When I was a counselor at camp in college, I had a camper named Beans. It wasn't his real name; I don't even remember his real name. But I remember Beans. After his parents dropped him off in my cabin, we went to meet up with our family group and start playing games to learn each other's names. He announced himself as Beans.
Recently I found myself in a checkout line wearing a NaCoMe shirt. The gentleman behind me tapped me on the shoulder and told me he remembered coming to NaCoMe as a kid. He shared a couple of memories and then with the gracefulness of an octopus in rollerskates he hit me with "Is the creek still running?" and waited.
I'm consistently surprised by a tree in my front yard. By the middle of September, it has already dropped enough leaves to cover the gravel where I park my car and the driveway. Every year since I've been at NaCoMe, I worry that somehow this tree is dropping leaves too early; that maybe there won't be any left when all the other trees are showing off their best colors.
One of the most important things we do at NaCoMe is measure our results. Like any company or organization, we want to know if we’re meeting our goals. One of our primary tools in evaluating and measuring our summer camp program is the camper survey. Every camper completes one on the last day of camp. And here are some of the most notable results from this summer.
There's a scene in the movie Gladiator where Russell Crowe's character, Maximus, is rallying his troops. Before his Roman centurions battle the army from Germania, he is giving them one final inspirational speech. Facing the inevitability that many of his men will die, Maximus encourages them to hold the line with him, because "what we do in life echoes in eternity." It's one of my favorite movie quotes, and while NaCoMe isn't fighting any wars, it's still true for us here.
I'm constantly wrestling with the best way to describe summer camp to people. Depending on who's asking, and in what context, my answer will change. But there is one exception. College students applying to serve on summer staff get the same analogy every time: "It's like running Saturday Night Live for 24 hours a day, and the only commercial break is when you're asleep... but the commercial break could always end earlier than you expect."
I remember celebrating Easter as a kid, and as I grew up I remember starting to connect the dots on what Holy Week was. But until very recently, I was unaware that Easter itself was not actually part of Holy Week (it begins the season known as Eastertide which leads to Pentecost). Before I knew this, the fundamental importance of "those other days" of Holy Week (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) was a product of Easter. All of these days are only worth celebrating because Easter followed them on Sunday.
I was visiting a church to talk about camp recently and a camper came right up to me, pulled out her phone, and showed me a string of messages from her summer camp family group's ongoing group chat. I was genuinely impressed. Not about the group chat, but about how important it was to her. She talked about the value that these particular people and this particular string of messages has. In a world of increasingly shallow connections, these kids have found depth. And they're keeping that depth going using technology in ways that past generations couldn't.
"I can promise you, it's possible," was all my counselor would say. I was maybe 11 years old at summer camp and my group was working through a challenge on the Low Ropes course. This particular element involved getting the entire group of 14 campers across three wooden islands that could fit about 3-4 people each.
You know that thing in award shows like the Oscars or the Grammys where they play music as a not-so-subtle cue to whoever is accepting the award that it's time to leave the stage? I'm torn on it. I get it in the sense that, as a viewer, I don't care to listen to someone rattle off names of people I've never heard of. Let's just keep this whole thing moving so I can find out who wins Best Whatever. But on the other hand, I do appreciate that these people receiving the awards are aware that there is a multitude of other people that have put them in position to receive such an award.
There are a number of small requests we get each weekend when we’re hosting. From a light bulb that goes out to maybe a toilet that keeps running, there are normally just a few small things that we’re asked to take care of during retreat season. It’s all normal stuff, and we’re prepared to handle it. But a few weekends ago, I got a unique request. One retreat guest asked for a rake. I was confused at first and tried to quickly think of what he could need a rake for. Before I could even ask, the guest said he wanted to volunteer to rake some of the freshly fallen leaves from the labyrinth. I offered to help, but he refused; he wanted to rake the leaves himself as a service to NaCoMe.
If you've been to NaCoMe recently, you know that we've had a surge of renovations and additions to our program and facilities. And while we say it a lot, we can't stress enough how important volunteers have been to the whole process. There is no way we could have done it all ourselves. NaCoMe is beyond grateful for every individual that volunteers to help. Rachel Barnes was one of the volunteers that NaCoMe was fortunate to have volunteer her time working with us this past summer.