Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp - counselors in the lake

Dear camp counselor

Dear camp counselor,

September is here. Backpacks are packed, pencils sharpened, and yellow school buses wait at the corner. Orange and brown leaves are starting to cover our yard and the sun is coming up later and going to bed sooner. Alas, summer is officially over.

Despite the excitement and energy that surrounds a new school year, there is one bit of summer that lingers in our house; one topic that resurfaces at the dinner table, in the car, and at bed-time. Of everything my kids did and experienced this summer (and it was a lot) the one subject that comes up again and again is camp.

While you camp counselors have returned to your college dorms and apartments or your regular jobs, my children are still singing those same songs 100 times in a row, re-enacting that silly skit and arguing over who gets to play what part, and trying to teach their school friends how to play spit and color tag .

Out of 12 weeks of summer vacation they only spent two with you, but they are the two weeks that live on in our house. And sure, they did some pretty cool stuff at camp. I mean, who wouldn’t remember a week canoeing down the Shenandoah River, horse back riding on the Appalachian Trail, or an afternoon of caving? But really, in the midst of the stories and the songs and the laughter, what I hear most are your names.

I hear stories told over and over about how Jake did this, or Sarah said that. My kids will say to each other, “remember when Dan and Tori did that skit?” and bust out laughing while trying to explain it to me (for the 78th time) and I still won’t get it, but they will laugh hysterically anyways. Then they’ll ask, “mom do you think Nick/Julie/Dalton/Jayme will be my counselor next year?”

Your names are spoken with a tone of admiration, love, and familiarity as if you’ve been in their lives forever, not someone they just met in June. You are the coolest/funniest/smartest/nicest/craziest person they know. And I get it. I was a camper for 7 years, and thought the same thing about my counselors. Twenty-five years later and I’m still friends with some of my camp counselors, and probably my biggest regret is never getting the chance to be one of you.

Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp - campers with counselor winning the golden broom Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp counselors

But, as awesome as I thought my counselors were when I was a camper, as a parent I have an entirely new perspective. And I’ve come to one simple conclusion: y’all are insane! You spend eight weeks in a row where every waking moment is dedicated to caring for other people’s children! I mean really. I love my kids, but after 5 days of them being home with me I am secretly re-setting the clocks three hours ahead and trying to convince them it’s bed time at 5 o’clock.

It’s not just that you spend all this time with these kids, but you are constantly doing all these things! Like outdoor, in the heat, constantly moving things! You take them hiking and swimming, canoeing and climbing. You play games in open fields where bugs fly up your nose and in your eyes. You have to oversee ten 9-11 year old boys cooking their own dinner over an open fire, in the woods for crying out loud! I can’t even get my 9 year old son to put his plate in the dishwasher!

And after all of that hiking, and swimming, and cooking, and playing, you sit with them on the porch and wave away the gnats as you tell them about God’s hand in everything they did that day. You patiently answer their questions, overlook their foolishness, and hug the ones who miss home. Then you remind them, five more minutes till the flashlights have to be out. Because you are the last to sleep and the first to wake. And you do it all over again the next day…and every day for 8 weeks straight. Honestly, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp - games in the field

Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp - canoe campers

But you know the part that gets me the most? It’s that when I picked my kids up at the end of week 8, you had just as much energy and joy as I saw in you back in week 2. And because no one ever became a camp counselor to get rich, I know that joy and energy must be because camp is in your soul. It is inside of you and fills your heart and overflows into the space around you. It’s contagious. My kids have caught it. Camp is inside of them. Not just while they are there for those two weeks, but every day throughout the entire year.

Yes, y’all are insane. Beautifully, wonderfully, certifiably insane. And I, for one, am so very thankful for it.


A former camper-turned-mom of three lucky campers

Parents, send your kids to camp! It will be the best week of their summer. Our personal favorite is a magical place here in the Shenandoah Valley called Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp.or check out the American Camp Association’s website to find a camp near you!

Photos by Nicole Todd, courtesy Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp


PLEASE READ BEFORE SHARING: Since this blog post was first published on September 3rd, 2015 it’s been viewed over 40,000 times! I never in my wildest dreams expected this kind of response, and I think it’s a testament to how much camp impacts and changes lives. While I am always happy to have a post shared via social media or email, I have a couple of favors to ask:

  1. If you would like to use this post in your camp or church newsletter/magazine/website, I simply ask that you link back to this, the original post, and give credit to the author (me).
  2. Please do not alter/edit/change the content of this letter.
  3. Please do not use the photos in this post without express permission from Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp.
  4. If you do share the content of this post in a publication or on a website, I would absolutely love it if you dropped me a little note to let me know the publication name and date shared! You can email me at

20 thoughts on “Dear camp counselor”

  1. This year I worked at a summer camp in the USA and have entered a competition to have the program fees paid for if I win. This would mean it would be possible for me to return and work once again in this dream job!! I would appreciate it so much if you could take the time to like this photo (not the post) to help me win this competition! Thanks in advance to all that do!! 😄😄

    Please support me by giving it a like! 😄

  2. Your blog post was reposted by Camp Kirchenwald, an ELCA Lutheran camp in central PA that is much like Caroline Furnace. As I read your post all of a sudden it started to feel famlier, as my first canoeing trip was down the Shennandoah, I learned to love hiking on the AT, and I threw myself in cool running waters after an afternoon of splunking. Then, I looked more closely at the pictures, recognized the lodge, and realized that it wasn’t my imagination, you were writing about one of my favorite places on earth: Camp Caroline Furnace. I was a camper from 7-17 (1987-1997) and went on to spend 4 summers working at Camp Kirchenwald in college (2000-2003). I can tell you that Caroline Furnace made me a young adult who wanted to spend her summers living in the woods with a gaggle of children and that it is just as hard, if not harder, to leave camp behind after 10 weeks on staff as it was after one or two as a camper. I really enjoyed your article and, rest assured, your children found their way into their counselors’ hearts just as much as their counselors found their ways into your children’s.

    1. Jess, thank you for your comment. It warms my heart to hear stories of how camp has changed people’s lives. We must have been at camp the same summers! I was a camper at Caroline Furnace 87-93. Usually drama camp but also did wilderness and music camp. Small world. 🙂

      1. Small world, indeed! I did drama camp too for a few years and wilderness once…probably in 1993? Canoe camp was my teen-years favorite. I looked at your pictures to see if I recognized your face, but it’s been a lot of years since my camper days! I will admit, after reading your post I emailed one of my counselor buddies form my camper days (who I have also kept in touch with for 20-some years).

    2. Jess,

      Were you by any chance a hogan camper with four girls from Pulaski in 1993? The years line up right and it would be very small world if you are the Jess I remember… Who I know was a long time camper. And add a little extra to your comment that the counselors love the kids as much as vice versa.

      Possibly your counselor,

      1. Angie- that’s me! In the smallest of worlds, one of those Pulaski girl’s little sister turned up at Kirchenwald when I worked there: another counselor came to find me at pool time to tell me that there was a camper there who used to go to “my” camp and sure enough, it was Katie’s little sister. Are you on Facebook? I’d love to reconnect as you were probably my favorite counselor ever…Oh, and your brother was my counselor my last summer at camp and he was super irritated that I happened to remember the summer that he was kicked out of camp… 🙂

  3. Great article and well written Jess. It so describes our amazing summer staff team and how they pour God’s love day after day into the lives of precious campers. Thanks so much for sharing thees encouraging thoughts

  4. My son, a camper turned counselor posted the link to this story. It’s as if you have taken the thoughts right out of my head! I know the feeling I get as we drive into camp and that is because I know how many memories are there for him. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Beautifully written! I am a camper, turned counselor, turned mom of campers. Nothing compares to the feelings of camp! I teared up reading this thinking about my time as a camper, counselor & mom! It is never too late to be involved in camp either! They are always looking for volunteers! I will be volunteering next summer while both of my children are campers!

    1. I definitely started tearing up as well. I’m a former camper and now current camp counselor. I really am trying my best to set a wonderful example for these beautiful children.
      I’m going to be working at camp this year as well and I hope I do a good job. It’s only my second year being a camp counselor.

  6. I was that camper for 5 years at Kamp Kiwanis, a Girl Scout camp in Alabama. I sang the songs to my daughters when they were babies and they have sang them to their babies. One daughter was a camper and counselor over a 9 year span. Memories that stay a lifetime.

  7. I absolutely love when your kids come to camp! I’m so lucky to have had Hannah as a camper so many times. It is so rewarding knowing that we’ve made such a positive impact in your kids’ lives.

    1. Tori, my kids feel the same way, especially Hannah! I feel so fortunate, as a mom, that my kids have such amazing, caring, positive, Jesus-loving teens/young adults to look up to.

  8. This is so lovely. I’ve worked at Sugar Creek Bible Camp in Wisconsin for nearly a decade of summers, and it has truly changed my life. I am a teacher now, and I thank camp for teaching me so much more than university ever could. Thank you for the beautiful and thoughtful article. 🙂

  9. I worked as a counselor for four summers at Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp. Two summers ago I was afforded to watch two of my children work at Rainbow Trail while I was there as a Family Camper. It was truly amazing watching my children walk in my footsteps. God’s grace abounds!

  10. Thanks for the beautiful article – it is exactly the same experience our family has had at Caroline Furnace. My 3 kids have been going for years and like yours and can’t stop talking about the counselors and their experiences and singing the songs. As we drive out on Friday, they all make me promise they can come back next year…so even though we moved to Germany last summer, we’re all flying back in July just so they can go to camp! They’re counting down the days until they can be back there again.

    1. Jill, what a beautiful testimony to the power of Caroline Furnace. I suspect if we ever moved out of Virginia our kids would want the same. My 7 summers there as a camper were the highlight of my childhood. When I drop my kids off at camp now I cry, not because I’m leaving them, but because they get to stay and I don’t. 🙂

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