It is pretty hard to step out of your comfort zone when you are literally in your comfort zone. Being in the comfort of your own home makes breaking your normal routine a little difficult. When you are at home, you find that you are always waking up in your same room, eating breakfast at the same place, going to the same places and hanging out with the same people who are doing the same things. Many people like routine; they enjoy the security of knowing what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen and not having any surprises. Unfortunately, things can get very boring very quickly this way.
So when you make the decision to physically get out of your comfort zone, and head to camp for the summer, you have no choice but to do different things, with different people, in a totally different place. Breaking your usual routine is a little bit easier when you’re somewhere else.
Breaking up your routine is good for you for many reasons. First, it helps you to see things differently. It also help you to become more creative, more perceptive, and be OK with not being in control all the time. When you get out of your comfort zone, you are bound to make mistakes. The good thing about mistakes is that they are a learning opportunity. The more mistakes you make the more you learn. Doing things that make you nervous, afraid, or uncomfortable can be a great teaching tool. If you are normally an indoor sort of person, bike riding, rock climbing, or learning to sail may make you kind of nervous. However, trying these things exposes you to experiences that are new and exciting, and can teach you a lot about yourself.
When you expose yourself to things that are unfamiliar, it makes your brain work. When your brain is working, you’re constantly learning and growing. It is great brain exercise to step out of your comfort zone and do things that are a little different.
Another great benefit of breaking up your every day routine is that it also allows you to break bad habits. If you find that you are constantly biting your nails while you watch TV, you may be able to break that habit at camp since you will be too busy having fun to care about TV. If you have a bad habit of interrupting people, you will quickly learn to communicate more effectively by being surrounded by new people at camp. Breaking up your routine also causes you to break bad habits.
The great thing about stepping out of your comfort zone at camp is that you hardly have to do any work at all. Just by merely being at camp you are already taking the first step in changing your routine. Every morning when you wake up at camp, there is a new day ahead of you with new experiences to try, new people to meet, and new things to learn. Unless you sail, dance, create, climb, swim, bike ride, hike, and explore on a daily basis at home, being at camp is definitely going to be a change in your normal every day routine. It is going to require you to do things that make you a little nervous, but in the end will give you a boost of confidence.
Habit and routine can be comforting, and can be a great way to stay organized and on track. However, switching it up a little bit is good for your brain, good for your soul, and good for yourself confidence.
Camp is a lot of things. It’s fun and it’s gorgeous and it’s exciting. But it’s also very big. It’s acres and acres of land, its gigantic trees and sprawling landscapes and giant lakes. It is set against giant mountains and has a unique way of quickly reminding everyone who enters about how small they are in the grand scheme of things.
Camp has a funny way of putting things into perspective for both campers and staff, and it can be a humbling experience. It’s interesting how one camper who is considered “popular” at school enters the camp experience completely equal to the quiet and reserved student who doesn’t say much at school. Status at school and at home means nothing here and puts everyone on the same playing field from day one.
Take Max for example: Being the star athlete was how he defined himself at home. He was the fastest and strongest on his team, and everyone knew it. But when he got to camp, he met some other guys who were equally as talented, some even more so, and it challenged Max to find other ways to define himself. He did a lot of soul-searching that summer, and learned about the deep and foundation character traits that defined him, and learned that being a great athlete was just a part of who he was, not all of who he was.
Life lessons like this are learned all the time at camp. Campers can learn humility in other ways as well. One of the best ways to learn to be humble is by serving others. Campers see first hand how to serve others selflessly every day as they watch counselors and staff work hard for them. Campers also act as Big Brothers and Big Sisters and learn quickly what a big responsibly it is to have people look up to you.
Camp is such a unique experience, and many campers leave with a deep appreciation of the experience they were gifted. They understand that so many kids across the country don’t have access to such an innovative, hands-on, safe, fun and diverse camp experience, and they leave camp truly humbled and grateful for what they have.
Character building and life lessons are built into the foundation of Camp Weequahic. Campers learn a lot about themselves here and develop a deeper and more genuine understanding of themselves and the world around them, all while they jump, dive, sing, run, play, act, create, dance and swim the days away.
Music can be tied into so many activities and experiences at camp. From songs around the campfire to traveling songs, incorporating music into camp life just comes naturally. For campers who are interested in fine arts such as dance, music and theatre, music is a tool that can be used to express themselves in a way that written or spoken word just can’t. Dance classes give campers an artistic outlet to do what they love, and can create a strong sense of self-confidence. Camp Weequahic gives them the opportunity to explore music as a way of self-expression, and has so many benefits for the growing minds of young campers.
Whether it is singing, dancing, or playing an instrument, music works wonders on a growing, adolescent brain, and can teach them things that build their character and helps them become more productive members of society. While they are having fun with their fellow campers and counselors through music instruction, they don’t realize they are becoming more creative, more communicative, and more well- rounded in the process. At the end of the summer, many campers are proud to go home and show off their new musical abilities, and it gives them a sense of pride to have learned something new while they were away from home.
Children who learn to play an instrument at an early age benefit in many ways. It teaches perseverance, helps with math and number skills, enhances coordination, improves memory, reading and comprehension skills, and can help sharpen focus and concentration. Studies have shown that learning to play an instrument has lifelong benefits, which is why music and access to instruments is such an important part of camp life. Campers can learn to play the guitar, participate in a live show, or learn about the behind the scenes workings of a real radio station. Camp provides plenty of options for all kinds of personalities and learning styles to really dive into music and everything it can teach them.
It is safe to assume that most campers are exposed to music on a daily basis back at home, but at camp they are exposed to different types of music, which broadens their horizons and helps them become more culturally aware. They learn to appreciate different styles of music, and learn the history behind specific music styles, instruments and songs.
Camp Weequahic is all about providing children with the tools and resources they need to build their character and set up a foundation for a successful future. This goal could not be reached without the incorporation of dance, songs and musical instruments into the every day life of the campers.
I’ve never been the type of person who gets Thank You notes out to their guests in a timely manner after a party. I am always thankful for friends who come to my parties, but I just forget to send the formal cards. But spending a summer at camp changed that in me. Not because a summer at camp taught me party etiquette, but because during my time at camp I learned to appreciate things that I normally take for granted. I was also made to feel appreciated by my fellow campers and counselors and realized that is a good feeling when someone acknowledges something you’ve said, done or contributed.
While I was swimming, climbing, playing and dancing my summer away, I was reminded of other kids in my school who didn’t have the chance to go to summer camp this year, and it really made me thankful for my parents who provided with me with this incredible experience. As I went to sleep each night in my cabin, surrounded by my new best friends, I was moved to tears in thankfulness and appreciation that they sent me to camp.
At camp, this girl Amy would leave little post-it notes around the cabin thanking the other girls for something they did, or something they said that was helpful or kind. These little post-it notes meant so much to us, and we all kept them even when we left camp. Amy taught all of us that it only takes a second to let someone know you appreciate him or her, and it can really turn someone’s day around. Most of us followed her lead and wrote notes for other campers when they did something we appreciated. It created an atmosphere of gratitude, appreciation, and selflessness throughout our cabin, and really helped all of us grow.
I saw my counselors constantly thank other counselors for their help. I saw campers thanking other campers when they did something nice. I think we all realized that back in the “real world,” we can sometimes take things, and people, for granted. For me, camp reminded me of all I have to be thankful for, which is why I’m writing you, Camp Weequahic, my first ever Thank-You note.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
One 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 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!
Chelsea takes the subway to school every morning. Justin spends his weekends hanging out downtown with his buddies. Evan can walk to movie theaters, restaurants, and museums from the apartment where he lives. These city kids spend most of their year surrounded by concrete, honking horns and tall buildings. And that is why they, like so many other kids from big cities, really look forward to coming to camp for a change in their environment.
Camp Weequahic is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. Tucked away amongst tall trees, gorgeous lakes and on acres and acres of sprawling green fields, this camp is the definition of natural beauty. When you’re here, you can really connect with nature and breathe in the fresh mountain air.
The lakes are a cool and refreshing place to spend the summer, whether is it fishing, swimming, stand up paddleboarding, water skiing or sailing. The view of the lake changes throughout the day and gives off a different feeling depending on when you are there. In the morning, the lake is a quiet and peaceful place to wake up to. In the afternoons, it is an exciting, water playground where campers jump, splash and play all day. And then in the evenings, the lake is a quiet and peaceful place to reflect and unwind. City kids may not get to experience such natural beauty in their everyday lives, making the beauty of camp even more special for kids who don’t get to see it very often.
Waking up to a view of tall forest trees and the mountains is a nice change for kids who are used to the hustle and bustle of a big city. The natural beauty of camp makes for the perfect backdrop to pictures that campers are sure to treasure forever. Waking up each morning and breathing in the crisp mountain air is good for the heart, mind, and soul!
Being immersed in the beauty of the mountains is a welcome and unique experience for many campers. Spending the summer learning to appreciate the outdoors helps campers do the same when they return home. Instead of coming home from school and sitting in front of a computer screen or TV, campers head outside to enjoy nature just like they did at camp. They learn that they don’t need to be attached to phone, TV or computer to have a good time and that real relationships trump online relationships every time.
Being in the middle of the woods exposes campers, especially those who have grown up in big cities, to things they normally wouldn’t see and experience back home. They learn to find excitement and joy in nature, and it awakens something in them that the city just can’t.
Kids like Chelsea, Justin and Evan benefit greatly from a change of scenery and the chance to connect with nature. Spending time outside has been proven to improve vision, encourages social skills, reduce stress and give kids the vitamin D that they need. Who knew spending all day outside at camp is actually good for kids?!
Whether they grew up in the suburbs or in the middle of Times Square, kids love escaping to the mountains, and spending their summers on the lake, in the mountains and surrounded by nature.