[Before I start, I want to give credit to Bobby Harding out of First Presbyterian Murfreesboro for giving me a better way to talk about a point that I've believed in for a while. Thanks, Bobby!]
In its most primal and basic form, our summer camp programs are about belonging. Every camper belongs at NaCoMe. It's a foundational belief and is more profound than it may sound because 'belonging' and 'fitting in' are different. Most of us that participate in society have learned how to 'fit in' with the general expectations for behavior. In this sense, 'fitting in' means we wait in line at the grocery store, we don't take food off other people's plates at restaurants, and we wear appropriate clothing while doing both of those or any other activity in public. But 'belonging' is not that. 'Belonging' touches something deeper. There aren't social expectations in a group where you belong. If 'fitting in' is business casual, 'belonging' is sweatpants.
We need people that know us, accept us, and love us in our sweatpants. For kids and youth, it's harder than ever. The clamoring of an unattainable and unsustainable social media presence pulls kids toward merely playing at intimacy through a screen rather than finding the real thing. What happens most often is that youth constantly feel pressured to behave certain ways, believe certain things, or get more followers. And woe to those who aren't up to date on the latest gossip, which thanks to the internet means knowing the national pop culture news as well as who likes (or like-likes) whom at school. All this pressure means that it's rare that kids and youth are ever able to really just wear the sweatpants of belonging.
Enter the camp world: we don't wear business casual. We never merely ask campers to 'fit in'. We are diligent about crafting a community where everyone belongs- everyone can wear their sweatpants or whatever they want. It's not only life-changing but life-giving to be accepted in that way. What's even better is that the experience demands repetition. Experiencing true belonging creates a need to build a community of belonging at home. This is the lasting power of camp: that it doesn't end at checkout.
So to all the campers that are registered or yet to register: you belong at camp this summer, and we're excited to have you.
-Ryan "Flash" Moore, Director