“It feels great around here”

By Noah Stein

In conversations with campers and counselors the past few days, a recurrent theme has emerged. When I’ve asked folks what they think about the summer so far, I’ve repeatedly heard the response: “It feels really great around here.” I couldn’t agree more! It just feels like camp is clicking. Take our Wannado evening activity a couple nights ago as an example. 

First, for the new readers, Wannado is a weekly evening activity during which counselors run interesting activities around camp, which are based on their personal areas of knowledge or expertise instead of activities correlated with a particular program area. Campers select what they “Wannado” that evening. (Get it? Wannado?) 

As Wannado began, mother nature threw us a curveball, and we shifted at the last moment from offering activities all over camp, to offering modified activities inside the Rec Hall and a few other covered areas. As I walked to the Rec Hall, I expected some diminished energy since sometimes pivoting like this can be challenging for campers; it can be hard to make an abrupt change in plans. However, when I entered the Rec Hall, the energy was palpable. Campers were cup stacking, playing card games, learning improv and playing quiz bowl. Others examined the historical plaques and artifacts lining the Rec Hall’s walls or chatted with friends around tables. As I scanned the room, I was also pleased, and a bit surprised, to find that there were no clear divisions by age group or cabin. Campers were intermixed with their peers from other villages, a clear sign that our entire camp community is connecting.

Another moment of community connection happened last night in the form of this session’s All Camp Activity. A couple of counselors developed programming for the entire camp, offering an activity designed to further promote community connection. (Early in the session, it is very valuable to create these types of opportunities for cross-village interactions in order to foster the development of a camp-wide family.) The most impactful design decision made by the counselors who created the All Camp Activity was to create teams of three campers who were each from a different village in camp. Each team had at least one older camper paired with younger boys. The groups collected points by participating in twenty different activities, spread out around camp, which included such classics as charades, catching tennis balls in a milk crate, and an obstacle course, to name a few. The twist was that, in each trio, one camper couldn’t use his hands, another camper could only hum rather than speak, and the third was blindfolded. (Don’t worry…blindfolds were removed when traveling between events!)

The activity certainly carried some social risk. Forcing older kids to “play” with younger kids could have resulted in refusal or bad attitudes. But it didn’t. Our older campers grabbed the opportunity and seemed to take pride in being inclusive leaders. Pairing campers together with peers that they didn’t know could have led to some struggles. But it didn’t. Our campers eagerly participated with each other, negotiating who was going to be blindfolded, humming, or hand-less, and figuring out together how to navigate the games. The Lumberjacks and Axemen stepped up and made the night incredibly fun for the Swampers and Loggers while having a blast themselves. 

One more anecdote: I walked past the waterfront at the end of project periods yesterday and saw a Lumberjack talking to a Swamper who is in the process of learning to swim. The Lumberjack approached the Swamper and asked him how the swimming was going. The Swamper expressed that it was pretty hard. The Lumberjack immediately responded “It’s alright dude, just keep trying and you’ll get it eventually. Keep up the good work!” …More community connection, and, also, aren’t our campers just awesome?

It feels really great around here because people are buying in. They’re buying into the idea that our community thrives when we connect with each other. Campers have been eager to take safe social risks like meeting new people and making new friends. Older campers have taken it upon themselves to show the younger campers the ropes and support them when they need it. This social connection, and practice, is exactly what these kids need when their world outside of camp is often dominated by interactions through a device.

All is well in the Northwoods