There are a lot of Illahee girls in my family- my niece, cousins and cousins of cousins. While visiting my parents last weekend in south Alabama, I saw many of them. Besides the family tree and reunions around the gumbo pot, we have found our shared Illahee experiences keep us connected. All the girls have been or currently are or plan to be Illahee girls. My niece had her 11th summer last year and our youngest cousin at 3 ½ is ready for camp now (as long as her mother will come with her)! She has been watching her older sister attend camp since she was born. Whether we’ve been Junior campers or four-weekers, CIT’s or the camp director, we all have camp songs that we share, stories of sliding rock adventures, and memories of rainy rest hours and loud tin roofs. And even with the age span being age 9 to 21, the camp stories and experiences help to connect us and bridge the generations.
There aren’t many places where older and younger girls can share experiences. Camp is one of the few communities where a 7 year old might get to know a 13 or 15 year old. And with the framework and structure of camp, this is done in a positive way. We talk about Illahee being “Rated G.” Conversation in the community, in activities and at the tables is with that in mind. We encourage the older campers to look out for the younger campers and to help them in activities and to get to know them around camp. Often this gives the older girls “permission” to fully participate in skits and wearing costumes and not to feel like they are “too cool for school.” Things that may not seem okay in the “outside world” can be really fun at camp- dressing up in costumes with the buddy cabin for County Fair or creating dance moves to go with the Airband songs or singing your heart out at campfire.
The mentoring that the counselors do with the campers is another way that the age groups are bridged at camp. A camp counselor can give the same “values message” that mom might be trying to teach, but it seems “cool” coming from the counselor. Girls will hear it. Doing cabin chores, being reminded to “Be A Great Girl”, or showing kindness toward cabinmates all makes sense when instructed to do so by a college aged counselor or high school CIT! The culture at Illahee and the community that brings different age groups together in an appropriate setting helps girls grow into the best version of themselves. And hanging out with my younger cousins recently, reminded me of how lucky I am to be a part of that!