Wow. I remember at the end of last summer I had hoped that if we received one gift from the pandemic, it would be to normalize mental health needs. As I often share with the girls, no one is free of needing support at some time in their lives. Many of us find that within our family and among our friends. Some of us need more help, more often, but there are so many challenging moments in life, it is not unusual to seek professional counseling at some point. No matter whether we receive professional counseling or lean on familial support systems, at no time does this support take the place of what we have to do for ourselves, no matter how old we are.
We know the pandemic has had a tremendous impact on our children. We know they have felt lost and lonely. They have mourned lost time with friends, their inability to go to sleepovers and parties and cancelled sporting events. They have endured talking through masks, not being able to see each other’s faces, and frequent covid tests or quarantines because of potential exposures. This has been HARD; not only for our campers, but also for our staff.
I am not sure if resilience is better described as a trait or a characteristic, but it is an essential element of the human experience. I refer you to theWikipedia page on Psychological Resilience and to this article from Everydayhealth.com. I particularly appreciate the latter’s description of resilience:
Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Being resilient does not mean that people don’t experience stress, emotional upheaval, and suffering. Some people equate resilience with mental toughness, but demonstrating resilience includes working through emotional pain and suffering.
For Sunday campfires, I usually share a story from Keystone’s history with the girls. They love to ask questions about the “olden times.” Unfortunately, that now means when I was a camper! The joys of getting old! This past Sunday, I chose to share the story of the Great Fire. On Halloween night of 2005, we suffered the largest fire property loss in the history of Transylvania County. We lost approximately 11,000 square feet of activity space and 8 different activities worth of equipment. We used to use the gym for winter storage of our canoes, trailers, etc. I got to watch the fire burn for over 4 hours. The smoke of our fire was visible from the Asheville Airport, a 30 minute drive from camp. My mother had died 2 years earlier, and my husband and I had relocated to Brevard in 2004 to be closer to my dad and to be able to be at camp full-time. Thank goodness we were here when this happened.
Electricity was cut from the camp buildings, so we had to stay in town at my brother’s weekend house. When I got to the house late that night, I found my father devastated. He made the statement, “This may well be the end of Keystone. I do not know how we will ever recover.” I didn’t know either, but I wanted to try, and I started off the next morning with my insurance agent and a phone call to an architect friend. My staff also circled around me, and we divided up tasks. No one prepares you for the tremendous losses fire brings. There was no instruction manual, and no one who could fix this for me. I didn’t even know anyone who had experienced a fire and certainly not on this scale. I didn’t know if I was capable of leading the effort, but I felt I had to try. There were very dark days when we couldn’t get materials. There were permit delays and construction requirements that were not covered by insurance. Tears of disappointment and frustration were cried. I went from having my insurance agent telling me I had a $500 deductible and everything else was covered to having to borrow $500,000 to rebuild. We didn’t get out of the ground with our first beam until March 1st, and we opened June 4th for our 90th summer. The buildings weren’t completely finished, but we could operate for the summer. The week before we opened, my dad and I stood together on the porch of the Pavillion, and he told me that all had turned out better than he could ever have imagined.
I shared with the girls how HARD that was for me…just to put one foot in front of the other that first morning. I am just a fellow human being who has struggled and felt lost. I have learned to dig deep inside myself to keep moving forward in spite of the obstacles. Bringing Keystone back after the fire increased my sense of resilience. I can do HARD things. I am not without fear, anxiety or stress. I just believe that I can find a path forward where all of these feelings are manageable.
For most of camp, the pandemic is the first truly hard and difficult experience they have ever had, and seeing how the girls have been emotionally impacted by this past year weighs heavily on all of us. We are worried about them, about their stress, their anxieties and their fears. Unfortunately, it will not be the last hard and difficult time in their lives. We have to help our girls develop resilience. We are working to help them put one foot in front of the other through physical and emotional challenges at camp. There are difficult times for them. They can experience homesickness. They can be anxious about trying a new activity for the first time. They can be stressed from not always sleeping well, or perhaps they have had a disagreement with another camper in their cabin. Our staff, too, is learning to do new things. From unclogging their first toilet to helping a child conquer homesickness, our counselors learn they can do more than they thought they could.
When a camper falls from a horse, it is important to get her back on that horse as soon as possible. We want to encourage our girls to apply that same technique in all areas of their lives. We can face challenges. We can face fears. We can conquer our stressors and things that cause us anxiety. We can learn resilience.
In the wise words of Winnie the Pooh:
Promise me you will always remember: You’re braver than you believe And stronger than you seem, And smarter than you think
We are pleased to be your partners in building resilience in your girls.