Archive for October, 2018

Meaning at the Margins

Posted Sunday, October 21st, 2018 by

A camp director in China asked me how our program, our daily schedule, creates meaning for our kids. (These are fun conversations while hiking the Great Wall….)

I thought a moment and answered, “It doesn’t. Meaning is built at the margins.”

It’s true.

Meaning at Camp

Anyone who tells you how they teach tennis or waterskiing or ceramics builds character or meaning is wrong. Sure, our campers improve skills that way. And realizing they’ve developed or deepened a skill will increase that kid’s confidence.

This is a wonderful, important outcome. But character? The instillation of meaning?


Parents, think about how you developed character in your life. You did not sit in a class called ‘character development.’ (Or, if you did, you probably didn’t listen much.) You did not have a paid professional bearing down on you.

Rather, you had parents, teachers, volunteers, rabbis, priests, books, friends, mentors, poems, etc.

You took in information over your lifetime. At certain moments, some one or some thing prompted you to think: This is important. This is wrong and I have to do something about it. I need to remember this.

Building Meaning

Character is built this way. Drip by drip. Mentor by mentor. Examined experience by examined experience. It takes time… and effort. Meaning comes only to those open to changing their way of thinking and behaving.

This is why camp is so important for our kids.

Our campers are growing and questioning and searching for a way to become. They are washed in playful connection with other kids, surrounded by mentors interested in serving, and reminded of meaning… at the margins of their day.

Once a week at campfire. Each night before they go to bed and have some quiet time for reflection. At the flagpole celebrating, with the whole community, that day’s small victories over self-involvement.

Our kids are open to these moments of meaning because the whole experience has built trust.

Campers see with their eyes the actions of the staff and older campers. They hear with their ears words and cheers. They overcome hesitation and playfully participate.

And, when they are ready, they awaken to the meaning infused in the moment. Whether it comes in the form of a question, a smile, a memory, or a story, the meaning is there… but always at the margins.

Have a great week!

The Big Picture

Posted Monday, October 15th, 2018 by


It’s easy for children to think of their entire lives in the context of their “nucleus,”’ their home, their community, their school, their family, their friends. They typically have no need to seek beyond their immediate surroundings, and their perspective of the world is seen through a restrictive lens based on where they live and the things they’ve experienced. Attending a sleepaway camp gives children and teens a way to broaden their worldview, to see themselves as a small (yet important) part of the bigger picture. Camp Weequahic gets campers out of their comfort zones and allow them to catch a glimpse of how much world they have to explore. 

Exposure To A New Place 

For campers who have lived their entire lives in the hustle and bustle of a big city are in for a shock when they step foot onto the campgrounds. For some campers, the first time they explore the wilderness or really see a constellation is at camp. Even campers from rural areas are in for a treat as they spend the summer in a place busy with people, excitement and adventure. The experience of the journey from home to camp can help campers see that there is much more to explore outside of their familiar life. 

 Exposure To New People 

Camp Weequahic brings people together from all across the globe, and is responsible for thousands of lifelong friendships. Boys and girls spend night and day with others who come from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and experiences. Working, playing and growing together at camp allows campers to break through stereotypes and appreciate diversity in a brand new way. Some campers come from places where everyone thinks, looks and acts just like them. It’s refreshing for them to see that the world is full of incredible people with so much to teach them. 

Exposure To Independence 

Sleepaway camps give campers the opportunity to venture out in a new place without their parents walking them through it. This experience helps campers gain a sense of independence and realize that they are strong enough, smart enough and more than capable enough to make positive decisions on their own. Giving campers this sense of freedom and independence allows them to do some self-discovery to understand further who they are and what they can contribute to the world around them. They learn things about themselves that they didn’t know, and they begin to ask the questions that will help them determine who they are becoming outside of their family and friends. 

Exposure To New Activities 

Camp Weequahic packs every day of the summer with fun and adventure. Some campers arrive never having been on a boat before, or never having access to a dance class or have never been rock climbing, but camp changes all of that. Camp is the place where so many “firsts” happen, all of which open up new windows in the brain and increase their understanding of the countless adventures and travels awaiting them. Some campers fall in love with sports they never even knew existed, which can be the first step in a lifelong passion. Campers who have the sleepaway camp experience go home with a desire to learn more about the world around them. This exposure to new things and people shifts their perspective and helps them realize that there is so much to the world than what they know. 

 It’s important for children and teens to understand that the world doesn’t actually revolve around them. They are part of something bigger, and the sooner we can ignite the excitement in discovering just what that “something” is, the better. The sooner campers can grasp the idea of a big wide world just waiting for their gifts and talents, the sooner we can develop leaders who are excited to serve, lead, love and explore the world beyond their comfort zone.  



Discipline Leads to Freedom… and FUN

Posted Friday, October 12th, 2018 by

I knew a boys camp that had a person on staff known as the Dean of Discipline. It was (and still is) a tremendously fun spot, safe, and well run. The guys I spoke with loved camp. The way which they spoke about the DoD, though… you could tell they loved him more than almost anything else about the camp.

Hm…. The guy who held them accountable? Check. A person who would dole out punishment? You betcha.


Because he saw what those boys could and would become – good men – and treated them in a way that led them towards that future vision. Just as important, the boys knew this, too. The accepted his discipline because it was delivered from a place both of belief and love.

Required Discipline

You want freedom? It takes discipline. You want to do well in school? It takes discipline. You want to run faster than anyone else? It takes discipline. If you want… ok, you get the picture.

Coach Wooden, the man whose teams won 10 NCAA basketball championships, talked about this idea… a lot. “Discipline yourself, and others won’t have to,” he’d say to his players.

When his best player, two-time player of the year Bill Walton, showed up for fall practice with a beard, Coach Wooden listened to his star’s impassioned speech on why it was his right to wear the beard. Coach said, “Bill, I respect your feelings. We are sure going to miss you.”

Bill shaved a few minutes later, showed up for practice, and won a national championship that year.

Others have talked about discipline, too:

True freedom is impossible without a mind made free by discipline. – Mortimer J. Adler

Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. – Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel

Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage. – Thucydides

You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself…the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment.  – Leonardo da Vinci

We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort. – Jesse Owens

Camp Discipline

The list goes on and on and on. So, why are we talking about this at camp? Well, because without discipline, we wouldn’t have as much fun, the best staff, the deep traditions, the great food, the joy of community, the… again, you get the idea.

Part of camp is about having so much fun that your head just about pops off your body. It’s also about learning to be a good human. And, yes, it does take discipline to accomplish that aim.

Making your bed each morning takes discipline. So does saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ at Canteen. Reaching out to new friends? You guessed it… discipline. Waiting your turn in line at the Rock Wall or Ninja Course or Slip n’ Slide? You know the answer.

Here’s your challenge this week. Gain some discipline by requiring more of yourself. It will take some thought, yes, and some effort. But, like courage, discipline is a muscle that grows and creates a more free, open, and enjoyable life down the road.Have a great week!

The Power of a Smile

Posted Friday, October 5th, 2018 by

I’m a big fan of learning from people who are wiser, with more lifetime-learning, and who draw from different experiences. Two teachers who I often read about are Thich Naht Hanh and Mother Teresa. And, as you would expect, both have something to say about a topic I really appreciate: smiling.

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can the source of your joy. – Thich Nhat Hanh

All three of our major values are touched on with this thought on smiling. If one is truly grateful, that is, appreciating that which is in one’s life at that moment, a smile naturally occurs. It’s easy when you are being pulled around the lake with your buddies or sitting at Campfire to smile. You’ve got A LOT of good things going on right then and there.

But what about when things aren’t so rosy, like you’ve had a tough day at school or your little brother inadvertently (I assume!) destroyed something you’ve been working on. Deciding to smile on those occasions takes intentionally modulating your attitude and practicing courage.

The more your smile, the more you’ll notice the joy in your life. The more joy you recognize, the more your smile. It’s a wonderful cycle….

Mother Teresa had a lot to say about smiles:

 – Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.

 – Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.

 – Peace begins with a smile.

There is a lot to unpack that should one want to but I think Mother Teresa’s words are more than enough.

There is a lot of talk focused towards future generations (you youngins’) that rotates around changing the world. Here’s the problem with that goal… it’s too big. The world is enormous and complex and impossible to truly know.

That’s not to say you cannot have an effect. Whether you know it or not, recognize it or not, value it or not, you do have an effect. When you smile at someone – with both your mouth and your eyes – you affect them. In fact, might even make them smile in reaction. (This happens a lot of times.)

That smile that you’ve given your neighbor may be the start of something pretty awesome for them. As Mother Teresa said, “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”

So, while one smile won’t change the whole world, it can change the course of a person’s day. Do that enough and it will make the world around you better. We spread that message, well… then we’ll have something.

Smile and have a great week.

PS – A quick thing you might not know: when you smile, it changes how your voice leaves your mouth and people can hear the difference. Want to make your parents, grandparents or friends feel good when they call you? Smile while you answer the phone. It makes a difference – I promise!