Preaching to the Choir

Moving into the new year always brings excitement for the upcoming summer, and we are ecstatic about 2021! We will be reunited with many girls who we haven’t seen in two years, and we are eager to meet new campers who had to put off their first summer. Some of the counselors who missed last summer are delaying internships to be here. The phrase I hear most is, “I’m SO excited for camp!” While the pandemic continues to affect our daily lives, we are hopeful that we will be turning the corner soon and the vaccine promises hope. We have many details in the works as we plan for Illahee’s 100th camp season.

Family and alumnae visits have been a bright spot these past 8 months. When they stop by camp, the sentiment they have in common is how much their camp experience helped them to reach beyond their comfort zone in order to pursue educational opportunities and careers and to nurture families, communities, and friendships. Most of our summer staff are former campers and many of our camp moms are alumnae, and while Illahee celebrates lots of tradition each summer, it is a community that welcomes new comers and new programs. This has been a year that has required all of us to adapt and to be resilient; this will be a strength at camp this summer. Our girls seem to have a greater appreciation for opportunities. I was talking to a junior counselor at the end of a prolonged Christmas break, and she said, “I GET to go to school tomorrow!” I think we all are ready for more in person interaction.

One of my good friends, Bob Ditter, a child and family therapist, has worked with camps across the country since Gordon first met him in 1987 at a conference. He gave me permission to share his recent observations, which put into words what many of us know intuitively:

If this pandemic has reminded us of anything, it is that virtual connections, including those made via social media, leave something vital out of the way we as human beings communicate. The pandemic has made it abundantly clear that we listen with more than just our ears and we talk with more than just our mouths. The way we touch, our physical presence, the look in our eyes, our facial expressions and the way we hold ourselves communicates with a subtle, yet essential richness we don’t miss until we don’t have it. This applies equally to children, who need the social stimulation of other kids; the attention of interesting, appropriate and caring adults; and the sense of belonging that comes from being immersed in a supportive community –all of which is what a positive camp experience provides when it is at its best!

As I’ve thought about all the children I’ve seen at camps across the country in the last 40-plus years and all the children and teens I’ve seen in my psychotherapy practice, I realize that we have it exactly backwards. Most people think of school as essential and camp as elective. What I have come to realize is that camp gives kids that deep drink of connection, of creativity and of inspiration that grounds them and fortifies them for the demands of the rest of the school year. Socialization and deep relationships are not a frivolous add-on for kids –they are not “elective.” They are the essential core ingredients for building and maintaining a foundation for growth and maturation young people experience throughout the rest of the year.

Sharing this with you is like “preaching to the choir,” but I like to be reminded of why we continue to hope, believe and work toward the next BEST SUMMER EVER.
Happy New Year, Illahee family!