Currently I’m on a train from Cinque Terre, Italy, to Geneva, Switzerland, and it’s crazy being in such a beautiful place but thinking, “I can’t wait to be back at Keystone Camp”. I’ve probably said that statement so many times to my friends as I try to explain to them what Keystone means, but it can never translate. They say they’ve done surf camps or week long camps, but they can’t understand what I mean when I describe camp as a place that is adventurous, builds independence and is so influential.
Imagine this…Waking up at 7:30 am to the sound of a bell but not having any time to lie around because you have to be up playing “Peanut Butter Jelly Time”, “Hips Don’t Lie” or whatever is your cabin’s morning song. Then you’re being the most energetic you can possibly be to get 8-12 girls to do chores and dance around at that early morning hour. Later at flag raising, you’re braiding hair and counting campers. At breakfast it’s helping everyone find the Cinnamon Toast Crunch, cleaning up spilled milk, and trying to get at least one cup of morning coffee.
Assembly follows breakfast and you run up to be silly and goofy, showing everyone it’s okay to get overly excited about “3 Little Angels”. Then it’s off to the races, teaching activities. Figuring out each camper’s skill level and, most importantly, how to make sure they learn and have fun is your focus for this part of your day. Rest hour breaks up a busy morning of piggy back rides and playing, so now you’re tasked with the challenge of making 8-12 giggling, happy girls take a break for a bit (and convincing them they’ll appreciate it later!!).
After rest hour you watch the girls eat a yummy snack that you know will burn through their bodies as they spend the afternoon rock climbing, swimming, horseback riding,canoeing and many other activities. Dinner comes and the dining hall is probably the quietest it will be because everyone knows they need to refuel for the next event: evening program. EP, as we call it, is always an adventure. You never know when you’re going to watch girls be super silly on stage or end the night covered with shaving cream and paint all over. Circle time ends, and you corral the girls into a circle of hair braiding and chatting while they share the special parts of their day you didn’t get to witness. You finally get hair washed, teeth brushed and pajamas on so you can read the next chapter of your cabin book and turn the lights off. Heading down to the Counselor Room to get a quick glimpse at social media and check in with other counselors is always a highlight. But by 11:45 pm you are back in your cabin and you’re asleep before your head hits the pillow. Less than eight hours later you hit the ground running, with each day bringing more laughs and memories than the one before.
Being an overnight camp counselor is probably one of the more physically demanding jobs you can take on as a college student. But it is without a doubt the most rewarding. It is not for everyone; only those who can bring their all to every day and understand that it’s okay to make mistakes will thrive here. The environment created at camp starts from the tradition and values that are taught to the counselors, then passed down to the campers to allow them to grow.
Being able to have 2-4 weeks that you are mostly in charge of what you do and how you act sets the stage for true independence. Being able to get away from the troubles and the materialistic things of the outside world as a camper and counselor is huge. It’s amazing to watch the transition of girls who are awkward at first without their phones to seeing them easily start a game of “Little Sally Walker” on the Green.
Camp is supporting others when they fail and when they succeed. Camp is making friends who teach you something you never knew existed. Camp is finding your role in your cabin or activity, whether it’s the quiet one or the silly one. Camp is walking around with confidence because you know you are YOU for a reason, and that is always enough.
As I write this I realize that I was writing with campers in mind, but all of those statements apply to counselors as well. I say sometimes that I love being a counselor more than being a camper. Most of that stems from me being an unadventurous kid who didn’t like to leave her comfort zone. What I have realized, though, is that as a counselor you get to be a direct influence on so many Keystone Camp girls. You get to be a friend to those that haven’t experienced true friendship. You get to be a source of light to girls who just need some sunshine. You get to push girls to be their best selves. Best of all, whether they go down sliding rock or not, whether they make it to the top of the climbing wall or not, you get to affirm that they are awesome.
I’ve attended and even been a counselor at a lot of camps, but none compare to the environment at Keystone Camp for Girls. It’s full of the most incredible mix of campers and counselors–campers who are essential to the joy and laughter of Keystone and counselors who give of themselves every minute of the day, who truly understand what it means to put our campers first.
That’s why, as I sit here on a train in Cinque Terre, I am counting down the days until I get to drive up to the mountains of North Carolina to a little place in the town of Brevard that has absolutely become my happy place.