Tag Archives: camp

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.

Sincerely,

A former camper-turned-mom of three lucky campers

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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 jelise@neitherheightnordepth.com

There’s just something really special about Caroline

For most people, referencing home or where they “grew-up” means a house or maybe even a town or neighborhood where they lived as a child. For me, going home to where I “grew-up” means going to an unassuming, but beautiful place hidden in the Blue Ridge Mountains called Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp. I was a camper there for 7 summers when I was a child. I met my dearest friend there; I met the Holy Spirit there.  I learned how to paddle a canoe, build a fire, and take a shower in under 2 minutes. And there is no place in the world that feels more like home to me. Now my children are campers at Caroline Furnace and a new generation is getting to experience a week of living in the woods, creating masterpieces out of yarn and Popsicle sticks, singing songs about yodeling ostriches and that one tin soldier riding away, and collecting slag.

The truth is I could probably write a hundred blog posts about Caroline Furnace, my summers there, and what it means to me. But today I want to share with you my most recent visit. This weekend was the annual spring work weekend at camp where volunteers are recruited to do much needed work around the camp grounds and facilities before the busy summer season. I waffled for a few weeks on whether or not we could attend because my midterm for my capstone is due tomorrow and I wasn’t sure I could really spare any time this weekend. On Wednesday I said to my husband, “do you mind if we go to Caroline Furnace on Saturday for work weekend?”  Don’t you like how I said “we”? Of course being the amazing man that he is, he didn’t hesitate at all. Even though he was never a camper there, he gets it about Caroline.

So we decided to go down for just the day. Like good little campers we filled our water bottles, put on our I-don’t-care-if-this-gets-dirty clothes and got on the road only slightly later than I intended. I knew from emails and Facebook that several old camp friends of mine would be there, including a friend whom I hadn’t actually seen since the last time we were at camp together — over 20 years ago! As I drove the familiar curves of the back-mountain road a little faster than I should have, I felt my heart quicken with excitement and couldn’t help but smile as memories came flooding back. It happens every time.

When we arrived, many people were already off doing their assigned morning tasks, since a large number of the volunteers had come up the night before. We were greeted by one of my former counselors, who is now on the camp’s Board of Directors and the driving force behind work weekend. After sharing a few hugs we were quickly sent to our assigned areas. The kids got to be on the “kid brigade”, I was put to work helping clean in the kitchen, and my husband was ushered off to help with work being done at the camp director’s house. I felt a small twinge of guilt and worry because I knew my husband wouldn’t really know anyone and it might be awkward for him. But I silently prayed he would not feel too out-of-place.

camp friends
Shannon and I, together again after 20 years. It was like no time had passed.

As I walked in the kitchen I found my friend Shannon, the one I hadn’t seen since we were kids. We immediately embraced like long-lost sisters and I felt none of the awkwardness you sometimes feel when you run into old high-school friends you haven’t seen or talked to in years. We caught up quickly, as I was aware I was there to do a job. There were a few other people I knew or recognized, and many I didn’t, but within moments we were all working side-by-side like we’d been scrubbing kitchens together our whole lives and it was the most natural thing for us to be doing at that moment. As I chatted to some of the other folks I found out some of them had been former campers, some former staff, others were parents or spouses of former campers or staffers. But everyone was there, gladly giving up their Saturday, because Caroline Furnace had touched their lives in some way.

I later found out there were over 70 people that came throughout the weekend to get dirty, sweat, and share their camp memories. Some of us knew each other before the weekend, others didn’t. But you wouldn’t know it looking from the outside in, because we all seemed like old friends in moments. We were only there for 7 hours that day, but by the end my kids were begging me for playdates and sleepovers with the new friends they’d made and worked alongside, my husband was laughing and shaking hands with several guys he had just met that morning, and I was hugging tightly onto many friends, knowing it would not be soon enough until I saw them again.

As we pulled away I told my husband how much I appreciated him coming with me and spending his Saturday working on a place that was not his childhood home (or even childhood camp). And he said “are you kidding, I loved it! I may not have gone to camp here as a kid, but our kids do, and I get why this place is so important to you. There’s just something really special about Caroline Furnace.” Yes. Yes, there is.