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The Camp Community

Going to a sleepaway camp has a profound impact on campers and counselors alike. Summer camp has the power to turn a few weeks of summer into an experience you’ll never forget. From the friendships and memories made, to the life lessons learned, members of the camp community will tell you that camp has changed their lives in ways that they couldn’t have imagined.

The Friendships

Friendships made at camp are unlike any other relationships. The authenticity of camp allows you to truly be who you are, which fosters genuine connections between individuals. You become part of a summer family that loves and supports one another. Your cabinmates become your sisters and brothers and your counselors are the role models you never knew you needed. The camp community extends not only to the campers, but also to counselors who come from across the United States and the globe. The bonds made at camp carry over and solidify throughout the year as counselors travel to visit one another. Because of the friendships formed at camp, counselors know that no matter where their travels take them, there will always be a friendly face to welcome them into their home.

The Memories

The camp community is so widespread that no matter what camp you attend, there is a commonality that bonds individuals together. Whether it’s the cheers, the campfires, or the athletic competition, the stories of past summers allow for memories to be shared and cherished. Because of camp networking, finding a roommate in college becomes less stressful and allows for a broader circle of friends to be established. Talk of summer camp is the perfect conversation starter as stories about camp are never ending. Each member of the camp community always has a favorite story to tell or lesson learned from their experience at camp.

The Lessons Learned

The strongest connection throughout the camp community is the impact it had on all of our lives. Over the course of a few weeks, camp is able to teach you more about yourself than you would think possible. On one hand, camp reveals your strengths as you build both your athletic and creative skills. On the other hand, camp shows you how to be a friend, a good listener, and a confident leader. Camp has the power to teach you how to be yourself and accept everyone around you with open arms.

The Impact of Camp Friends

Salmon Rushdie once said “Friendships are the family we make – not the ones we inherit.” Mr. Rushdie must have been a camper because no quote better epitomizes the relationship between camp friends. As anyone who went to camp knows, camp friends become your family before you’ve even realized. And similar to your family, your relationships are like a roller coaster ride. You can hang out and laugh in the cabin one minute and argue over some minuscule issue another; yet through it all you know camp friends are there for you, no matter what

Camp friends are unlike any other friends and help shape who you become as a person. Their significance is immense and immeasurable; here are a few reasons why they are so impactful:

detail-133Camp Friends Tell It to You Straight

Whether in moments of frustration or moments of merriment, your camp friends are honest. They will tell you the truth without second thought. This is not because they don’t care, it’s actually the opposite. Your camp friends will point out your weaknesses, but always in a constructive way. They aren’t attempting to hurt your feelings, instead they are trying to help you grow. With their assistance you can begin to turn these weaknesses into strengths and become your best possible self.

Camp Friends Are with You Through It All

Your camp friends have seen you at your best and at your worst. They’ve seen you score the winning goal in an intercamp and they’ve seen you with a cold in the Health Center; and through it all they’ve held your hand, cheered you on, and pushed you in the right direction. It’s easy to be there for someone when things are great, but when things are tough is when camp friends thrive. They know how to make you forget the bad and move forward with the good. As stated earlier, camp friends will take you at your worst and help you turn things around so you can become your best possible self. With them in your corner, nothing can keep you down.

detail-102Camp Friends Last Forever

Possibly the best thing about camp friends is that they don’t just make an impact and leave. They are with you through your life, even after you time at camp has ended and continue to help you better yourself. Whether you talk once a day, once a month or even once a year, their loyalty is unmatched. Many even evolve to become your college buddies, travel companions, post graduate roommates and everything in between. They continue to help you thrive in different stages of your life, but no matter what they become, they will always be your camp friends first.

I Return to Camp Because…

detail-88My older brother started going to camp when he was younger, and I remember picking him up at the end of each summer and being so excited to hear all about his experience. I was beyond excited when it was finally my turn to spend the summer at camp… I was ready to experience camp for myself!

I spent my first summer playing sports, swimming, waterskiing, hiking, climbing and making friends. But one summer was not enough. I made it very clear on the drive home that first summer that I HAD to go back next summer, and I would do whatever it took to get back there!

“Why do you want to go back?” my mom asked on the drive home. What a loaded question, I thought. Why wouldn’t I want to go back? I made so many new friends and tried so many new things!

I explained to her that first and foremost, I wanted to go back and see all of my friends. I got to camp and didn’t know anyone, and was a little timid about just walking up to a group of people and introducing myself. But lucky for me, my counselor swooped in and made me feel right at home. He introduced me to other campers who were also there for their first time, and right away we all clicked. Throughout the summer it became easier and easier to make new friends. The other campers in my cabin really became my close friends. We talked a lot, supported each other, and it was nice to be able to look around camp and find a smiling face waving at you to come sit by them. I felt included at camp, and when it was time to go, I was really sad to leave them. Thankfully, we shared phone numbers and email addresses and plan to keep in touch throughout the school year. I can’t wait to see them all again next summer!meghan-62-copy

I also explained that even though my summer days were packed with fun and adventure, there are still so many things that I didn’t get to try that I really want to. I want to get back to camp to try archery and overnight camping. I want to dabble in some of the more “artsy” programs available at camp, like music production and culinary arts. I want to go back and re-do some of my favorite activities, like waterskiing and tennis. It’s amazing how you can wake up early and go to bed late, spend your entire day on the go, and still not do everything that camp has to offer!

And, as if those things weren’t enough, I told her that I want to go back to camp because it feels like I’m part of something. It’s that feeling of belonging to a team, where everyone looks out for everyone else, where you feel important and included, and where other people support and cheer for you. There is something different about my camp friends and school friends. My camp friends and I have been through something special together. We’ve participated in camp traditions; we have a special bond that other friends just don’t have. I feel like I’m part of something bigger when I’m at camp, and this is another reason why I really want to go back.

My little sister has started counting down the days until she can have her first camp experience, and I know that just like my brother and I, she will have many reasons to return to camp year after year!

Bringing Away Life Skills

CL Life SkillsFor most campers, when the summer of 2014 draws to a close, there is always next summer to which they can look forward. For the oldest campers, however, farewell this summer means farewell forever to their years as campers. Even though a significant number of former campers choose to return to summer camp as staff members later, the experiences they gained as campers are unique to those years. Although it is difficult to say goodbye at the conclusion of their final summer, it is also a time when older campers reflect upon their camp years and truly take inventory of what camp has meant to them and will continue to mean as they proceed in life.

Older campers come away from camp having attained life skills that give them a distinct advantage img_2191as they move through their high school years and college becomes a focus. There is, for instance, respect for tradition. College campuses, like resident camps, are built on traditions that help define them.  Former campers understand the importance of their role in these traditions by creating experiences that are both memorable and worthwhile.

Former campers know how to show spirit and to live in the moment as well. At camp, campers are sensitive to the fact that their time at camp each summer is limited and they embrace each minute. Having already learned to comprehend that their camp years are limited to a specific timeline in their lives, former campers arrive on college campuses already understanding that their college years are much the same.

img_4897There is also an emphasis on total involvement at camp. Summer camp is about creating an environment in which campers feel encouraged to try new things and to push their level of comfort each summer. In the safety of a setting that emphasizes inclusion, campers learn to understand that diversity is key to success. It takes many types of people and talents coming together to make camp the beloved place that it is in the hearts of the campers. With such an understanding, campers tend to get to know and befriend individuals who they might not otherwise have taken the time to get to know in a setting that does not facilitate similar ideals.  Having been submerged in such a culture for several summers, campers are well equipped for the transition from home to college life after several summers at camp. They also tend to be somewhat open- minded when it comes to new things and experiences.

Older campers also come away from camp as leaders. Whether they have led fellow campers in anCL Life Skills 4 activity or helped mentor and lead younger campers in their later camp years, leadership is another quality that is rigorously promoted and embraced at sleepaway camp.

Campers also learn everyday life skills at sleepaway camp as they spend several weeks away from home each summer and make decisions for themselves. Making healthy eating decisions, for instance, is an important skill that children learn at camp. Campers also learn how to juggle multiple commitments at once, such as having a role in a camp show while simultaneously playing on a sports team. They co-habitate daily with several other campers and learn how to maximize their living space.

Clearly, those campers who will say goodbye to camp at the conclusion of the summer are bringing away far more than fun memories of a place where they spent their childhood summers. They’re bringing away experiences that translate into life far beyond camp.

 

5 Minutes at Camp

StopwatchWe focus a lot on how much happens at camp over the course of the summer, but the amount of activity that takes place in just 5 minutes on any given day is mind blowing to anyone who is not familiar with camp. Five minutes at summer camp is like a symphony: many individual components come together at the same time to create a single, enjoyable experience. In addition, each component is unique, yet critical, to the overall piece. In just five minutes at camp…

A soccer team may score a goal to win a championship game while play rehearsal takes place on the stage and, at the waterfront, swim instruction is happening. In arts & crafts, campers are busy putting the finishing touches on projects as a batter on the softball team steps onto first base and a volleyball is spiked over the net. A group of campers is learning how to sail on the lake as a group of paddle boarders make their way across the water. A camper does her first giant swing on the parallel bars in gymnastics just as another reaches the top of the climbing wall while yet another makes his way across the high ropes course. It’s a 3 on 3 tournament on the basketball courts and a group of campers are learning how to improve their tennis serve just as a camper finds the back of the net at lacrosse. A team captain just called a time out at roller hockey and the finishing touches are being put onto some hip hop choreography in dance. A group of mountain bikers pass a group of runners and two teams are facing off in flag football. It’s the bottom of the 9th on the baseball field and the game is tied while the final two players in an intense game of gaga face off as their fellow campers cheer them on. The aroma of chocolate chip cookies wafts from the cooking studios and campers in photography take nature shots as a small group of campers fishes nearby.

And it’s not just the action that takes place in any given five minutes at camp that creates the Conductorrhythm of summer, it’s the interaction. As all of these activities are happening, campers and staff members are talking, laughing, learning and cheering. In the same five minutes at camp, friendships are formed and new skills learned. Traditions begin and are repeated. Campers try something new for the first time as well as accomplish them for the first time after a summer of trying. In five minutes at camp, campers gain life skills by becoming more confident and more self-reliant.   In just five minutes at camp, memories are made. Like a conductor, memories bring all of those activities together to create the image of summer camp that campers replay for a lifetime.

 

Camp Influences

CL influence 1In their book True North, Bill George and Peter Sims challenge readers to examine the qualities and influences that have made them great leaders through a series of motivational chapters complemented by interactive surveys. In the survey that follows the first chapter, readers are asked: “During your early years, which people had the greatest impact on you?” This is a very significant question to anyone who either attended camp as a child or who works at a camp as an adult.

It only takes a single summer to influence a camper for a lifetime, but the majority of campers CL Influence 2attend summer camp for seven summers or more, which exponentially increases the chances of camp counselors having a lasting impact on their lives. Add the community environment of camp in which campers and staff live together 24 hours a day, and it’s nearly impossible to imagine that each camper’s life is not greatly impacted by at least one member of the camp staff. Such a conclusion is evident by the amount of former campers who state the influence of former staff members as one of the primary reasons they chose to return to camp as camp counselors themselves.

CL Influence 3George and Sims challenge readers to “discern passion through life experience.” Such an intense task puts the role of camp counselors into a new perspective. Not only do counselors have the ability to greatly impact a child’s life, but to inspire passion in them through the experiences they provide at camp. This is an interesting concept because it is not one about which most camp staff tend to reflect throughout the summer. Camp is a temporary environment that is structured with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Combine this with the fast pace of camp, thinking tends to steer in the opposite direction.  Yet, many campers –and even counselors– are so influenced by their camp experiences that they take away a passion for camp as well as the traditions and values they are taught there.

When examined from such a perspective, the role of camp counselors becomes so much more than CL Influence 4a summer job, whether a staff member spends one summer or many summers at camp. When counselors pack their bags each summer and head off to camp, they are taking on the tremendous responsibility of inspiring children to become so deeply invested in the camp experience. It’s neither a small nor insignificant challenge. Yet the hurdles of living up to such high expectations is exactly what draws so many camp counselors to their summer camp roles each summer—and what makes them return in subsequent summers. In this regard, the campers have as much influence and inspire as much passion in the counselors as the counselors do to them. The two roles are interdependent.

It’s easy to go through one’s daily life without slowing enough to properly contemplate the potential influence each of us has over others. But when the concept of influence is examined through the perspective of camp, it’s very easy to see how little time is needed to influence someone for a lifetime.

I Never Thought I Would…

img_0026A recent blog shared some of the most popular counselor ‘I never thought I would…’ thoughts. Counselors aren’t the only ones from whom this phrase is commonly heard as the introduction of wonder throughout the summer. It’s heard just as often from campers. Here are some of the most popular perspectives of camper exclamations that begin with, ‘I never thought I would…’

Learn to play the guitar

I’ve never played an instrument before in my life! But my camp’s guitar instructor is amazing. He really loves music and he knows how to teach us chords in a way that is really easy to remember. Sometimes I wish I could spend all day at guitar. But then I think of all of the other stuff that I would miss. Instead, I asked my parents if I can take guitar lessons when I get home in the last letter I wrote to them.

FINALLY get my back handspring!

I’ve been working on my back handspring at camp since last summer. This year, I finally got it! I started a couple of summers ago on the tumbling track with my cabin counselor, who was also a img_7307Gymnastics specialist. She knew one of my goals was to learn how to do a back handspring, so she worked with me on the tumbling track, which is a really long trampoline. By the end of the summer, I could do a back handspring pretty well on the tumbling track, but I couldn’t do one on the floor without being spotted. I don’t take gymnastics during the winter, so this summer, when our camp’s gymnastics coach asked me if I was ready to learn how to do a back handspring on the floor, I was nervous. We did a couple on the tumbling track, then he/she spotted me while I did them on a mat. By the end of my next gymnastics activity period, I was doing back handsprings on the floor—by MYSELF! The best part of all is the camp photographer got a picture of it. I can’t wait until my mom sees it!

Become friends with my cabin mates so quickly

This is my first summer at camp, and I was SO nervous because I didn’t know anyone. I met my new cabin mates as soon as I got off the bus. It felt like we already knew each other. We’re already BFFs. We do EVERYTHING together! Our counselors taught us how to make friendship bracelets. Then we all made one and traded them with each other.

Swim in a lake

img_7431Before coming to camp, I’d only swam in pools. I was super nervous about swimming in the lake, especially since we had to take a swim test in it. I was so scared to jump in the first time. Then my friends and counselors convinced me to get in. The lake at camp is really just like a giant swimming pool. It was especially fun to jump off the water trampoline while holding hands with my camp friends for the first time after passing my swim test.

Make my own pasta

I love spaghetti. When I found out we were making our own pasta in Cooking, I was SO excited! We had to roll the dough a lot, but it was so much fun to see how pasta is made. Fresh pasta is so much better than the pasta you get in a box. I’m going to ask my parents if I can make homemade pasta when I get home after camp.

Be in a show

I’ve always wanted to be in one of my school plays, but have never tried out because I didn’t know if img_2149 (1)I could get up in front of lots of people. After being in my camp show this summer, I’m totally going to try out for one of the school plays next year. Being in the camp show was so much fun! It was a lot of work. We had to practice a lot. But my counselors worked with me every day to help me memorize my lines. When it was finally time to perform my part in front of the whole camp, I was ready and so excited to get on stage and show everyone what I could do that I didn’t even think about being nervous!

Score a soccer goal

I’ve been trying and trying and trying to score a soccer goal ever since I made my club team at img_5627home. This year, I told my soccer instructors at camp that I wanted to be able to tell my club coach that I’d scored a goal when the fall season starts. They gave me lots of tips during our instructional periods. I got to play forward on my division’s team, and I scored the first goal of my first intercamp game!

Act so crazy on purpose

At school, I’m really conscious about how excited I get about things. I’m always wondering what my classmates will think. Camp is completely different! At camp, it’s so easy to just go crazy because all of my camp friends do too. I love being able to be myself without wondering what all of my friends are thinking.

It’s definitely summer when you know this is about to happen…

img_2923School is FINALLY over! The weather is warm. It’s summer. But as a camper, you know that it’s never REALLY summer until you get to camp, There are little signs every year that mark that mark this day to which you’ve been counting down for several LOOOONNNNGGG months. But it’s most definitely summer when you know this happens…

Your parents take you to a meeting place for a img_9913bus or plane ride to camp, or maybe they’re driving you to camp themselves. The trip to camp will seem 10X longer than it actually is because you just want to get there.

Your mom most definitely cries when she says goodbye and assures you she’ll see you on Visiting Day. You’re so excited you can hardly stand it, but maybe you cry a little too just so that she doesn’t feel bad.

189-img_9032As soon as you pull into camp, you start looking for your camp friends. Maybe they spot you first. No matter who finds whom, you run and hug. After hugs all around with your friends, you also hug your favorite returning counselors and staff members.

You meet your cabin mates (if you don’t already know them) and your new counselors, who are every bit as excited as you that you’re finally at camp!

You go into your new cabin with your friends and realize that you really ARE at camp. Another summer has begun! Bring on the FUN!

You spend the rest of the day cheering, singing and laughing with your friends. This is just day 1, 168-img_9150and the entire summer is ahead of you. But it’s definitely summer because all of this happened, just as you knew it would.

Camp Family

img_0632Over the next several weeks, campers will arrive at summer camps all over the country knowing that although each summer brings new surprises, it also brings the familiarity of a second family and home. For campers, camp is a touchstone of people, activities and events on which they can depend each summer.

For those who have never experienced summer camp, it’s difficult to imagine forming such tight bonds with others in the span of a month or two. Those who have attended or worked at a summer camp understand cmaps are more than a place where campers go to have fun and enjoy the outdoors each summer. They’re a place where friendships and networks are formed that last long beyond the teary goodbyes and hugs that mark the end of each summer.

Although almost ten months pass between summers, with camp family, it inevitably feels like img_8482everyone was together just minutes ago. Hugs are plentiful when camp campers reunite with their camp family and conversation comes easily. There’s also an easiness about the pastoral settings of summer camps that facilitates a relaxed atmosphere. Tradition is an easy place marker that helps everyone slip back into the summer routine.  And the thrill of the endless combination of opportunities to embark on new adventures is balanced with the everyday act of sitting down to meals with camp “siblings” or coming back to the bunk or cabin at night to share the details of the day.

img_7760Summer camp is a naturally inclusive atmosphere, which is perhaps what makes it unique from other social settings and allows for tight familial bonds to form in such a short period of time. There’s also something to be said for the overnight aspect of sleepaway camps. At sleepaway camp, campers are together around the clock as opposed to a school or day camp setting in which the majority of campers return to their homes at the conclusion of the day.

288-img_9095There is an intimacy about sharing living quarters that makes people more open and even accepting of each other. Sleepaway camp friendships, like family relationships, are built upon the knowledge that everyone must co-exist. Campers tend to maintain acquiescent opinions of one another, and disagreements are typically brief. Personality quirks are not only socially acceptable at camp but often an attraction. There is a saying that summer camp is the only place where ‘you’re so weird’ is a compliment.

Family is comprised of people who accept each other for who they are, in spite of any and all flaws, and encourage each other to be themselves. For campers, their camp “family” is no different, which is what makes them so eager to return to their summer homes each summer.

Friendship Bracelets: A Storyboard of Summer

172-img_2654A chuckle-worthy camp confession recently spotted on Pinterest: “My wrists did not see sunlight all summer because of the bracelets.” Anyone who has ever attended or worked at a sleepaway camp is all too familiar with the “bracelet tan.” Of the thousands of camps across America, there is not an Arts & Crafts area that is not well stocked with beads, lanyard, skeins of embroidery floss, paracord, rubber bands and just about anything else that can be turned into a bracelet. Bracelets are BIG at camp. They’re not merely wearable art. They’re a symbol of friendship. Few campers or staff actually keep the bracelets they make for themselves. Instead they exchange them with friends and other special people at camp. Although people have been making friendship bracelets since ancient times, they have become a camp tradition. It’s fun to conjure memories of a special person with a glance at one’s wrist.

The act of making the bracelets is almost as pleasurable as the bracelets themselves. Friendship bracelets are also easy to make, and campers of all ages easily catch onto the various ways of braiding and weaving materials into fashionable designs. Friendship bracelets also appeal equally to both boys and girls. The fact that making bracelets takes very little concentration makes them the perfect social craft. It’s easy to interact with others while making bracelets at camp. Bracelet making is the perfect conversation opportunity and bonding activity.

The row of bracelets is not just camp fashion, it’s a storyboard of the summer that is unique to july 18_0004every individual at camp. It represents who they met during the summer and the special moments that have been committed to memory. One the best things about friendship bracelets is finding them tucked away long after the summer has ended, and having a moment to remember the summer and the people and stories behind each bracelet.

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