whole lot of hugging. Then the siblings jumped on a bus and headed out for an afternoon of swimming and ice cream.
Just as it was with the boys, before the day was done each Big Sister was beaming with pride about how great her Little Sister was, and how perfect a match they were. Speaking with the older siblings this evening I heard about the 1000 questions they were asked about camp and high school and life, and how excited they all were to be such a positive presence in the girls' lives. Truly, this is one of my favorite Kenwood and Evergreen traditions.
We can't wait to see how these new friendships bloom over the course of the summer, and how much love and support our Big Sisters and Brothers bring to our youngest campers. For some the most important moments will be playing a game of catch or a rainy afternoon spent making friendship bracelets, while for others a Camp Big Sibling can be the cure for homesickness. No matter what, the relationship means a great deal to all involved, and is just one more way our rituals and traditions help our campers know that they are a part of a lifelong Camp Brotherhood or Sisterhood.