Camp News & Blog

Camp Weequahic Pennsylvania Sleep Away Camp

Important, Uncomfortable & Necessary Growth

While I had planned on taking a bit of time off from writing and speaking, I felt compelled to say something about the sad and important moment our society currently faces.

Now, you may be thinking, ‘Cole, you are a white, southern guy – what the heck do you know or have experienced to make you a person who should comment?’

The answer is: very little. I know I’m luckier than 99% of the world. I also know that I’m a part of a community that, for a few weeks each summer, connects people from all walks of life, all socio-economic backgrounds, and dozens and dozens of different perspectives. Please take the following in the latter vein, that of someone trying to listen, learn, and help.

Race at Camp Weequahic

I spent time over the past week speaking with some of our past, present and future staff who are people of color. They were so open, patient and honest with me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate their time and courage to speak with me in that way.

We’ve not had conversations about race at Camp Weequahic because that’s not what camp is about. To me, Weequahic, at its very core, is about living out this one truth: we are all worthy of love and respect. No matter where you come from, what you look like, how much money you have or anything else.

“If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”

Mother Teresa

At camp, for a few short, wonderful weeks, we get a sense of ‘belonging to one another.’

There are no distractions. Life is much simpler here underneath the pines for those fleeting moments. And, because our entire staff decides to follow one mission – that of creating an amazing experience for everyone we meet through gratitude, attitude, and courage – we get close to erasing everything that could divide us in the outside world.

Outside of camp, I fear Mother Teresa’s admonition hits a little too close to home. We’ve got problems in our outside world. This is nothing new. We always have problems. You can’t live together as humans and not have problems. Heck, you can’t live by yourself and not have problems.

A House On Fire

Earlier this year, I wrote a note about our small neighborhood. In relationship to the Earth, Weequahic is a tiny neighborhood. We’ve got several small houses, play areas, a nice lake and more. If one of our bunks were on fire, we’d all work together to help, wouldn’t we? We’d get everyone out safely, care for them, and rebuild something even better.

Well, compared to our galaxy, the Milky Way, our Earth is an even smaller ‘neighborhood’ than Weequahic is to the Earth. As far as we know, we are the only humans for millions and millions of lightyears. We’ve only got each other.

Weequahic, one of our neighborhood houses is on fire. It’s been smoldering for years. Because of the repugnant, brutal actions of a few, that house is now burning. Are we going to help put out the flames and work together to help rebuild towards a brighter future? Or are we going to ignore and just focus on our own?

Many people are angry right now. I’d like you to try something: think of anger as pain made public. When you approach it this way, you begin to open up to listening in hopes of understanding and working side by side rather than at odds. You begin to treat the other as you would want to be treated. You begin to find common ground on which you can both stand.

Moving Forward

So, how do we, the eyes of this camp director, move forward to a better, more just world? To be honest, I’m not sure. However, after asking questions of those I respect and love, here are a few ideas that I think may help.

First, recognize we have members of our human family who are in pain right now.

Second, listen with empathy.

That is harder than it sounds for many of us because it requires us to be what’s called emotionally intelligent. Before you can get to that point, though, you have to know how talk about what you are feeling. You have to be emotionally literate.

This is harder when we are stressed, out of our routines or anxious.

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling that way right now. How about you? While we may be in a situation across the US where these feelings are widespread, the Covid situation doesn’t give us a pass for not doing all we can to care for those around us.

The good news about this approach – recognizing and listening for understanding – is that it’ll help you grow. This is something we all want to do.

The bad news is the growth will be uncomfortable.

And it should be. You can’t grow when you are stuck in the same place doing the same things. When you want to grow a muscle or your endurance or your abilities on the piano or with public speaking, you practice and make mistakes and learn and repeat. It’s challenging!

Do you think raising your concerns, your fears, your pain is comfortable? I know many of our campers who have gone through the very natural missing home feelings at camp hide those feelings from their counselors, their division heads, and me. It’s natural – these are uncomfortable feelings. You imagine the conversation about it will be even more uncomfortable.

Weequahic, growth only comes from learning and moving through uncomfortable times. The campers and staff members who have the courage to put a voice to their concerns, a voice to their pain are the ones who come through it better. Those who have the courage to listen for understanding with an open and grateful heart will learn as well.

Tie Your Shoes

Finally, we’ve got to get up, tie our shoes and do something about it.

We, the entire human family, need to

  • Ask questions and listen.
  • Serve and help and lend a hand.
  • Fight (peacefully) for what is just, what is good, and what is right.
  • Show that we share an important common ground – that we are all worthy of love and respect – through our actions and words.

I cannot truly walk in your shoes and experience all that you know and feel. You can’t walk in mine. But, we are better, as a human family, when we strive work and play and learn together. We become something more than just a collection of individuals going in the same direction. We become a community and start to belong to one another.

Weequahic’s Challenge to You

Be grateful for those giving voice to their pain. They are giving you a gift and its not an easy one to share.

To those putting a voice to pain, strive to be grateful for those who are listening for understanding. This will not be easy for you and it’s no less important. We’ve got to meet somewhere in between and work together in order to move forward.

And, difficult as it may be, we must all be grateful for the vast majority of women and men who protect and serve in all the right ways – with patience, fortitude, courage and justice.

Choose an attitude of humility, patience, generosity and hope. With this as our base, we can work together to make the world a bit more like camp.

Finally, develop your courage to peacefully and purposefully strive to make the world around you a more just and kind place.

Build a Bridge

The headlines will soon fall away. The media coverage will find something else to bark about. What will be left are those who work on a day-to-day basis to build bridges and bring people forward. Or not. We get to choose.

Camp Weequahic, let’s tie our shoes and put some GAC into the world around you. Do this often enough, you’ll change your home, your class, your team, your group. If we all do it, the effect will magnify. Start small, aim big!

2020 Final Campfire

It has rained every day at our house since we put the announcement out to cancel Summer 2020. I wish I could make this stuff up. It was raining at camp on Thursday, too. It seems like Mother Nature wants to console our feelings with her waters and, to some point, mask our tears.

As I said in the video, we need to grieve this loss. We need to be sad and talk about it when we are ready. I’m sad for the first time campers and their families – this is certainly not the experience we wanted for you all. We are all sad for the kids who love their summers at Weequahic more than anything else. I’m sad for the staff who have planned, many for 10 months, to get to camp. I’m even sad for our local ice cream spots, Scoops and Jerichos, and our friends at the Villa Como who serve some of the best pizza on the east coast!

I received this note yesterday from one of our alums:

I thought about how I would feel reading your cancellation note, if I had spent the past 10 months eagerly awaiting my return to the best place on earth, as I did when I was a camper. Since my amazing CIT and final summer, whenever June rolls around I often find myself thinking about what those kids must be feeling as they make the journey to camp, and I remember that amazing feeling of nervous excitement and energy as that famous sign on Woods Road grew closer and closer in sight. I know and trust that 2021 will be the greatest Weequahic summer to date, and that you, Kate and the whole team will work so hard over the coming year to make sure that becomes a reality. Till then I hope you guys can survive with no opening day, no Friday night campfires, no Tribals, no taps at HQB, no gaga, no canteen, no Color War, no turning and facing the lake.

Yes, Ben, we will survive. In fact, we are going to learn to thrive through this situation. Life is not about avoiding the storms. Life is about dancing in the rain.

Dancing Between Mountain Tops

Well, it’s raining right now. And that’s ok. Life is not a constant string of successes. In fact, we’ve seen it’s not that great for people to only succeed. Growth can only come from facing new challenges and overcoming them.

Kate reminded me of something a little while ago. We all talk about getting to the top of the mountain. It’s a great anaology – we look up to these majestic peaks, some dappled in snow. We are striving and working to get to the top.

Have you ever been on the top of a mountain? I have and let me tell you – there’s a great view and nothing but dirt and rocks. Nothing grows on the top of a mountain. And, it’s normally not big enough for lots of friends.

The richest place for growth is down in the valley. We have slid down the last wonderful mountain we’ve climbed and found ourselves in the darkest valley yet. Two things will help learn our way out of this valley: our friends and our values.

How will we stay connected while separated by miles and miles? Well, we thought we’d hold some bunk zoom calls, a few more digital campfires, a letter writing campaign, and fun online tutorials from our amazing Weequahic staff. I’m sure a few of the guys and the girls will find each other on Fortnite. I implore you all to be kind and welcoming to all of the Weequahic family online. It’s easy to be mean or cut people off. However, we are all worthy of love and attention. Let the values we talk about so often at camp shine through when interacting with your friends.

Gratitude, Attitude and Courage

Speaking of our values, I want to touch on each one:

For what will you be grateful for at the end of this very strange and suddenly wide-open summer. I’ve been asking myself that question for several days in the hopes of pulling my spirits up. I hadn’t planned to have a ‘summer off’ until I retired from camping, many, many years in the future. And, while I’ll be heading up to camp often, I won’t be there all summer.

So, no matter the circumstances, I want my future self to be grateful to have made the most of it.

What’s the best way to accomplish that goal? To intentionally pick the right attitude. For me, that’s to see this summer as an opportunity. It’s the not the opportunity I had planned for. It’s not the one that Cammie, Sue, Dana, Scrappy, Kate, John and I have been working towards since last August. And, it’s the opportunity that we have. We can either treat as such or waste the time away feeling frustrated and sorry for ourselves.

This is going to hurt for a little while longer. It’ll on those special days: June 18th when all the staff were to be at camp. June 27th when our Tribal and Super Six kids were supposed to arrive. Visiting Day when I get to see so many friends be so happy to see their children. July 20th when we were set to welcome our Olympic kiddos. And August 8th when we would start to say our good byes.

But, if it doesn’t hurt, that would mean it doesn’t matter that much. We all know it does. And, we all know this: the summer must go on. We must do all we can to make the most of it.

And what will that take? Courage. Courage is the handle for which every value is used. You can’t be grateful without showing courage to choose. We can pick a great attitude in the face of a challenging situation without courage. You can’t build new friendships, learn new skills, approach an uncertain time effectively without courage.

As we know, courage is like a muscle – the more you us exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Weequahic family, it’s time to work out!

Going Forward

I want to end with some words one of our CITs shared with me yesterday.

It has been nearly six years since you came to my house and sold me on the wonders of camp. It was your presence that led me to Camp Weequahic and that may have been the best spill of luck I could ever receive. Camp has grown me into the person I am today, and I am extremely grateful for that.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about all of my experiences and what I will take from Weequahic. While it is hard to do, I see this pandemic as a time for me to take the values and relations I have developed at camp into the world. Without a doubt, I have noticed a more positive attitude and more courage in response to the challenges that we are all facing together.

As we move forward together, let’s remember a few things.

First, face these next several months with Gratitude, an intentionally chosen Attitude, and ever-growing Courage. Be kind to one another (and yourself.)

While we are blowing out the candle of Summer 2020, we are also lighting a spark for Summer 2021. Let’s work together to fan that spark into a flame the whole world will see!

Skate park at Camp Weequahic

Influencing the Future

Last week, I talked with you about questions. Two of those questions – ‘Where am I going?’ and ‘Do I have what it takes?’ concern the future. You are taking stock of how things are right now and doing your best to envision a future ahead.

The hard part about the future is that we can’t predict it. Who would have predicted our online campfires, physical distancing, and fear caused by this outbreak? When we think about the future, because we are positive people, we normally think about improvements to the life around us.

And, why wouldn’t we? As a human society, terrible poverty has fallen dramatically. The advances in science and medicine has been astounding. People are thinking more and more about helping those around them as well as the earth itself.

We can’t predict the future. But, we can influence it.

Hope Isn’t Enough

If you want to become the best singer in your school, you would envision that future first. How it would make you feel. Being up on stage having finished an amazing piece and hearing the crowd roar their approval. As you think about that wonderful future, you hope you’ll get there.

If you want to become the best baseball player in your league, you’d imagine diving catches, sharp base hits, stolen bases, and cheers from the stands. When you think about that wonderful future, you hope you’ll get there.

But hope is not enough. If you want to get from wherever you are to where you want to go, you’ve got to make some changes. And change can really hard. It normally means giving something up or changing your focus or modifying your behavior.

What’s Important?

One of my favorite teachers spent some time with me one day after a practice. I was upset – things were not going as I wanted them. He asked me where I wanted to take my golf career. To college, I answered.

“Great,” he said, “that’s a wonderful goal.” And then he started asking me how I spent my time.

How many hours a day are you sleeping? Studying? Reading outside of school? Spending time with your family? Practicing? Playing video games? (Yes, there were video games all the way back when I was a kid, too.)

He wrote all of my answers down. I was always honest with this coach – I knew he had my best in his mind and would support me no matter what.

“Ok, here’s how many hours a week you’d sleep. Here’s how many hours of studying…” and on down the list. It turns out, I was spending as many hours playing video games as I was practicing golf. (And both were more than I was studying….)

“Cole,” he said, “I’ve always found that tracking how I spend my time and my money is the best way to see what’s most important to me. Do you think spending as much time playing video games as practicing your short game will help you become a college golfer? Do you think sleeping in every weekend will help you draw closer to your family or your faith?”

He smiled, told me to make another 50 short putts and head home. I got the message and changed my behavior: more time reading, more time practicing, and about 10% as much video games.

Handling Disappointment

That story in my life ended as I wanted it. I changed enough behaviors and beliefs in order to play golf in college. I gave up a lot, too, but the relationships and memories I gained were more than worth the trade.

But what happens when we can’t influence the future to our liking? What happens when things out of our control go wrong, go against what’s most important right here and now for you?

Well, everybody handles disappointment and grief differently. Some people get to work. Others get sad. A few get mad. Most of us, though, go through a whole range of emotions. And, you know what? That’s completely ok.

We are supposed to. Believe it or not, it’s actually good for you to feel those things and even better to, when you are ready, talk about them with someone you love and loves you back. These emotions won’t be minimized or excused away. They need to be confronted, talked about and processed. Like all things in life, the only way out of those feelings is going through them.

This Too Shall Pass

When I think about disappointment and loss, I often think of King Solomon’s ring. If you aren’t familiar, King Solomon was thought to be the wisest king of Israel. Legend has it that one of his rings had a saying that was true no matter the situation: this too shall pass.

Let me break down that sentence a bit: This – whatever is happening right now – will change into something else. We can cheat in cards and in video games but there is no cheating time. ‘Too’ – everything changes. The more you fight the change, the harder it will be on you. A better way is to be like water and flow with it, carving your own channels over time. ‘Shall’ – not maybe, not possibly, ‘shall’ – it will. ‘Pass’ – move on, pass by, change.

This sentence is really useful when things are going great. It’ll keep you humble. It’ll remind you that things change and you’ve got to change with it. Do you think Weequahic had to change much as we grew from 120 kids to 750 in 8 summers? Oh, yes, we have to change every year.

It’s also an important sentence to remember when times are scary or dark or troublesome. Those times will pass. We don’t know when, but they will. There is hope in that message.  

Our Decision Making Process

Speaking of changes, let me address the very large elephant in the room. Many of our friends in Wayne County cancelled their summer sessions today. I know the decision was terribly hard for them. While we respect their decision, we have not yet made one about Summer 2020.

As I said in my email earlier today, safety is our most important concern. And this concern involves our campers social and emotional health as well as their physical health. Being cooped up for so many weeks is hard on our kids. Camp, I believe, could be a wonderful respite for them.

We read the same headlines that you do. They are certainly concerning. We’ve been reading studies. We know that while a very small portion of children have been affected, there is a much lower risk for them. Could sleeping in a bunk increase the possibility of spreading a virus. Yes. AND, if we can test everyone before they arrive, keep our staff at Weequahic for two weeks prior to camp, and keep everyone at camp the whole time, we may be able to mitigate that risk.

We’ve been talking with our camp doctors a bunch – I think they are actually tired of hearing from me. There have been multiple conversations with many others in the field. We’ve been on testing calls, research calls, and more.

We are still waiting for guidance from the American Camp Association. Some of that has come out today. The rest will be out over the weekend. We are waiting to hear from the State of Pennsylvania’s Department of Health. I’ve heard news from them will be coming out ‘in days.’

When and How We’ll Decide

Kate and I feel obligated to do everything we can to provide our campers and staff a safe summer. We’ll continue to dig and learn and think creatively. If, after reading through the guidelines, we feel we can’t make Weequahic great and as safe as possible this summer, we’ll let you know. If we feel we can, we’ll do that too, in a very detailed manner.

We want camp for our kids and our families and our staff. We just need a little more time to see if we can make it all work. Thanks for being patient, flexible and hopeful with along the way.