Campers and staff often state at the end of a camp session or summer that they wish camp could last all year long. The inherently temporary nature of a camp experience makes both the sweetness of its existence and the sadness of its conclusion all the more profound. As so many in this blog have pointed out so very eloquently, camp is an incredible place where people grow and develop in ways not possible anywhere else. For those of us who are lucky enough to work year-round for camp we know that “camp” is not just the experience that happens during your time in a cabin away from your family, but also how you live your life the other 49 or so weeks during the year.
Often in our staff training right before the start of a camp season we talk about how camp can be different from “the real world” as a way of illustrating how powerful the experiences will be that staff are about to create for children. A few years ago however, a staff member came to me somewhat upset and said, “Why do we keep distinguishing camp from the real world? Camp is as real as it gets. It is the real world and kids should know that.” Wow. What a great point this was! At camp, children are forced into an unfamiliar setting and are given the challenge to try new things, meet new people and form new communities, all without parental help or hand holding. Pretty real indeed.
When a camp experience is successful for a child (here, with Camp Tawonga’s mission in mind) they leave with higher self esteem, a sense of belonging in a new community, awe and appreciation for nature, and a deeper sense of their Judaism and spirituality. These are gifts that camp gives but they cannot be gifts that expire at the end of the camp program.
Instead, camp and the real world can become one and the same (or at least closer together) when everyone who has been given the gift of camp helps spread that out into the world around them. Whether it was a new skill, an improved self image or a more refined idea of what it means to create community and bring people together, deploying these “camp things” at school, youth group, theater, band or sports practice helps spread the good energy of camp even when you are a thousand miles or 49 more weeks away from the real thing. So host a Shabbat, go on a hike, have a sleepover and look in the mirror and smile back! In these ways we spread the gifts of the camp experience and make camp and the real world one and the same, so no distinction will be necessary.