At NaCoMe we believe that the best people to tell us how to make camp the best it can be are the campers. During our summer sessions, we want campers to give input into their own unique camp experience. Whether it’s adding or changing rules to a game or building a new high ropes course, we want to hear the ideas of our campers on how to make camp better for them.
It's April 30th, which means we're cutting this month's newsletter pretty close. And while I would like to say that it's on purpose, it isn't. We value authenticity here at NaCoMe, so I have to come clean. I was under the weather for a couple days last week, and between summer camp preparations and retreat groups starting on weekdays in addition to the normal weekends, I haven't had any time to write this.
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.