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.
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.
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!