What is camp?

OUR KIDS (Our Kids Go To Camp): What kind of community is camp? How would you describe it?

Jocelyn (Jocelyn Palm, Glen Bernard Camp): Camp is a unique environment for a number of reasons. Probably the most important is the actual physical reality of living together through everything that you do in a day - whether it's eating meals or sailing a boat or having a shower. When you have to be with someone on a continuous basis, you develop a very different relationship than if you can come and go. You can't escape the physical set-up so you're going to sink or swim on your ability to cope with the people that you're around. So people become very close friends very quickly.

Dave (Dave Graham, Kandelore): It's the shared experience that happens at camp. The only other thing that equates would be what you experience with your family, where you share every experience that everyone around you is having. While kids may do different activities during the day, they come together and have interaction at different points - as a cabin group and as a section and they share their experiences of the day. It forms a community in the sense that everybody knows what?s going on with everyone else, and understands and listens and talks about their experiences.

Steve (Steve Heming, YMCA Wanakita): First thing that comes to mind is family, whether you?re a camp of 50 people or 500. My task - and I have a large camp - is to structure the units within the family to continue creating that family feeling. It's significant because it's an immersing experience - away from the distractions. I think that's what makes it a unique environment for special learning to take place, about yourself and others and your place in the world or in the community. And then, of course, you take that back. You leave camp hopefully stronger, developed - you've grown in whatever ways - and all the values, all the positive things you?ve learned, you're going to impact back in your community in a positive way.

Jocelyn: I asked a bunch of our staff for their words: encouraging, diverse, united, FUN (in capital letters), caring and compassion, simple things, positive role models, things different from parents, accepting other people's differences, closer friendships, bond with people besides the immediate family (this is probably the first time a lot of kids have had that), trust and developing trust, excelling in unique activities builds confidence (going on a fairly significant canoe trip), feel part of something separate from family.

Dave: The only thing I would add is that it's a personalized experience. In the camp experience, the child gets the attention of a leader, a role model. They're interacting with people they see as "cool" ones they want to emulate. As well, camp really fosters a sense of being able to be yourself. Everybody pretty much arrives at camp with a clean slate.

Jocelyn: I think the role model aspect is very important because they're much closer in age. You can admire a teacher but you don't do the things that a teacher does. Whereas at camp, you're actually doing the things that your counsellor is doing - you're sailing the boat or paddling the canoe. So you see that they pick up stuff.

Dave: If you ask any of the staff who came up through the ranks, so to speak, what their goal is as a staff member, a lot of the time the response will be: I want to give the kids that I'm working with the experience and the feeling that I had that made me want to return. One thing you'll never hear at camp from a staff member is "I hate my job," because they have a passion for what they're doing. And a passion for the sense that they get of themselves when they're in this environment as well.

Jocelyn: When I ask them "What'd you learn at camp?" the thing I most often get is: what I learned about myself. Nowhere else are you given so much responsibility at a young age, held accountable, given an opportunity to make mistakes and fix it, and supported through all that. That speaks to the community that is creating this thing, where people can see how they react, they can change their behaviour... It's kind of a neat way of nudging people along in learning; you try to make them all become evaluators of what's happening. That's an important thing to take to the workplace.

Steve: You're in an immersing experience at camp, where you learn how to live together with people and how to relate to them on a day-to-day basis - at whatever level you're at. From that experience, you carry forward life skills and deeper character-building qualities - self-esteem, confidence - for the rest of your life. I remember one fellow, now a prominent businessman, who tells of developing his public speaking skills back 25 years ago when he was a 21-year-old assigned to organize camp announcements. Now, when he speaks to 400 in a business meeting, he says it?s like the dining hall. I also believe camp creates a lifelong learning situation.

OUR KIDS: Do you work toward creating this kind of community or does it just happen?

Dave: It's a little bit of both. It does kind of just happen, but through 4 our training of our staff, we certainly talk about ways to facilitate the community. We talk to each camper every day to monitor how each one is doing and to ensure that they're enjoying themselves. And through the enjoyment of camp comes the community.

Jocelyn: There is a very deliberate plan. The success of the community is no accident. When you first start as a camp director and you're trying to make things happen, you have to do a whole lot of direction. But the longer you've been there, the more you have people who have the values and therefore you don't have to teach them. The great joy is when you hear one counsellor say to another "We don't do that here," because then you know that those values have gotten through. And it's those values that guide. We, in our mission statement, say: we provide a caring environment in which campers develop independence and group belonging. It's very deliberate.

OUR KIDS: How is the camp community affected by a range of ages?

Jocelyn: In a girls? camp, it's very important, because we are the nurturers, that?s one of our roles as women. Girls love to have an opportunity to look out for others - not all the time because they also have their own needs - but there's often times when they love to rub shoulders. We have all the interesting social issues . . . but they're learning how to deal. Our campers are eight years to 16 years so that's quite a range. And lots of opportunity for exchange every day: there's some time with your cabin; some time with your section, which would be all the kids your age and grade; and some time with a mix of all ages. And we deliberately do that so that it's not always with the same kids.

Dave: We're six to 16 with our age groups. In an activity sense, kids travel together as an age group. But through the course of the stay at camp, we have special days and evening programs and other events where we come together as a community or break out into groups of all ages.

Steve: We have major sessions now in our pre-camp training on - what are relationships for eight-year-olds, for 18-year-olds, for 13- and 14-year-olds? and all the things that you can think about that are relationships - from playing together, learning together, living, sleeping, in male-female-coed camps... we have to keep up with the trends to ensure our community is adapting.

OUR KIDS: Does duration of the camp affect the sense of community?

Jocelyn: There's no question that's key. People learn slowly. The longer you have to work in the community sense, the better you get at it. Now what is the magic time? It used to be that you went to camp for a month. That is becoming less popular. A lot of camps that used to do one month have now gone to two weeks, two weeks, two weeks. So you can still go for a month, but half of your cabin leaves after two weeks - and that introduces an interesting dynamic. Our camp has always been three weeks, three weeks, two weeks. And our six- to seven-year-olds can come for a week. So within the three-week camp, we have a section of these one-weekers who come and go and that's fine, because they're all in the same group.

Dave: In a two-week camp you start to experience that sense of community and it deepens in a month-long camp. Our younger campers generally come for two weeks, then once they get to be what we call intermediates and seniors, they want to be there longer not only because we offer longer canoe trips for those age groups but because they really want to experience the community that's there.

OUR KIDS: How is it for somebody new, coming to camp for the first time? Dave: We structure our cabin groups very carefully to make them as balanced as possible. We try to create a cabin where there's a couple of kids who've been there before but a good chunk of kids who haven't, so that the established kids can teach the new ones about the camp but not overwhelm them with the fact or exclude them. We try to keep all one-month campers together in a cabin.

Jocelyn: A lot will depend on the new person. Our job is to help them to understand what they're coming into - especially when they're starting camp at 13 or 14 or 15. If they're friendly and don't have a whole lot of attitude, then they do well, because camp is a very supportive environment. You've got a counsellor and assistant counsellor who are both onto helping it to be a group. We do the same type of effort with the camp group - never to put one new person in [a cabin with all returning campers].

Dave: There's a level of nervousness for a first-time camper. We go over that with our staff every year, about how we need to incorporate new campers into the group quickly, help them to integrate and feel a part of the cabin immediately.

Steve: We have cabins of eight and two counselling staff, so there?s a 4:1 ratio, with people that are looking out for each other. Then you interact one cabin with another or four cabins together, or have a section program for six cabins, or a whole camp program that brings the whole family together. Camp community is a mixture. And in most camps, there's diversity right in the living situation - the international influences, the cultural influences.

Dave: Where else in your life can you live with a guy from Germany and another person from Mexico in a room this big with eight people?

Steve: And where financial circumstance doesn't matter. Or you could be with someone who maybe has physical or mental disabilities, a medical condition... and the community is open to that.

OUR KIDS: What are some of the good things that come from being part of a camp community experience?

Jocelyn: First of all, it is a unique situation - not similar to very many other things you do with peers. The experience that you have, the opportunities that you have are different than they are anywhere else.

Dave: Camp is about the activities but, in a macro sense, camp is not about the activities. Camp is about the development of the child into a unique, caring, healthy individual who has a sense of themselves, a sense of their place in the universe and a sense that their ability to achieve is limitless, really. That's what kids leave camp with. They might leave with a sticker that says they got Level 2 in canoeing, but they leave with a heck of a lot more than that - about relationships; about how to deal with the world today, with other people from different places, with people that you normally probably wouldn't talk to in your school hallway but you live with them.

Jocelyn: So you have to talk to them.

Dave: You have to talk to them; you have to experience the same things together.

Steve: I think it goes to the deepest levels of your spirit, your wholeness. It's that immersion, that time together - 24/7 - that allows all of what Dave and Jocelyn have said, that digging down to the deepest level where you develop your character and your values, your friendships and your relationships.

Jocelyn: I also want to add - make no mistake: all these skilled things are important. That's how we do it. When you've spent five days in a canoe with somebody you don't know - or who can?t paddle - you develop a whole lot of skills that are very valuable.

Steve: It is the setting first of all. Whether it's pristine with a lake and trees, 10 km outside of Toronto, agricultural or something else, the activities - whatever they may be - are the base towards that unique immersion, that "closed" (for lack of a better word) community. You're on an island; there are no outer world distractions. And you're allowed to create all those things that most of us feel is what camp is and what it does for growth and development in the individual. It's the immersion - 24/7: come together, close out and do what you do in that special place, wherever that special place is. I think most people that are doing camp, create that environment so that you have significant life impact that you?ll never forget. It goes deep. It'll always be remembered.

Dave: Yeah. A lot of people refer to camp as almost an addiction to some degree! We have guys that have been at Kandalore for over 20 years [as campers, then staff]. To "sell" - it's the word I'm going to use, though it's not exactly the right one - camp to parents who haven't had that experience, they don't understand the complexity of what happens to their child in a camp environment.

Steve: Learning and living together.

Dave: Probably one of the most difficult challenges we have today: convincing parents to let go. Pretty much our guarantee is we're going to send back a better person. In today's environment, it's so hard for a parent to let go of their children. There's so much protection of their child for a variety of reasons - but to deny a child an experience like camp simply because a parent can't let go, that's not right. Their goal is to make sure they develop into great people, but you can't do it yourself. They have to experience failure - but parents don't want their child to fail. But we learn from failure. If the parent always steps in to solve the problem for their child, will the child ever learn to solve the problem? At camp, they don't have that fallback. They have to learn.

Steve: Again, as Jocelyn said: camp is a means; it's how we present toward that end of development. We can do the team building, the character building, learning about co-operation, learning about true competition in the best way, in some special ways in those special settings. Including how to make your bed, how to brush your teeth. It's all learning.
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