Archive for December, 2016

A Few Resolutions for a New Year

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

I’m a big believer that you can start something new, turn over a new leaf, or give up something every time you wake up. Each new day offers an opportunity for change or time for reflection if you take it as such.

There are a LOT of big moments at camp!

We hear a lot of about these ideas at this time of year.  It is a big moment – a new year seems more impressive than a new day or month. But, if you focus and work on getting better at something each day, every day, it will happen. As Jerry Seinfield says, just don’t break the chain.

That said, these few days are great for reflection in a larger sense. There is no homework or tests that demand your attention. Families and friends get to spend a bit more time together. It can be a relaxing time to think… if you take it.

Some Camp Resolutions

Because I’ve been on a plane a bit lately, I’ve had a few moments to review the year and think about next year. So, without further ado, here is your humble camp director’s top five resolutions for Summer ‘17:

  1. Jump off every structure (you are supposed to) at camp at least once. *I’d like to apologize in advance to our outdoor adventure and lifeguards teams for the work I’m about to give you. Think of it as good practice!
  1. Make sure the office, kitchen, maintenance, and cleaning staff members laugh each day.
  1. Play (at least!) one game of gaga every day. Jinter 5 girls… I’m
    coming for you!
  1. Create a new (and enjoyable) slushie flavor. The CITs ’16 really set a
    high bar last summer. I’m going to have to get creative here.
  1. Live each day with GAC.

Hmm…. I’m pretty happy with that list. There are some challenges, some fun things, and lots of ways to connect with our incredible community. Game on!

So, how about you? Will you take a few moments today, tomorrow, or the next day to think on the year behind and the one ahead? I hope so.

A very interesting person once said, ‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.’ Let’s strive, together, to make next year great. Think on the past year and take those lessons to live out in 2017.

Now… Go out there… and be…. AWESOME!

The Importance of Tradition

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Ah, what a wonderful time of year. Kids are out of school, there is a festive feel in the air, and families and friends are gathering. It’s a time filled with tradition, much like camp.

Tradition plays an incredibly powerful role in summer camp and Weequahic is no different. Small (going to bed talking about our daily ‘happies’) and large (Tribals and Olympics), Weequahic is filled with tradition.

The traditional aspects of camp bind us together, give us a sense of personal belonging to the same ‘tribe.’ Our traditions are different than other camps and from home That is one of the reasons Weequahic feels special – we do things in our community not enjoyed anywhere else.

Traditions Change

We have been helping families build great humans since 1953. The Lustig and Seffer families built a camp deep with tradition and caring and fun. When Kate and I arrived in 2009 for our turn to carry the torch, there was so much good to enjoy.

And, there were a few things we wanted to change.

Campfire, one our most important and enduring traditions, was our first change. This change also led to my first… disagreement, let’s call it… with our beloved Camp Mom Judy.

“So, where do we hold campfire,” I asked CMJ on my first day at CW. “Behind gymnastics,” she responded.

Huh? I mean, it’s got a nice hill and good grass but… the gym?

After asking about 15 fewer questions than I should have, I bulldozed ahead and said, “Well, we are going to hold it at the lake instead.” This went over like a lead balloon with CMJ. Sure, as director, it was my right to make the change. However, I did not lay any groundwork for CMJ to see it from my point of view.

Thankfully, the kids and staffed loved the change (after about 3 weeks), and it’s become the only place we could think of holding one of our important traditions. (Yes, CMJ did come around. And, yes, I did apologize for barreling ahead.)

Traditions Feel Eternal

One of the beautiful things about traditions are that they feel old and unchanging. Because of this, you feel they have the mark of wisdom.

Does it take our beautiful setting to make it work? Does it take the 120 foot tall spruce pines or crystal clear lake? Our great field space and fun dining hall? While these aspects of camp are great, they are not the drivers of tradition.

Truly eternal traditions are those which rest upon an idea and our common belief in that idea. For us and the fantastic young men and women with whom we work, that idea is creating an amazing experience for everyone we meet through gratitude, attitude and courage.

What does this mean? It means as long as we have the right people, we can have a great camp in an open parking lot. Sure, it’s a lot easier to have an amazing experience in our incredible setting but it’s really not that necessary… but really, really nice.

Your Traditions

This time of year is rich with tradition. Some families celebrate Christmas while others celebrate Hanukkah. (Some families have created their own traditions at this time of year.) While these traditions now involve gifts and gear, when you boil them down to their essential purpose, they are both about celebrating a miracle with those who feel the same as you.

The celebration of your tradition doesn’t change whether you are looking out window at snow coming down, the palm trees flowing in the breeze, or buildings lit up with the holiday spirit. You, and those around you, connect with each other and the tradition binds you closer.

We hope you and your family enjoy a wonderful holiday season. We look forward to getting everyone back around Sly Lake to enjoy the traditions we’ve built together in the past and see what new ones we build for Summer ’17.

Camp Weequahic: Forever Changing, Yet Exactly the Same

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Camp is one of those things that meets campers exactly where they are. It has this unique way of providing campers with exactly what they need, sometimes before the campers even know they need it. Camp has a way of being the perfect combination of excitement and relaxation and has been that way for over 70 years.

 

In 70 years, a lot has changed at camp, but a lot has stayed the same. Over time, camp has transformed to meet the needs of the campers who come each year. The lake has always been central to the camping experience; even before jet boats were invented. The style of bathing suits may have changed, but the memories created in the lakes stay the same. The cabins may have been without porches then, but the stories and late night conversations inside of them were as special then as they are now. The camp has seen many upgrades throughout the years, but the feeling that camp gives campers throughout the summer never changes.

 

If campers from last summer were to sit down with campers from 50 years ago, they would have a lot in common. They would be able to trade stories about competing in Olympics, and they would be able to bust out the lyrics to some of the camp’s most popular songs, songs that haven’t changed since day one. They would be able to reminisce about the delicious camp lunches, the campfires, and all of the different sports and activities that filled up their days at camp. Even though a lot of time has passed, campers from 50 years ago would recognize camp as a place where they felt cared about, understood and accepted. Campers from last summer would be able to talk about new facilities, updated cabins and high-tech classes and workshops, but would be familiar with the overall feeling of acceptance and encouragement that is the foundation of Camp Weequahic.

 

Camp must change in order to meet the needs of the incoming generations of campers. It must have a sense of flexibility and growth to cater to new campers while holding on to its foundational values and traditions that have made it the camp it is today.  Camp is constantly changing and improving, but as always, is committed to being a place of friendships, fun, and life-long learning.

What’s Inside You?

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Ok, if you are human, I know what is physically inside you thanks to a great anatomy teacher. I’m speaking more about the intangibles – your will, your ‘heart’, what drives you. Because, even though I cannot tell where “it” resides, I know “it” is in you just as “it” is in me.

There is a great, simple story about two wolves that speaks directly to this idea.

The Story of the Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.  He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. 

One is Evil –  It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. 

The other is Good –  It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The Lesson

I’ve loved this story ever since I heard it around a campfire many, many years ago. I share it from time to time on our Friday Night Campfires for the kids (and adults!) because it boils things down to one basic choice: you get out what you put in.

So, the main question is, which wolf are you feeding?

Most of us run around with our conscious minds switched off to this aspect of our lives. We sit in front a screen, consume the same media, read the same magazines, swap the same gossip, eat similar food.

Our Habits Matter

These are habits – mostly unconscious routines in which we engage daily. Have you ever stopped to think which wolf these habits are feeding?

I know some people whose daily routines support nothing but good things in their lives: they practice gratitude, are kind to everyone around them, show discipline in the big and little things in their lives, and laugh and give a lot. These people are fun to be around. I always leave feeling uplifted and hopeful.

I also know people who, in most cases, choose a different path. They spread hurtful gossip, act only in their self-interest, and are rude or unkind towards those around them – unless that person has a lot more money than themselves. I don’t spend very much time with this group of people. They aren’t much fun to be around for long periods of time. The wolf their actions and behaviors feed is eating them and it’s sad to see.

Thankfully, we get to choose which wolf we feed. All we need to do is be awake to our actions – what we read, how we react, to whom we give our time and trust. This weekend, take a few moments to think about which wolf you are feeding. Both are hungry.

Have a great week!

What I Learned From a Summer at Camp Weequahic

Monday, December 12th, 2016

My mom has this ritual of asking me, every day, about what I learned that day. Sometimes I shrug and say “I don’t know,” and other times I spit out interesting facts about blue whales or Egyptian pyramids or volcanoes that I learned that day at school. So in the car the day I got home from a summer at Camp Weequahic, I wasn’t surprised when she asked me what I had learned while being away. She was surprised, however, at my response.

 

I told her that I learned a lot of new skills that I would never have experienced if I had stayed home. I learned how to play lacrosse and sail. I learned to fish and learned a lot of crazy songs that have been stuck in my head all summer. I learned how to get from one side of camp to the other in the shortest amount of time, I learned how to make the perfect S’more, and even learned how to paint. I was exposed to so many new opportunities and experiences, that I felt like I was learning something new every day!

 

But in the first few days at home, I kept thinking about other things I learned while I was at camp. Things that were more about character than skill. Things that will help me in life more than knowing the perfect ratio of chocolate to marshmallow ratio on a S’more. When Jessi and I had that big disagreement, our counselors walked us through a communication plan that left both of us feeling heard, understood and we walked away with our issue totally resolved. I learned how to recognize when someone was feeling left out or lonely, and quickly invited them to sit, play or hang out with me. I learned a lot about how to interact with different people and learned to appreciate differences in people without judgment. At the end of the summer, I realized that sometimes I was so focused on the quantity of friends that I have, that I wasn’t focused on the quality. After spending a summer at camp, I learned the importance of having a handful of true friends who are there for you no matter what, who accept you for who you are, and who are honest and real with you.

 

I learned quickly that I’m a naturally messy and unorganized person, but that keeping my stuff picked up and clean in areas that I share with others is a sign of respect, and learned quickly to live in close proximity with other people and respecting boundaries and personal space. I learned to compromise, to be flexible, and how to manage my time.

 

I learned that I can, in fact, function without my cell phone and that not everything I do has to be documented through a “selfie.” I learned that without a cell phone glued to my side, I could focus more on the actual experience rather than getting the perfect shot, choosing the best filter, and then waiting impatiently for my friends to “like” and “comment” on the picture through social media.

 

I didn’t overwhelm my dear ‘ol mom with all of these things that I learned, and instead just gave her little stories here and there to demonstrate all of the new things I had learned at camp. Sometimes, she was the one telling me about the difference that she noticed in me, things that I had learned that made an obvious difference in my attitude and character. She noticed I was more patient with my little sister, more helpful to her and my dad, I was a better team player for my soccer team, and as school rolled around, she noticed I was focusing more on my grades.

 

I learned a lot at Camp Weequahic. Some of the things are basic skills that are fun to know, while others are foundational qualities that I really feel with set me up for better relationships and experiences for the rest of my life. I’m thankful that going to camp was such a fun and natural way to learn so many new things.

You Need To Give Up….

Friday, December 9th, 2016

Something. You need to give up something. Maybe even a lot of things. That was a very strong message passed along by one of my teachers a few weeks ago. Yes, I still have people I consider ‘teachers’ in my life, even at my ancient level….

We all have soooo much in our lives. These little gadgets in our pockets connect us, quite literally, to the entire world and can entertain us for hours. We receive gifts around this time of year, many of which will, sadly, be forgotten or fall disused in months.

It’s not ‘just’ about stuff. You have friends, teams, schoolwork, family, responsibilities, and entertainment competing for your attention. Inside your head run desires, dreams, and false demands.

And we wonder why we feel more than a little hectic most of the time?*

Good Moments

There are moments, however, in our lives with little worry, less rushing, less comparing. Those moments have simplicity and calm and joy and depth. You know the ones I’m talking about. Why can’t we find those moments more often?

We get a lot of these moments at Camp Weequahic. A LOT. Want to know why?

Think about things we don’t have. No one is carrying a phone in their pocket at camp. You aren’t preparing for a test. You aren’t hustling from one activity to the next shoveling food into your mouth. No one is going to judge you on what your wear, where you are from, or how good you are at sport or art or anything else.
Rather, at Weequahic, you are with your friends, focused on the task ahead of you, and surrounded by people who want you to 1) be safe and 2) have the time of your life. You get to be you, without all the ‘stuff.’

That’s it. You’ve already given up so much ‘stuff’ just by getting on the bus. We keep things simple (and fun) at Weequahic. And, because you have room in your life, you can fill it with so many great, little moments with your friends and mentors at camp.

Your Next Steps

So, what are you going to give up? Sorry – you can’t give up schoolwork, your family or your responsibilities at home. But, there are lots of other things you can let go of right now.

Are you spending too much time on your phone? Do you want to give up caring what the other kids think about you? You probably have a lot of clothes you haven’t worn in months/years. How about giving them to someone who may need it more? How about spending less on lunch and more on others? It’s amazing how much money can be saved by drinking water instead of soda, slushies, or coffee.

As for me, I have several things to prune from my life. (But not slushies. Never slushies….)

I’ll continue to work on things. I hope you will, too. Regardless of how successful I am during the year, I know one thing for certain: when we get back to Weequahic, I’ll be all-in for those simple, meaningful moments. I know you will be, too!

Can’t wait for camp!

*Please don’t think that our family doesn’t fall into the same pattern. We are just as busy as the next family at home and are doing our best to find the right balance.

The Reward a Child Experiences When Having a “Big Sister/Brother”

Monday, December 5th, 2016

 

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Imagine being 7 years old and coming to camp for the first time. You’re one of the youngest and newest campers on campus, and you may feel a little lost, intimidated and overwhelmed. You may begin to think that coming to camp may have been a mistake, and start wondering if it is too late to call your parents back to come and get you. And then an older, taller, more experienced camper walks right up to you, knows your name, and makes you feel like you belong. They are your big brother/big sister, and for the entire duration of camp, they’ve got your back. You can breathe a big sigh of relief because you’re not alone anymore and someone is there for you. Young campers benefit immensely from the Big Brother/Big Sister program because they can transition quickly from “nervous and new” to “confident and included.” They bond quickly to their camp sibling and rest easy in the fact that if they have questions, need someone to sit with at lunch, or just need someone to talk to, they have their big brother/big sister.

 

Each year, an older, more experienced camper is paired with a younger newer camper. The new camper benefits for all of the reasons listed above, but the big brother/big sister benefits too. It is a big responsibility to be a big brother/sister, and they take it very seriously. By proving that they are trustworthy, reliable, friendly, patient and kind, they are given the opportunity to make a difference for a new camper. This boosts their confidence, improves their leadership skills, and gives them something to look forward to. They get the chance to be a mentor to someone, to be a teacher and a friend, which helps them immensely when they are back at school and in the “real world.”

 

Entering a new place can be nerve-wracking, especially when you’re surrounded by tons of new people who seem to know what they’re doing, where they are going, and already have their pack of friends to do things with. When a new camper is matched with a Big Brother/Sister, they can get through that awkward newness quickly and move on to getting settled in. With someone to answer their questions, introduce them to new friends and give them a tour of the campus, they begin to feel comfortable with their new surroundings and can begin to experience camp as it is meant to be experienced. Young campers can also look forward to the day when they too will be a big brother/sister for someone else, and pass what they’ve learned down to someone new.

 

There are so many benefits of having a big brother/big sister during your first time at camp. It makes camp seem a little smaller when at first it feels so big, and it can make it feel a little less daunting and whole lot more fun.

A Thanksgiving Present

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

I must admit that Thanksgiving is one of our favorite holidays at the Kelly household. Many of our family members enjoy cooking and entertaining, everyone loves to eat, and it gives us time to think about what we’ve been grateful for over the past year.

A Merry Thanksgiving

campsgiving-2016One thing I am grateful for is receiving notes, emails, and calls from our families and staff during the year. Over the holiday weekend, we received this picture of many of our CITs ’16 sitting around the Thanksgiving table together. (Behar family, you are troopers!)

The picture was great but what makes it special is that those smiling young men and women hale from five different states – New York, Florida, New Jersey, Texas and California. They built such a strong connection over their summers at Weequahic and wanted to keep the connection going.

The Call

The cherry on top of this GACsgiving treat was the call I received from one of their moms later in the week.

“Cole, did you see the picture of our children together?” she asked.

“Yes, it was amazing! Did all of the families get together?”

“No, just the kids. Here’s the thing. Those young people are so incredible – they are kind, and generous, and just good kids. We trust them all so much that we put them on planes to go see their friends. And, there were so many families to help pick them up and house them! I don’t know what you do at Weequahic to turn out such great kids but it’s working!”

The Weequahic Experience

It’s wonderful to think that our community has had such an effect on these young peoples’ lives. They come from caring families who expect good things and work with their children to make them happen.

That’s the type of experience we strive to build each summer and throughout the year – something that binds great kids together in all the right ways and walks with them as they grow. We are lucky to have so many families who trust us to do so with their children.

Thank you, CITs ’16, for putting a big smile on your camp director’s face. I’m so grateful for you all!

With GAC,
Cole