Earlier in the week, I had the opportunity to head up to Weequahic. Our new caretaker, Alex, and his team had been cruising through some new projects and I wanted to check in with him. Impressive work – these guys can really get things done!
An Early Start
Because of an early Wayne County Camp Association meeting the next morning, I left Weequahic before sunrise. I’m not a huge fan of driving early in the morning during the winter around camp but, thankfully, the snow plows had been very active early and the roads were great.
As I was driving the windy, up and down Hwy 17B, the sky brightened slowly but surely. And then, crossing over the Delaware River, the full glory of the morning’s first light hit all around me.
The sunrise was spectacular. It illuminated the trees on the Pennsylvania side making the snow covered pines literally glow. There were small patches of ice bubbling calmly down the Delaware. The clouds in the sky were a riot of reds, purple, and golds. The fields and the small town I was passing through were idyllic. It was a gorgeous moment.
And then I smelled the skunk.
It hit me full on, head first and was brutal. The smell was so strong, I thought the thing had climbed into the car with me and asked for a breakfast bar. It was over-powering.
To be honest, I got a bit frustrated. I mean, I had just been enjoying this incredible, once in a long while kind of sunrise. I had been fully immersed in this fantastic moment and then, WHAM!, this happens? C’mon!!! I laughed darkly at the irony.
A “GAC” Lesson
To get my mind off things as I sped along, I turned on a podcast I had been listening to the afternoon before. The first things I heard was this:
“The struggle ends when gratitude begins.”
Wait… what? I had to stop the podcast, rewind, and listen to it again because I couldn’t believe the coincidence of it. Sure enough, the person being interviewed had said:
“The struggle ends when gratitude begins.”
All of the sudden, I realized the lesson in my beautiful, skunk-tinged sunrise – I get to choose my point of focus. I don’t have to choose, I get to choose. There is a big difference in those two verbs.
The inputs – the visual beauty and pungent smell – were streaming at me. Because I was driving, I had to take them both in. But, I didn’t have to give them both the same amount of attention. When I started to focus on the gratitude I felt for the sunrise, I actually got happier. Sure, the skunk smell was still with me but I knew that it would be gone a mile or two later. The beauty of that sunrise, though, would stay with me for a long time.
When I started to focus on the gratitude I felt for the sunrise, I actually got happier. Sure, the skunk smell was still with me but I knew that it would be gone in a mile or two. The beauty of that sunrise, though, would stay with me for a long time.
Every day we are presented with opportunities to choose our focus. Things are never perfect – a great game could be marred by a teammate’s turn-overs. You probably will be sent to bed before you want to after a fantastic day. Some kid in your class probably did something annoying today. But, are you going to let those small experiences take away the good?
You get to choose your point of focus and how you react. And, if you choose to be grateful for the good in your life, those smelly moments go by a whole lot faster.
There is saying you may hear from time to time: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” It’s a quote that came from Jim Rohm, a very popular speaker and trainer of sales people back in the ‘80s.
The idea is simple: Whoever you spend the most time with, you take bits and pieces of them – their behavior, their phrases, their attitude – and add it to your own life.
You do this without even thinking about it; it’s a natural phenomenon. But, just because you aren’t thinking about it doesn’t make the effect any less real.
So, if this is the case, the question is, “With whom are you spending the most time?” While we can’t help you back home, at camp, we can be very influential.
You may be thinking, “I don’t get to choose our counselors at camp” or, if it’s your first summer at Weequahic, “I don’t get to choose who I bunk with.” And, you’d be right.
But, here’s the thing: you and your family chose Weequahic for very specific reasons. The ideas of practicing gratitude, choosing your attitude, and building courage are important to your family. You want to choose your activities but make sure you do your fun things with other kids your same age and gender. You want to make sure you are safe and have the time of your life!
The other campers with whom you’ll spend your time are looking for the same thing. Sure, their activities may differ somewhat but the base is the same: they are kind kids who want to make friends and have a blast.
The (amazing) young people we choose for our team at Weequahic feel strongly about GAC, keeping our campers safe and making sure everyone has a blast. In fact, we have three people who find, interview, and pick only the best people. By ‘best’, we mean those we feel will most successfully take up our vision and make it happen.
So, at camp, we got you covered.
Here’s the thing – you actually have more control over who you spend time with than you think. You can just roll through your days and not be intentional. Or, you can take some time to really think about the people you spend the most time with and decide whether they helping you be the person you want to be or not.
[A side note: You need to know what kind of person you want to become! To determine this, have a conversation with those who love you most and you trust. They’ll give you guidance in this very important part of your life.]
So, who do you want to be? Once you’ve got that decided, do your friends help you get there? I hope the answer is ‘heck yeah!’
If the answer is ‘no’, then you have a choice to make. Do you show the courage to change or do you keep things rolling as normal? Here’s the great news: just like Weequahic, you get to choose.
When camp comes to an end, you’ll pack up your trucks and head home to get ready for another busy school year. When you leave, you’ll leave with a lot more than you came with. Your journals will be full of memories, your phones will be full of new phone numbers for all of your new friends, and you, as an individual, will leave with a new sense of confidence and independence that you only get when you spend a summer at Camp Weequahic.
There are different ways different campers bring a little piece of camp spirit home with them. You may find yourself humming one of the whacky camp tunes as you clean your room, which will bring back memories of campfires and canoeing on the lake.
You may find yourself digging through your laundry basket to find your super comfortable camp t-shirt, the one that reminds you of scoring the winning soccer goal or laughing until you cry at one of the shows put on by some of your best friends. You may search your room for your beloved camp hat or sweatshirt, as the perfectly worn in feeling brings back warm memories of late night talks and adventures outside.
Your family members may notice that you come back with a new sense of confidence, a new passion for sports or the arts, or a brand new sense of independence. They may notice that you left for camp one way, and came home with the camp spirit still dancing inside of you. They may notice you are happier, more active, and more willing to try new things. A lot happens at camp that causes changes and shifts within you, and it is impossible not to take those experiences and lessons and apply them into your normal routine back home. Shy campers may find it easier to make new friends, outgoing campers may learn to find comfort in quiet time and connecting with Mother Nature. Camp has this special way of exposing campers to a side of themselves that they may not normally see. This is the spirit of camp that comes home with each and every camper.
And next summer, when you come back, you’ll be amazed at all of the new things you take home with you. Year after year, even after you think you’ve done and learned and experienced everything camp has to offer, you still come home with something new each summer. You may learn that you don’t need to be constantly connected to Wifi to feel connected. You may learn that there is something special about spending time in nature. Every summer, campers take a little something extra home with them that stays with them for the rest of their life.
Lucky for you, a lot of the camp spirit that you’ll take home with you, and carry with you for the rest of your life, won’t take up any extra space in your camp trunk.
I don’t know about you, but the big news in the US today makes me want to gather everyone around the campfire tonight.
Wouldn’t that be great? We’d sit around a roaring fire, share some laughs, play some games under the stars, and think about the deeper things which unite us. Afterward, we’d enjoy some milk and cookies and head to bed with a full heart surrounded by friends.
If we were to sit by Sly Lake tonight, I believe I’d be talking about things that bind us as a camp community together.
The love of traditions such as Friday night campfire, singing the good night song arm in arm, dancing in the Dining Hall, and canteen raids really do bring us closer. Shared values such as gratitude, choosing your attitude and courage keep us grounded in what’s important. Practicing kindness and helpfulness with everyone really makes a difference.
Summer Lessons Lead to Lifetime Habits
One our great summer leaders, Amanda N., recently shared a story from her life as a high school teacher.
After seeing a young man drop some trash and start to walk away, she practiced courage by stopping his group, picking up the trash and saying, “Guys, this is your school. You should treat it with respect. Don’t throw trash on the ground. Be helpful.”
(And, yes, believe it or not, teachers have to show courage every day to help young people to learn both in and out of the classroom!)
A few weeks later, she found herself walking unnoticed behind the same group of young men. A young man in the group stopped, bent down, picked up a piece of paper on the ground, walked it to a trashcan, and threw it away.
One of his friends asked what he was doing and he just shrugged and said “Ms. Neary said to be helpful.”
That little change of outlook will make a big difference in that young man’s life if he continues to practice it. Way to go, Ms. Neary!
Just because we have a great deal that binds us together doesn’t mean we can’t disagree. In fact, if we don’t have some disagreements, then we can’t learn and grow. And, if we aren’t growing, well… we’d be going in a direction you don’t want to think about.
Of course we argue! But, as a community, we do it from the bedrock of a shared vision (to create an amazing experience for everyone we meet through…) and core values (gratitude, attitude and courage).
Because we agree on the big things, we can argue confidently about the smaller things. And, as long as we keep an open mind while talking through our different opinions and experiences, we’ll great results. That’s true at Camp Weequahic as much as it is true at your school, in your home, or in our country.
Make sure you know the ties that bind you together. Keep them safe and healthy. Once you are confident in those, practice courage and make sure you are heard. And then… enjoy a cookie and milk with your neighbor!
“Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles; Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage breeds creativity; Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it. Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency ask the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But conscience ask the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King
We talk a lot about courage at Camp Weequahic. Whether it’s reaching out to a new friend who looks like they need some help or getting to the top of the pamper pole and jumping off, courage takes many forms.
But those things are scary! Does that mean courage comes from a person who has no fear? Two lines from a recent story declares it differently:
“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man be brave if he’s still afraid?’ ‘That’s the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.” – George R. R. Martin
A Camp Secret
It may be scary to get on the bus but it’s awesome getting to camp!
Want to know a secret that no one talks about at camp? Here it is: everyone is nervous and a little afraid when they get on the bus to go to camp. First-time campers feel it and so do ninth timers. Heck, even I feel nervous before every summer and our team has been doing this for fifteen years!
What if… the counselors are not as fun as we think? The kids don’t get along? The chicken wings are too spicy… or not spicy enough? The kids in the bunk don’t like me? These are completely honest and normal thoughts!
But, if we allow ourselves to focus only on the fear or nervousness, we’d never move forward. We’d never be as creative. We’d never achieve what we want – to create an amazing experience for everyone we meet using gratitude, attitude, and courage. And you, mighty camper, would never know the joy that comes from being a part of Camp Weequahic.
Courage in Action
In a few days, we will celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. He as a great man whose courage knew no boundaries. He stood up, spoke out, and helped shepherd a movement against the hate and ignorance that was holding our country and our humanity back.
Do you think Dr. King was afraid? Absolutely. But his courage was as deep as the oceans and strong as the mountains. His courage, in his own words, allowed him to live a “dangerously unselfish” life.
Dr. King’s courage flowed from his deeply held beliefs for justice and righteousness. His actions and words motivated many both then to do what was right even though it was hard. His life still guides us today.
When we stick together, our courage grows brighter!
Being courageous is not always about the big things. In fact, showing courage is almost always in the small things – sitting with someone who is lonely in the lunch hall, sticking up for a kid who could use some support, or spending time with an elderly person who would love some company.
Find a way to practice your courage this week in little ways. Then, each week, build on it a little bit. Like one of your muscles, courage builds with exercise. Don’t use it and you’ll lose it. Practice it and it will blossom.
It’s Friday and I’m on a plane heading to see families in the NYC area. But, I’m still thinking about Campfire. Today, I’m bringing a little outside help – Joshua Medcalf.
Josh is a wonderful writer. He genuinely wants his reader to succeed and gives so many examples, quotes and stories to help get there. In his recent book, Chop Wood Carry Water, his student, John, receives many important lessons from his samurai sensi, Akira. All of them are important and useful.
Today, I want to focus on just one: being faithful to the little things. Akira quotes two of my
heroes to highlight this point.
Mother Theresa, one of the most selfless caregivers our world has known, told followers, “Be faithful in the small things for it is in them that your strength lies.” Ben Hogan, winner of nine golf major championships in the 1950s who set the standard for the modern golf swing said, “Everyone thinks greatness is sexy, it’s not. It’s dirty hard work.”
Both choose very difficult paths and had terribly hardships to overcome. But, because of their faithful attention to the small things, they became known throughout the world for their service and triumph.
Small Things at Camp
No, I’m not talking about the JJ’s or even Carter Stassen. (Though, why wouldn’t we talk about them?! The Junior Juniors are fantastic and three-year-old Carter is a rock star.)
When I think of small things at camp, I think about each interaction our campers have with their bunk counselors. The opportunity we have to serve every time the phone rings. The care needed to be shown to a tired staff member who just needs to be heard.
Each of these small interactions is hugely important as they give us a chance to show we care.
When I came to Weequahic, however, I took a different approach. Rather than the little details, I focused on the big items – a new program, updating the bunks, etc.
A bunch of bananas showed me how wrong I was in this approach. Stick with me here….
It’s the Summer 2010 and our growing camp is having a lot of fun. Our staff members are great, our kitchen is running smoothly, and everyone seems happy. But, I was missing something; I was not paying attention to the small things.
After playing some taps with the older boys, I headed to the office for a few pre-dinner phone calls. Waiting by my desk was Cammie, now our incredibly productive, funny and loyal office manager but then a “first summer” secretary.
With trepidation in her eyes and a little waver in her voice, Cam handed me a petition – my first (and only) in camping. Signed by 75 staff members, all were asking, nay – demanding – we put bananas back on the salad bar.
“What do you mean we don’t have banana’s on the salad bar?” I asked.
“We haven’t had them for weeks and people really miss them. And, people are a little too afraid to ask so I thought we could do this to show how much we want them back.”
At first, I laughed thinking this was a fun joke. Only at camp, right?!?
Nope, she was serious. The staff was serious. And, they didn’t feel I was approachable enough to talk about such a small thing. Jeez….
I needed to make some changes and fast. First, I picked up the phone, asked our head chef to start ordering bananas for everyone that day. Secondly, several of us got together to create a weekly survey for the kids and staff which includes lots of things at camp, including food.
More importantly, I had to change. If our staff did not feel they could approach me about such a little thing as bananas, then how could they approach me with the bigger issues? I started smiling more, asking more questions and listening a lot.
Learning to Be Faithful to Small Things
A big part about growing up is developing the habits of a healthy, productive life. And, yes, you guessed it… starting to become faithful to the small things.
Clearing the dishes after dinner. Making your bed. Being kind to someone, even if you don’t ‘have’ to be…. These are all small things we practice at camp that, believe it or not, add up to big things later on. (*The opposite is also true – the less honest you are with the small things, the less faithful you’ll be with the big responsibilities. Just sayin’….)
If you want to succeed in the long term, start taking care of all the small stuff now. Do it often enough, you won’t even have to think about it. When it becomes a virtuous habit, things will start to get really interesting – I promise!
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:
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!
Make sure the office, kitchen, maintenance, and cleaning staff members laugh each day.
Play (at least!) one game of gaga every day. Jinter 5 girls… I’m
coming for you!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.