In the last few days I've seen so many different -- and unique -- examples of how we help our campers learn important life skills, and feel deeply connected to our community. One example came during our daily morning assembly. While the whole camp was gathered I reminded everyone of our annual "Where Your Camp Shirt" contest. We love it when our campers wear their camp apparel in the off seasons, and we also love encouraging them to explore the world around them. Going to a 7-week overnight camp shows a real independent and resilient character, and we want to foster that year-round. So each year we have a contest to see who can travel the farthest from our campus in Wilmot, NH and have their picture taken with a camp t-shirt or sweatshirt on. Over the last twelve months we've had about 50 submissions, and this year's prize went to Oliver, who traveled all the way to Tanzania. He won a party for his bunk, and the admiration of every boy, girl and counselor in Camp. Bravo to you, sir!
Last night I was invited to spend some time in Evergreen's Cedar lodge, where our Freshmen girls live. I brought my guitar, and right before I began to sing I witnessed one of the best bedtime rituals I've seen in Camp in a long time. It was created by their unit leader, Dylan Mitchell. Before the summer she went out and bought a stuffed Olaf from the movie "Frozen". Every night before bed she gathers the girls and asks them if anyone wants to nominate someone else in the age group for being a true supportive friend. Last night Eva raised her hand and told the group that she wanted to nominate her friend Alex. Alex had been there for her in a moment when she had been feeling down, and that act of kindness immediately made her feel better. It also confirmed for her that Alex was someone she wanted to spend the rest of the summer being friends with. For this, Alex was given the sacred Olaf, which she happily slept with curled up under her arm last night. I'm so proud of Alex and Eva, and Dylan for creating such a wonderful bedtime ritual!
As I wrote, what brought me to the lodge was a request to play some music and have a sing-a-long. And that's exactly what we did. We sang "Blackbird" by the Beatles, "Waiting On An Angel" by Ben Harper, and Joni Mitchell's "Circle Game". Together in the lodge living room, with the girls all wrapped up in their most comfy blankets, we sang and laughed and just loved being together. When it was over their counselors walked some of them back to their beds, and carried others who had fallen asleep. It was an incredibly special time to all be together.
Seconds after saying goodnight to the girls I was racing in my golf cart across campus to what I can only hope will be a new summer camp tradition here. Alex Posner, unit leader for our Freshmen boys, had marched his group of campers and counselors to the far end of the campus. When I arrived, they stood amidst a ring of torches, under a blanket of 10,000 stars.
Outside of camp Alex is a college student and an accomplished magician. Hoping to create a theme that would leave his campers feeling super connected to one another, and loving all things related to magic, he decided to run his unit somewhat like Hogwarts in the Harry Potter novels. Last evening, each camper stood in front of a Sorting Hat, which told them which "house" they were going to be a part of this summer. Coincidentally, their houses were the bunks they have been living in since Saturday. What they did not know was that each house/bunk was associated with an animal, and special skills and traits. Thankfully, none of the houses/bunks was akin to Slytherin...
Standing in the dark, Alex spoke with them about how as members of this age group that they were all going to be close friends this summer, and that they would go on fantastic adventures together. He talked about how the counselors were there to help them have the most fun summers of their lives, and to help them become stronger, more confident, more independent people. He also made it clear that they were a part of a special brotherhood that would support and take care its members. You could see the awe on their faces.
Towards the end he had them lie on their backs and stare at the starry sky. Then he asked them to think about their number one goal or outcome that they wanted to achieve this summer. As they did this their counselors took out traditional Chinese sky lanterns and ignited the candles inside. Now holding hands with their bunkmates, each camper told the lantern their secret wish for the summer. Then the counselors lifted the lanterns into the air...and off they floated into the night sky. Alex told them "and now your thoughts and dreams are a permanent part of the cosmos". Even in the dark you could see that this was summer camp ritual that they will never forget. I anticipate this becoming a permanent tradition here...
Tonight in Evergreen was yet another one of our important camp traditions. This was an event called "Peanut Pal", which is a rather interesting name, considering that we are a peanut free camp (and tree nut free, too)! Peanut Pal is a ritual that goes back to the founding of Evergreen, and is a way we help every girl in camp get to know everyone else.
At the start of the day each member of the Evergreen community picked someone's name out of a ceremonial green and gold bucket, and that person became their "peanut pal". Throughout the day the pal left her new friend little notes of kindness and encouragement, and clues as to her secret identity. After dinner, all of Evergreen gathered in the theater. My wife Deena acted like a game show host revealing the Peanut Pals to each other in a big ceremony with lots of cheering and camaraderie.
As our girls get older they love recalling who their peanut pals were from all of their summers. It's yet another opportunity to say "that person I would never have known had I not gone to Evergreen...she and I were paired up together for an important ceremony that helped me feel a part of this community". We seem to have a lot of rituals that do that, and I think it's one of the reasons people feel so connected to this community.
Tomorrow some of our Evergreen girls will take part in another camp tradition: our Big and Little Sister program. Just after lunch we will announce to our 8 and 9-year old campers who their 15-year old big sisters will be this summer. These older campers will serve as mentors and role models for the next 7 weeks. They'll teach them about camp traditions, help them in their challenging moments, and provide them with as much unconditional love as possible. For many in camp their relationship with their big or little sister is a lifetime connection.
Our Kenwood Freshmen met their Big Brothers two nights ago, and earlier today they went together on their first trip out of Camp. First they went bowling, and then they went out for ice cream. As they traveled on the bus the big and little brothers spent time learning about each other, and forming incredibly close bonds in just a few hours. As with our Evergreen siblings, most of our big and little brothers will remain in contact long after this summer is over.
Our overnight camp community has more amazing rituals and traditions than I could possibly detail in one day's blog. Each one is an important component of how we help our campers make this their 7-week summer home, year after year.
Camps Kenwood and Evergreen is an overnight camp for boys and girls in Wilmot, NH. For 85 years we have taught children important life skills like leadership, independence, collaboration, and innovation.