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.
What an amazing summer we had at NaCoMe! At the start of our spring season, we set the bold goal of growing our summer camp program by 10%. We asked our community of summer campers, parents, and churches (that’s you!) to help us achieve that growth. The results blew us away: we grew by over 20%! We were humbled by the support you all provided in sharing with friends and coworkers about NaCoMe.
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 distinct sound a metal washer makes when it’s tossed onto plywood, and that sound was on a consistent loop all day last Saturday as a part of the Washer Pitching Tournament. It’s a central part of the annual Family Camp for First Presbyterian in Trenton, which celebrated 40 consecutive years at NaCoMe last weekend (congrats you guys!). Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of activities going on (for proof, you can watch their pastor Paul take on the Giant Swing on our Instagram and Facebook pages), but the Washer Pitching Tournament kept coming back to me.
I’ll be honest, there’s nothing quite like Staff Training. Don’t get me wrong: Summer Camp is amazing, but every spring, all the staff at NaCoMe put in a lot of hours seeking out and hiring the best summer staff we can find. Then, just before summer, we round them all up and spend a couple of weeks in training.
NaCoMe’s mission has three points of emphasis: build community, connect with God, and renew spirits. As we celebrate Easter, the theme of renewal has been abundantly present. Between seeing renewal in the natural world, where trees are putting out leaves and the grass is growing greener, or in NaCoMe’s facilities, where tremendous work has been done by our staff and service groups (see below for just a taste), I am reminded of the power of renewal
A few days ago, I was (regrettably) fortunately dragged into a Facebook discussion by a pastor that I knew from college. We’ve maintained a fairly minimal connection, but he knows I’m in the camp and retreat world. He had originally posted that ministry camps should lower their rates because it’s too expensive for families to send their kids. He messaged me and invited me to join the discussion that was occurring on the post because I would be approaching it from a different angle. I did, and it taught me a lot.