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Adam's Summer Updates

The Magicians…

I realize that much of my focus in these updates is, as it should be, on the kids’ experience here at camp.  For the most part, the readership of these updates is simply desperate to get some sense of what their child’s experience at camp is like given the typical quality of the letters home.  But, I would be extraordinarily remiss if I did not dedicate at least one of these updates to the folks that make it all happen here…the staff.

First, to be clear, the choice to work at camp this summer was a significant one. Everyone who signed up to work this summer knew that this was going to be a different one…a harder one. For our cabin staff, our PHASE ONE protocols would put significant stress on them as they would have to, in essence, be with their specific kids 24/7 for an entire week with almost no privacy time (yeah…they wouldn’t even be able to put Dora the Explorer on the TV and lock themselves in the laundry room for 20 minutes solitude like you get to!). This would really test their patience, stamina, and counseling skills. And even after we had cleared PHASE ONE, the entire staff would be operating on a much more restrictive regimen than ever before, with limitations on the nature of their time off and life at camp. The decision to work at camp this summer was not one to be taken lightly. I am sure that many of you have read the articles this summer about employee shortages in all kinds of businesses during this moment in history. The camp industry has been particularly hard hit by this situation and I know of many very well respected camps that were forced to shorten and even cancel sessions because they couldn’t find enough staff. And while it was a challenge for sure, we were able to assemble a wonderful staff, and had the help of a number of alumni returning to bring camp back to life after last year’s pandemic shutdown.

Our staff this summer range in age from 16-75 with backgrounds running the gamut from high school students to a retired rabbi. For some of our staff, this was their very first summer in the North Woods, and for others it was almost their 60th. For some, coming to camp this summer involved making some tough choices, forsaking that seemingly crucial internship or some other “get ready for the real world” job. For others, the choice to come to camp this summer seemed like the ONLY thing to do; they could not imagine a summer doing anything else.  Even in a COVID SUMMER.  ESPECIALLY in a COVID SUMMER.

They came, they worked, they sweated, they committed, they toiled, they performed magic.

It has been a legitimately magical summer.

The reality is, the magic that happens here is not magic at all. It is created by pure hard work. The magic is created by our caretakers that wake up each morning to engage in the inglorious task of cleaning our bathrooms, then spend the rest of their day fixing things that we break, and then spend the entire winter fixing the things that we broke that were too broken to fix during the summer! The magic is created by our office staff that keep us organized and do whatever it takes to make sure that the rest of the staff have everything they need to provide fun and productive summers…not to mention organizing the incredibly complex travel days! The magic is created by our kitchen staff that work from 5:00AM to 9:00PM literally every single day to provide what EVERYONE agrees is great food. And they cook for a complex number of dietary needs from the omnivores who love all of the wonderful creative things they come up with to those who never thought a summer camp experience would be possible because of dangerous food allergies. The magic is created by our infirmary staff that works behind the scenes to ensure that we all stay healthy, and fixes us up when we slip. The magic is created by our administrative staff who skillfully wear many hats – safety, counseling, programming – they are the foundation that camp relies on. The magic is created by the specialist staff, who are completely committed to teaching the boys about their passions: art, sailing, climbing, target skills, tennis, etc. The magic is created by our wilderness trip leaders who assume the awesome responsibility of taking the boys out into the wilderness to provide them with truly once in a lifetime experiences. And last but certainly not least the magic is created by the cabin staff that live with the boys virtually 24/7, that provide them with both the rousing energy and fun that keeps this place exciting and the gentle counseling that guides the boys in their most trying moments.

Without a doubt, the magic really does come from the day in and day out efforts of the Camp Nebagamon staff. They are dedicated to the boys, dedicated to each other, and dedicated to the ideals that we work so hard to promote here. There can be no underestimating this work. Sure, some of it involves tossing a football around with a camper, playing a rousing game of four square with some Swampers, or telling jokes to a captive audience (my favorite part of the job!). But, any of you who are parents also know that there are other moments too. Those moments may involve knowing when to give the boys some slack, and when to rein them in. Those moments may require being able to talk them out of that down-and-out funk that is sometimes the result of a negative interaction with a peer, or sometimes the result of the internal chemical reactions that thirteen year-olds are forced to endure on a regular basis. Whatever the moment, Camp Nebagamon staff members need to be able to adjust and empathize on a dime…and they do it…for every kid, every day. 

And to be sure, this summer was unique in the demands that were placed on our staff. There can be little doubt that the implications of what we have all endured during the pandemic run far deeper than the logistical challenges required to ensure our physical health at camp. Any camp director coming out of this summer will tell you that there has been scarring and yet undefined effects on our psyches as a result of the COVID world we are all still coping with. We saw it in the kids’ homesickness…it was deeper and longer lasting in many. We saw it in their conflict resolution skills…it seems these muscles may have atrophied and they needed extra coaching and extra practice to get back into shape. We saw it in a sort of generalized anxiety that so many seemed to be coping with during the summer…they needed extra care, support and reassurance.  And, if we are being honest with ourselves, even we staff members realize that it wasn’t just the kids that were dealing with COVID ramifications. All of us were working through the very same challenges as the kids were. We found out that even we were more homesick, less adept at times when it comes to social situations, and all working through that generalized anxiety that COVID bequeathed us.  And yet, the staff stepped up to all of these challenges, took them on valiantly, worked hard to navigate them…and pulled it off…BEAUTIFULLY.

Still, let’s not feel too badly for the staff. While they doubtlessly work very hard, the rewards of this job are immeasurable. They get to do a job in which they know, with absolute certainty, that they are making a difference in the lives of others. They have the opportunity to serve as role models for young people who absolutely idolize them. And, what they discover is that, despite the fact that camp magic is the result of incredible amounts of work, the sum of the magic is so much greater than the parts that go into it. Through their efforts to create camp magic for the campers, they change as well, for the better.  They learn about their own limitations and they learn how much more capable they are than they ever knew. They learn from their peers and they teach their peers. They make friends that will be a lifelong source of laughter and support.  They create magic for themselves

I apologize if this update is not as newsy as you were hoping for, but it was high time to give credit to the folks that are making it all happen here.

Here is to the staff…magicians indeed.

All is well in the North Woods…