Archive for January, 2020

Seeing the Essential

Posted Friday, January 24th, 2020 by

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

If you are of a certain age, you may remember this quote from Le Petit Prince. I struggled mightily through that short book under the watchful eyes of Monsieur Mencin, my high school French teacher. I’ll admit, I didn’t enjoy the book at that point.

Having re-read it since (in English), my opinion has changed. It’s a lovely book.

The quote above was brought to my attention by a podcast series I’ve been enjoying about Mr. Fred Rogers, Finding Fred. It turns out the quote above was one Mr. Rogers went back to often. It’s easy to tell why.

What’s Essential at Camp?

During the off-season, we spend a lot of time thinking about the physical property of Weequahic. What do we need to do to keep the buildings and grounds safe? How can we improve their look? Are there program areas or bunks or boats that we need to add or change? Where do we need to re-grow or fertilize the grass?

In other words, we focus on what is visible, the outward appearance and offering of Weequahic. Are these essential aspects of a thriving camp?

In a word, ‘No.’

It’s About…

We’ve said for many years that you can enjoy a great camp in a parking lot if you have the right people. But it’s not really just the people, is it? It’s actually the community which they build together, the feeling of togetherness they create.

It’s all the things invisible to the eye that matter most.

Commitment to treating each person with care. Connecting the campers to each other in all the positive ways. Assuming the mission of the community into yourself and transmitting it to those around you through your actions. Taking the values to heart and living them out.

We can’t see the invisible bonds of connection and kinship our campers develop and enjoy with each other and the team. No one can see what drives the intention of the leaders. You can’t see the clean air, the welcoming attitude, or the courage our kids (and staff) develop.

But all of these things are always at camp. When you are there, you’ll know it… as soon as you let your heart ‘see.’

Our Gang

Posted Friday, January 17th, 2020 by

Our youngest son recently started a new book in his middle school English class, The Outsiders. It’s a wonderful read and great story. I read it at the same school, in the same grade, a hundred years ago and still remember Ponyboy, Sodapop, and Two-Bit. I’m excited for Luke to enjoy it and talk with him about it.

On the evening I learned about his new book, I was listening to a podcast in which the guest was talking about gangs. I’m not sure about you, but my mind immediately goes to the detrimental side of gangs – violence, hazing and other bad outcomes.

While the guest spoke about the ‘bad’ of gangs, he also spoke of the positive aspects: a natural feeling of community and an identity with in it being the chief benefit. As anyone with a 10 to 15-year-old in the house knows, having a place and fitting is high on the order of wants.

Gangs

The greasers and the Socs from The Outsiders were certainly gangs. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, we heard often about the Crips and Bloods. There were the Hell’s Angels, the Cosa Nostro, the Backstreet Boys….

You may have been a part of a gang in the past. Along with a few like-minded friends in middle school, I formed a gang called the Volcano Boys. Entry required that you eat a slice of Domino’s pizza and chug a Coke in under 90 seconds. We even made a sign… in colored pencil. On ruled paper. Yes, it was that serious.

While the Volcano Boys did not do much more than fill Friday and Saturday nights with pizza parties, great 80’s movies, and the occasional prank, we felt a specific sense of belonging, of being a part of something different.

It didn’t outlive puberty when a few guys became more interested in girls and others got jobs. But it was fun while it lasted.

The Weequahic Gang

Having just returned from our first Winter Gathering Bowling Party of 2020, the ‘gang’ idea came at me again. We had campers fly in or drive hundreds of miles to see their friends. We young men and women who’ve been with us for almost a decade laugh and scream at seeing their friends.

That’s when it hit me: our kids have formed a gang of sorts. It’s one predicated on connection and community, driven by the values of showing gratitude, choosing your attitude, and building your courage.

The gang is overseen by long-time counselors, many of whom were campers themselves. There is a vocabulary you use only when speaking of or living at camp. There are traditions that are important and expected. While all are welcome, staying means living up to the expectations of the gang.

The result is an excited group of kids who want nothing more than to connect with each other again and again and again.

Joining Up

The hard part? It’s feeling on the outside. Try as we might first time campers arrive at one of our bowling parties and feel a bit on the outside. The older the first-time camper, the more powerful that feeling. Thank goodness for our amazing CITs who helped welcome so many into the ranks. And, thankfully, our parents are patient with the process.

We can’t wait to ‘get the gang back together’ this summer. The connection to one another and something larger than oneself is a powerful thing in all of our lives. Our new campers, with the help of their new-found friends, will fit right in.

Ah… it’s going to be a great summer! See you in six short months!

Weequahic’s Teenage Decade

Posted Friday, January 3rd, 2020 by

We all grow so much during our teen years.

From experience, kids are pretty capable at 10 years old. They can make their beds, choose what to eat pretty well, clean up, handle homework, build relationships. They can do a lot!

But, by the end of our teens, they will have learned to drive, cook, clean, and become (mostly) independent. Every decade shows a lot of growth, for sure. The teen years, though, serve as the greatest launching pad for the future.

As we move into the 2020s, I’m struck by how much Weequahic has grown and changed during the Teens.

People

During the first summer of the decade, campers from twelve states and four countries arrived at Weequahic for a remarkable summer. This past summer saw those numbers change a bit.

We now have campers from sixteen different countries and the same number of states. The number of campers has gone from… well, let’s just say we went from using half our bunks to building new ones!

Just as our camper population has grown, so has our summer staff.  Our staff grew from just over one hundred young men and women to well over 200 young men and women (and a few of us gray hairs….). I may be most excited about this number in regards to staff:  we’ve gone from three former campers on staff to over 20 last summer. We can’t wait to watch that number grow.

Summer 2010 was a big year for Weequahic in that so many full-time staff started working for the first time: Camp Director Kate, our Assistant Dana ‘PSP’ Stassen, and our Administrative Director, Cammie Brennan. Associate Director Sue jumped on board for Summer 2011. Dana’s husband, Scrappy, joined us full time in 2017. Chef Daniel arrived six summers ago. Alex Nichols arrived and happily returns each summer. Thankfully, Jerry and Camp Mom Judy never left!

Place

A birds-eye view of Weequahic shows a bit of change: The Cove has been a wonderful addition for our Senior Campers, new toys in the lake and beachfront for the kiddos to enjoy, new courts and fields,  a few new docks in Sly Lake, and more.

Our bunks have gone from ‘rustic’ to ‘camp comfortable.’ Instant hot water heaters, new bathrooms, new bunk beds, new siding and windows…. They are a lot nicer without losing their purpose: a place where community is built.

Thinking about the facility, I can’t of a spot that hasn’t been modified or improved in some way.  Program areas have been improved or modified, the Dining Hall got a facelift, our fields and grounds have been rebuilt…. Oh, I know – my office hasn’t changed a bit. Fine by me – I don’t like being in their much anyway!

Traditions

The Rec Hall continues to show the glories of the past in the plaques and banners, the bunk signs and awards. Campfire happens every Friday night, flagpole each morning and evening, and the Tribal and Olympic competitions make for a memorable end to each session.

Weequahic was lucky when the last decade arrived: it had great bones and deep traditions. Our founders and their family built camp around the idea of caring for children. Along with some wonderful long-time staff and help from friends, we took that torch up and added a few new ideas from old sources.

Present & Future

Camp Weequahic hopes to create a remarkable experience for everyone we meet through gratitude, attitude and courage. Just as we did ten years ago, we meet every new family before their camper arrives at camp. We put every potential staff member through a thorough interview, rigorous background check, and extensive orientation. And, we work to build a community which draws out and celebrates the ‘best self’ within each person under the towering pines Mr. Lustig planted seven decades ago.

We have so much for which to be grateful. Our ‘teen years’ were those of growth and change. Alongside so many wonderful campers, trusting and supportive families, and diligent team members, we’ve built a launching pad for the future. And, oh, what a bright future it is!

Thank you for being on this journey with us. We can’t wait to see what happens next. Happy New Decade, Weequahic!