Well Aligned Summer

Way back in May (what feels like a year ago) during staff orientation, I led an exercise with our counselors. We handed out notecards and on each side we asked them to write one word:


On the first side they responded to the prompt: “Why is Camp Illahee here?”

And on the other side they answered the question: “Why am I here?”

This activity was done in response to a Ted Talk by Simon Sinek. Sinek, in a long-winded way, challenges companies, groups, organizations, and institutions to find their “why”. He says most groups know WHAT they want to do, some groups figure out HOW to do it, but very few are all on the same page about WHY they exist at all.

And as I reflect on drawing to the end of our longest session with some really awesome young women, I keep coming back to the “why” of camp. Why do we do this for 10 weeks every summer? Why do girls come here and live a somewhat strange, but beautiful life for their time here? Why sing silly songs at 8am and keep singing songs until the wee hours of the night?
And in my pondering, I stumbled upon the counselor’s notecards from orientation on my (very messy) desk and wanted to share some of the responses with you.

Counselor “Why am I here?”

To pour into campers what was poured into me. I want to be a confidence booster for these girls.

To help campers feel the joy I felt when I was learning how to ride a horse.

To give girls the same sense of adventure I got as a camper.

Camp gave me a safe place to try new things and be my authentic self. I want to give that to others.

To be a friend and mentor and show the girls how wonderful they truly are.

Having strong female role models was really important for my growth and confidence. To give that to another girl is my hope.

To try to positively impact as many girls lives as possible (but even if it happens to just be one, it will still be worth it). And to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Counselor “Why is Camp here?”

Camp is here for girls to be themselves and make friends that last a lifetime.

Camp is here to help girls grow and step beyond their comfort zone.

Camp gives girls a foundation for the girls with skills that’ll help in school, friendships, sports and all aspects of life.

Camp helps girls grow into the best version of themselves.

To teach girls to love themselves and have fun while they do it.

Camp is here to bring so many different young women together to form amazing, lifelong friendships and to be yourself with no judgment or shame.

There are those cheesy business coaches that tell you that “You’re on a ship and everyone has to be rowing in the same direction.” Or the classic mantra: “teamwork makes the dream work.” And as cliche as they are, they are sound goals for a team to strive for. They remind me of a word that has been stuck in head surrounding my experience of camp this summer: Alignment. Whether it’s the joints in your body, the gears on your car or bike, or even the vocal cords of girls singing around the lake (they sounded beautiful tonight by the way), things need to be in a position of agreement or alliance to work and thrive.

My favorite evening program, Canoe Formation embodies this metaphor perfectly. Tonight, I saw 16 girls who have worked hard to harness their paddling skills get in 8 boats to come together and both individually and communally work to create something uniquely beautiful. It’s alignment. It’s awesome. It’s camp.

What I believe has made this session and this summer so successful thus far is that the campers, the staff, the directors are all in alignment of why Illahee exists and why we’re all here. Yes, each answer varies a bit from another. Every voice brings their own story, passions, and unique perspective to make camp interesting, but the magic happens when those voices work together to give these girls the best, most empowering, relational, adventurous, and joyful time of their lives. At least, that’s what we aim for.

We’re going to miss your girls when they leave on Friday.

We hope they miss us and this place too.

More than anything we hope that they know they are loved.
We hope they have made friendships that will last a lifetime.
We hope they learned something new, did something new, and stepped out of their comfort zone toward adventure.
We hope they feel well aligned with who they are and who they want to be.
And we hope to see them back at Illahee next year.

The good news is we’re not done yet! We’ve got one more great day ahead filled with plenty of fun and a final night that never disappoints.