When I am asked to describe what I do for a living to someone who does not have any camp experience, I usually tell them that running a summer camp is much like starting a private school from scratch each year. We have no guarantee that anyone will be returning, neither campers or staff. (Very thankfully though, we are incredibly fortunate to have return rates in excess of 75-80% each year in both groups.) But the experience of camp is so different from school and other social opportunities.
Camp is socially intense. When in school, the day ends in the afternoon, and your daughter returns home to share her day with you. In middle and high school, your daughter may retreat to her room only to emerge for meals. She enjoys her own space and private time. At camp, there are very few times to be completely alone and find private time. Helping our girls navigate the 24/7 of being with others is an important part of camp. Additionally, helping our girls manage the associated emotions is also part of what we do. Our cabin counselors receive training on how to mediate the potential cabin conflicts between our super extroverts and our super introverts. We are helping lay a foundation for lifelong skills in advocating for personal needs around time and space. I remember so well living in a dorm room designed for two but had three of us my freshman year at Duke. The two of us who were camp girls were able to thrive and handle the lack of space, our bunk bed, our shared closet and the crowdedness while our other roommate struggled even though she had a full half of the room to herself.
You see the pictures of your girls that we post each day, but there is so much more going on behind the scenes. Because of the daily world of camp, the photos do not give you the full picture of all we are doing and experiencing. A quickly snapped photo of a face may catch your girl in the middle of struggling to achieve something. She may be lost in thought, and you might think she is sad or homesick. Trust us to watch over her while she is here. We want the best for your daughter.
You might receive an email or letter from your daughter that was written quickly on the heels of a disappointment or a momentary conflict that has been completely resolved by the time you hear about it. We are coaching our girls to resolve issues face to face. We want them to learn to share their feelings and how they are impacted by others as we live in close quarters. This has to happen with our help. When you are not here, you don’t see the interplay between the girls. There are two sides…at least…to every story that transpires.
It is very likely that we see a different girl than you might see at home and school. Perhaps she wears a frog hat or cat ears all day long, everyday. Perhaps she leads the line dances on Prom Night, but she has no interest in going to a school dance. Perhaps she leads the songs for assembly, but she won’t try out for the school chorus. Camp allows girls to be who they want to be, not who they are expected to be. At home, your love and acceptance is guaranteed. At camp, relationships with others are not guaranteed. The relationships we develop are accelerated in time and intensity because we are together so much. The girls don’t get to choose all of their cabinmates. They must learn to work together in spite of differences in personalities and experiences. Our campers come from across the country, from tiny towns to cities of millions. Some live in apartments; some live on hundreds of acres. These disparate life experiences and backgrounds come together in each of our cabins. The girls don’t have the option of ignoring each other because they are always together. The girls learn they can value each other without having to be best friends. Everyone here has a role to play in our camp community and in our understanding of each other.
We believe in your daughter and in her capacity to be a contributing member of our Keystone community. Trust us in our work to support your girl as she learns and grows in a very close-knit, intense time at camp. She will push herself through new challenges, and she will grow both physically and emotionally. She will find friends among girls she would never otherwise meet in life. We are there beside her to encourage her learning journey and her social development. We work to support the same things you want for your daughter when she is at home with you. Because you are not here with us, we need your trust that we are doing our best for your daughter.
In turn, you will receive a daughter with new experiences to share with you. Let us not forget the old phrase: “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” She will have an appreciation for all she has at home, and the relationship she has with you. She will be proud she has learned to confront a conflict or challenge and resolve it by being her own best advocate. She can spend the next 11 months sharing camp experiences and what she learned with you until it is time to return again for another summer of challenges and growth.
Keystone would not have survived so successfully through 105 seasons if we did not do our job well. Thousands of “our girls” are out in the world using the lessons they learned at camp in college, in traveling around the world, in their careers, as partners in relationships and as parents. Camp is a significant complement to the rest of the learning and growing our girls do in other parts of their lives.
We are grateful for the trust you place in us, and we think of it each day as we work with your daughters.