I’ll make a bold prediction. Tomorrow you will notice a difference in your girls. It may be subtle. It may not all be flowers and fairytales…though there will be a lot of them. The magic of camp comes from the daily navigation through the ups and downs of living in a fishbowl. Most of us have had a lot of practice with that…whether a house full of siblings, classmates at school, participation in dance groups or sports teams, navigating around that annoying boss or co-worker at our jobs (not you Laurie)… This is the summer that we left the pandemic in the rear-view mirror. Camps have always been good at moving quickly and adjusting as needed. We were pretty good at managing health concerns four years ago, but now we are experts. We watched wide-eyed as the pandemic unfolded, zoomed with our peer camp directors in what increasingly felt like a funeral wake as spring progressed. We cancelled camp for the first time in its modern history. And then we got our wits about us.
As many of you will remember, we organized a leadership camp that about 150 older girls attended for two weeks that July. It allowed us to continue to say “100 plus years of continuous operation,” but it also allowed something even more valuable….connection in a time of uncertainty, and it was good for our collective souls. I still remember it as a favorite camp summer. Many of the girls who attended that summer are now counselors. We have spoken to many of our peer camp directors who did not operate at all, and they have struggled with staffing this summer. We have one of our strongest ever.
It feels good to say that the pandemic is over. No more masks, lots of hugs, campers switching tables to meet new friends instead of remaining with their cabins. No more shadow camp and especially no more stress over the latest news from the CDC. We are back to what we do best, and I am proud of what we did through that dark period. So as good as it feels, there are remnants from the isolation. I read today that middle school math and reading aptitude tests are the lowest they have been in years. No wonder. I think more about mental health, and especially among camp-aged girls. The good news is that we see progress this summer over last summer. We braced ourselves last summer, and put lots of training and early intervention measures in place for girls who may be struggling. This summer feels more carefree and back to a celebration of the joys of childhood. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel that there is lost time to make up, and I am convinced that your gift to your camper has done that in spades. There is no better place than camp than to practice being a “great girl” in a loving environment with mentors who care…mentors who have been there before themselves.
So I’ll be curious and I hope you will let us know. Don’t get me wrong. We want camp to be a blast….from fun activities and cabin life, to trips out of camp to explore the magical world that makes up our forests, rocks, and rivers. We’ve had tennis and pickle ball tournaments, plenty of opportunity for creative expression, Duckie trips on the French Broad, lots of great food and ice cream, and mostly sunshine…with a few soggy days here at the end to make us appreciate the smells and sights the rain brings.
The last day of camp is a celebration. We started with warm cinnamon rolls, eggs, and bacon with cereals, yogurt and bagels. Girls painted plaques to mark their summer at Illahee, which will hang proudly in her cabin for years to come. Our dance girls showed off their group dances to a Taylor-themed backdrop. There’s a little packing time before Choice period, and a last chance to finish tennis matches, take a slide down the Streak or a last flip off Tarzan, plus a few waterfall hikes out of camp for some lucky girls.
Our Sparks host our final banquet. Small in number this session (1 cabin), they spend the session creating signs and decorations based on their chosen theme. They pick the menu, and the entire camp joins them for a festive final dinner together before final campfire. Tonight their theme was Ratatouille in Paris. The dining hall was transformed into scenes from Paris, and the evening was a success. It is a last chance to gather as community, just as we started three weeks ago. This one is framed by references of light as each girl takes the Illahee spirit out into the world to share it in her own community. There are readings as representatives from each hill and staff group…chosen by their peers…read a wish for the entire community. We sing. First-year banners and ten-year rings are presented. We close with prayer and wish-boat floating. My wish and prayer is always the same…may you all be confident in sharing your true selves with those who are lucky enough to meet you, and may you rely on your memories made in our Heavenly World to sustain you until we all meet again.