How Our Community Makes the Opening Day of Camp IncredibleJune 25, 2017
I remember being a new camper. More than three decades later I can still recall the butterflies in my stomach. Would I make any friends? How would I know where my bunk was and what I was supposed to do? What if I got lonely or homesick? Would my counselors really be there to support me? These were all questions on my mind on my first day of overnight camp, and here at Kenwood and Evergreen we know they are the same fears that all of our new campers had this morning as they stepped onto our camp buses.
Because our entire team can remember what it was like to be new to Camp we go to pretty great lengths to make sure that every camper has as many opportunities as possible to feel nurtured and loved on our opening day of the summer.
It started at our bus stops located throughout the Northeast. Smiling, friendly counselors and camp administrators were there to hand out name tags, offer hugs and words of encouragement, and make even the most nervous camper (or parent!) get excited about this big moment.
We did our best to make the bus rides FUN. We played games designed to help us learn each others names, watched movies and cartoons, shared the food we brought, worked on art projects like making friendship bracelets, and laughed a whole lot together.
Throughout the journey our counselors taught their favorite camp songs and cheers. When you are new to a community it feels super welcoming when people take the time to teach you the rituals and traditions that bring everyone together. It makes you feel like people actually want you to be there.
The bus trip to Camp really is the start to the entire summer at Kenwood and Evergreen. We use the bus ride to bond with our counselors, reconnect with friends we might not have seen in some time, and make sure to welcome in our overnight camp’s newest members.
And because it’s camp, we also just act really silly. In this photo first time camper Henry and his new friend Scott were seeing who could make the most ridiculous face. Clearly it’s a tie…
And just like that, the journey was over. As we pulled onto the Camp road the buses were greeted by dozens and dozens of excited, enthusiastic counselors who cheered and screamed and jumped in the air, so excited to welcome in this year’s campers.
The excitement was shared by those on the buses as well. There was intense cheering as we drove past the lake and onto our gorgeous campus. After traveling much of the day our campers were eager to get out there and experience camp.
As part of the welcoming experience our Kenwood counselors held hands to form a human tunnel, beginning at the entrance of the buses. Each Kenwood camper ran under their arms and heard a chorus of encouragement and friendship. Can you imagine what it’s like to experience that much positivity and celebration as you arrive in a totally new place?
In both camps we announced the names of who would be living in each bunk for the summer. The counselors stepped forward to greet their campers and formally introduce themselves. Then as a group they made their way to their new home. I snapped this shot below which pretty much sums up what it means to be a part of this nurturing, loving summer camp community.
Immediately after reaching their bunks our counselors whisked their campers outside for ice breaker games. These are designed to help an entire age group learn each others names, figure out what they have in common, and get them excited about living together — and to do it as fast as possible. The counselors in the photo below took a beach ball and wrote conversation topics on it with a sharpie marker. As each girl caught the ball she read the words on the ball and then told the group something fun, cool, interesting, mysterious, or different about herself. Within minutes the girls were laughing and sharing and getting incredibly comfortable with each other. This is how you quickly begin to feel like you belong to the Evergreen Sisterhood.
Like these guys. Most of them were campers last summer, but they also welcomed in some new members today, and I defy you to figure out who had only been at Evergreen for an hour when this picture was taken! Our counselors really understand how to foster a sense of belonging and openess. It helps that most of them grew up as Evergreen campers themselves!
Then it was time for the Camp tour. It can be scary and intimidating to be in a new place and not know where things are, so our counselors and returning campers make it their job on Opening Day to show our new campers where everything is. Here you can see everyone getting excited about seeing where their Camp Big Sisters will be living this summer (I’ll write more on the Camp Big Sister and Brother tradition in a couple of days).
RELATED: Big Brothers and Big Sisters
As the tours ended each age group gathered for a short meeting. The counselors introduced themselves a second time, talked about the goals they had for their campers this summer, and set very clear expectations about how they wanted everyone to treat each other this summer. They also talked about how normal it is to be nervous in a new place, and how at Kenwood and Evergreen campers who ask for help or support are considered brave. It is always a good idea to be explicit and intentional about things like kindness, acceptance and how everyone has a right to their emotions.
With things looking good with the campers I stopped by the Dining Hall to make sure that dinner was ready. Our incredible baker Kristy was putting the finishing touches on her homemade Cookie Monster cupcakes. Kristy loves the campers and our community and is always looking for a way to make people smile.
Walking out of the dining hall I heard these four guys in the midst of a conversation. One of them said “I wonder if the Freshmen [our youngest campers] are doing ok? Let’s go check on them and see if they need any help”. The others agreed that they should see if any of our newest and youngest campers might be homesick, and if so, that they would invite them to play catch.
This summer these boys will be living in a building called Hut 6, the cabin reserved for our oldest male campers. They, along with their counterparts in Evergreen who live in “Juniper”, will be our camper leaders. If this one moment is an indicator of how our oldest boys and girls plan on leading this community this summer then it will be one to not forget!
All 500 of us piled into the dining hall for dinner, and once again the great Chef Keira was back at the window with her warm, welcoming smile. For many years now Keira has prepared the meals for any camper who needs to eat a diet free of gluten, dairy, soy, egg, or any other potential allergen. Our entire campus is peanut and tree nut free, but Keira helps us go the extra mile by creating delicious, safe meals for campers who need to eat anything more restricted. As you can imagine, knowing that someone like Keira is here to make food safe AND tasty means a great deal to a lot of our campers!
After dinner we got back to playing and having fun. Throughout the campus campers and counselors were playing games like smash ball, gaga, ping pong, cards, run the bases, tennis, and more! It was a great evening to be outside with new and old friends.
As it started to get dark our counselors put on a variety show designed to make even the most anxious new camper laugh until it hurt. There were pie fights and tumbling acts and people doing impressions. Different bands and musical acts performed, and after each the whole audience cheered at the top of their lungs.
The show ended with me and Scott playing guitars and leading the entire camp in a rendition of Philip Philip’s “Home”. The lyrics sound as if they were written specifically to reassure a nervous new camper on opening day of Kenwood and Evergreen:
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home
And now, after such an amazing Opening day, everyone is finally asleep. Tomorrow we wake up and have our first full day of activities. I can remember back 30+ years to my first morning as a camper here, and can only say that I envy every single one of our new campers for what they are about to experience!