When I arrived at America’s Finest Summer Camps as a counselor this past summer, I knew exactly how I wanted every camper to feel. I was on high alert for the shy ones, the scared ones, the nervous ones. I was looking for the nail biters and the ones with the look of “wow this is a lot of people” in their eyes. I was going to make them feel important, valued, appreciated, heard, accepted and encouraged. What I DIDN’T know, is everything I would learn from THEM.
My campers taught me what it means to be brave. And not the kind of brave that you find climbing a rock wall or balancing on a speeding waterski, but the bravery that comes from being in a new place, with new people, and not running away. The kind of bravery it takes to get up and talk about yourself to people you don’t know, the kind of bravery it takes to play a sport you’ve never tried, or get on stage despite your crippling stage fright. They taught me never to let fear win.
My campers taught me what it means to be patient. And not the kind of patient you need for standing in a long line for ice cream, but the patience it takes to get something right after failing the first 15 times. The kind of patience it takes to let someone else speak even when you have something REALLY important to say, the kind of patience it takes when living with someone who snores, is messy, or has a problem with your snores and messes. They taught me that patience brings peace.
My campers taught me what it means to be free. Not the kind of free that comes from being away from home, void of rules and expectations, and no longer under mom and dad’s watchful eye, but the freedom that comes from being somewhere safe and non judgmental. Very serious campers found themselves leading a campfire song, putting on an impromptu comedy show by the lake, or starring in a talent show. Being free means letting to go of the stereotypes you have of yourself and of others, and allows you to realize things about yourself that you’ve never known. My campers have taught me to not take things so seriously, to have fun, to be silly, and to appreciate the silliness in others. They taught me that being free is the best way to grow.
I went into this camp counselor experience with every intention of changing the lives of every single camper I met. I was going to make sure they all felt important and understood. As the weeks progressed, I realized that in my efforts to teach and focus on them, they were teaching me how to grow and focus on myself. And for that gift I am eternally, eternally grateful.