Camp News & Blog

we are all neighbors

The Start of Our Summer 202One Journey

When you think of summer camp, you rarely think ‘hero.’

Words like fun, friends, tradition, s’more, and color war normally come up first. The ‘hero’ moniker is reserved for those people who go above and beyond, who help and serve, who overcome, lead, and teach.

It’s been a year of heroes, has it not? Our front-line healthcare professionals certainly jump out when thinking of the term ‘hero’ in relation to 2020. Many teachers who went above and beyond the call of their normal duty to educate and engage their students from a distance. Those who peacefully and fervently raised their voices against some of the ills present in our society. These and many more rose to the lofty height of heroes.

Yes, there have certainly been some who could easily be described as villains, too. I choose to focus on the positive, though, in hopes of instilling a drive and desire toward the light.

Hero’s Journey

You may or may not have heard about the ‘Hero’s Journey.’ It’s a phrase coined by Joseph Campbell, a teacher and writer who researched historical and current day myths from around the world. Heroes, to Professor Campbell, go through a similar journey no matter who they are or from whence they come.

(Here is a great, short video that explains the whole idea from TedEd.)

Here’s the long and short of it: a hero is called to an adventure, something to battle and overcome. The process includes finding a mentor or guide, leaving what they know behind, bumping up (repeatedly) against challenges that require the hero to grow and change, a major crisis, victory over that crisis, and the return to home a changed person.

From a summer camp perspective, this actually fits beautifully with the camp counselor experience. It’s hard to describe just how much our young staff grow and change as they learn through their summer with us.

Sure, it’s incredibly fun. But it’s also really, really hard. Crisis does come for each of them at some point. They all hit a wall whether it be ‘out of a comfort zone,’ patience, not knowing how to help or something else. When they overcome that crisis, they leave camp different: more confident, competent, empathetic, patient, and humble.

Summer Camp’s Journey

From my perspective as a camp owner, I can honestly tell you ‘camp,’ if you think of it as a person, is certainly on its own Hero’s Journey right now.

Having missed a summer – something Weequahic has never done through wars, recessions, and previous pandemics – we’ve left our normal routines of ‘home.’ We’ve got wonderful guides who are helping through the next parts of our journey. There are challenges we’ve not faced before. And, we see the light of Summer 202One and know we will arrive back ‘home’ a better camp for our campers, staff and families back home. We’ll certainly be changed… for the better!

Summer 202One Theme: Heroes

Having gone through this year as we did, I feel it is time to focus on heroes: their journey, their questions, their challenges. Of course, we’ll explore how they express gratitude, determine their attitude, and develop their courage throughout the process.

Can we all be heroes? Yes! Why? Because we all have challenges to confront and overcome, wonderful mentors ready to lend a helping hand, and the need to learn, and grow and change in order to face the next challenge – whatever that may be – with GAC.

From a camp perspective, we are journeying off to a new world. Weequahic will need a whole bunch of heroes to help make next summer incredible. Want to join up? It’s going to be AWESOME.

Basketball program at sleep away camp

Pick Your Game Wisely

Here’s the transcript from our second Friday Night Campfire of our Olympic session. Hope you enjoy!

It’s a beautiful evening here by Sly Lake and I’m definitely missing you. I’ve had one camper here this week: Luke Kelly has been up weed-whacking and helping keep the place looking good. Why put in the effort? Well… we love Weequahic and don’t want the grounds to lose their luster. We’ve got to have this place looking good for our Fall Tours and Family Days. I’ll be in touch with you all soon about those ideas!

Attitude & Values

Tonight, as it’s the second of our Olympic Session campfires, is all about attitude. We’ve talked about it a lot but just to refresh your memory, your attitude is how you react to the world and people around you. This is typically a reaction that is reflected in a your behavior.

We talk a lot about choosing your attitude, that we all have a space between stimulus and response that gives us the chance to choose how to respond… if we work on it.

But, I’ve got a question. Where does your attitude come from? What drives your reactions?

It’s a pretty big question and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But, having worked with kids and staff for so long and thinking about it out loud with friends, I’m pretty certain I know a big part of it: your values.

To me, values are the ideas and habits you hold dear. These are the things you hold at your center, those baseline assumptions that animate and focus your thoughts, actions and habits.

If that’s the case, then it would be important to find out our values. I heard one very smart person say check your calendar and your checkbook. Whatever you spend the most time doing or money on, that’ll give you a good idea on what you value most.

But it’s not just what you are doing. A lot of times, how you are doing it that matters just as much if not more.

Games We Play

For example, say you spend 2 hours playing Fortnite each day. Pre-covid, I would say, nope, terrible waste of time. But, if it’s a way to stay connected with your friends around the world, ok, I get it. If the reason you are playing is because you are deepening healthy connections, great. If you are just playing Fortnite by yourself or with randoms, then it’s more about the game, isn’t it?

The same thing goes for social media. Are you putting a lot of good out into the world or just consuming or using social media as a way to make it all about you? I’ve recently gotten on Twitter to see what all the fuss is about and have spotted some pretty easy models of people who tear down and those who build up. (I’m following the latter!)

Whether its Fortnite or Tiktok or basketball or robotics or singing, they are all games, aren’t they?

Games of Insight

Actually, playing games is my favorite way to get a glimpse of a person’s values and their attitudes. One of the reasons we have such a long orientation is to get just that view on our staff. The games we set up for them to play will tell us a lot about their values and their attitudes.

Sometimes, though, they don’t even know the game they are playing. It could be an example of an EA that we do for the kids and someone gets way too competitive. That tells us something. Another game we play is a series of ‘get to know you’ games. Those don’t take the games seriously at all… that tells us something, too.

I find myself the same way sometimes – not knowing which game I’m playing. (Kate is really good at reminding me!) It’s really easy to get pulled into games that look really fun but are actually not great for you in the long term. For example, maybe you want to do something that has a lot of risk but a big possible payout – like gambling. If you win, wow! But if you lose, yikes. And, in gambling, you lose a lot more than you win.

There are some important things to know about games.

We All Play

First, you’ve got to realize you are always playing a game. Human interactions can – and I stress can – have winners and losers. The best games those in which everyone wins. For example, when you are on a robotics team for your school and everyone is pulling for and supporting each other, you feel great! Sure, you want to win the competition but the bigger game that you are actually playing is the friendship game, the connection game. In fact, you’ll remember those relationships longer than you will anything else about the experience.

The worst of games? Those in which no one wins. Take for example something that may sound crazy but is actually true: rat wrestling.

There is really, really interesting study done with rats and the games they play together. It turns out that rats are really playful. Had I not really enjoyed Ratatouille, I doubt I would have been as open to this idea. But it’s true – they really like to play with one another. That’s not the really interesting thing about it, though.

When rats of unequal size play together – say a big one and a little one – the big one will win 10 out of 10 times if they are both going at it with all they have. But here’s the cool thing: the bigger rat allows the smaller rat to win 3 or 4 times out of ten. Why? Because the big rats wants to keep playing and knows instinctually that if the little one loses all the time, it’ll stop playing completely. And where is the fun in that?

The bigger rats is strengthening the game by allowing the little one to win. In that situation, they both win – the little one gets to play and improve and the bigger one gets to play and build a stronger, more lasting game.

Why Are You Playing?

This dovetails nicely into the second big thing to know about games: Why are you playing it? What’s the motivation? What’s the end goal?

The rats are playing for amusement and skill development and exercise and connection. When we play in tournaments at Weequahic, it’s to do something together that builds memories and deepens our connections. Sure, it’s nice if we win but a lot of times there are more lasting memories that lead to connection from loses. (Luke Boals, I know you were in-bounds last summer. I just know it!)

Why are you playing the social media game or the fortnite game or the look-at-me-school-game or any others. I’m not saying any one of those are good or bad. I’m just asking a question: why are you playing that game?  It’s important to know because it’ll influence your attitude in many aspects. And that has ramifications in a far more important sphere: the relationships you enjoy or don’t with those around. Which leads to the final important piece about games:

How are you playing it?

Are you playing just for yourself or for others? Are you making it a stronger game for just yourself or for everyone that is playing the game?

Here’s the thing – no game is the same all the time. It either can get better or it can get worse. There really is no in between. Why? Because things and people change all the time. If you aren’t growing and strengthening, you’ll be moving the other way.

Unless they keep growing for all who are playing, games (just like life) can devolve into either chaos or tyranny. Chaos basically means that nothing is going great and everyone is in it for themselves. Tyranny means there is one or a small group who runs the game. No one really wins in either situation.

I was thinking about this while sitting under the huge pines at Weequahic. Seeing our treetops reminded me of a really interesting idea that has been passed down by generations. It’s the idea of life being represented by an enormous tree.

Tree of Life

If you’ve ever seen the movie Thor or read the comic books, you may know the Norse idea of the Life Tree or Yggdrasil as they call it. It’s a really neat image. Imagine this enormous growing tree whose roots are being fed by streams of fresh water. It’s growing up to the heavens and firmly rooted in the ground. But, at the base of the tree is a huge snake which is eating the roots. Not more than the growth to manage but it’s still eating the tree nonetheless.

This tree is in balance – growing and being destroyed – all at the same time.

The Norse aren’t the only culture to talk about this ‘life tree’ idea. The tree metaphor are big in Greek, Roman, Baltic, early Native American cultures. In fact, in the Judeo-Christian ethic has two trees playing very prominently roles: the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Old Testament and the Cross in the New Testament.

In all of these stories, one side of the tree is reaching downward while the other side is always reaching up. The trick to a healthy tree is to keep the balance of the chaos or destruction at the bottom and reaching ever higher for growth which comes from the sun and the rain.

Games are the same way – you can either reach for the situations that are just about you, that fill only your bucket, that answer your own needs. Or, you can stretch to find win-win situations in which everyone prospers, including the game itself. You can ignore the rules everyone are using to play the game and create more chaos or you can, through connection and care, help the game evolve into something even greater in a way that lifts all boats.

Choose Wisely

It’s up to you. I know it may sound a little daunting but every interaction you have with another – even when you don’t know you are having it – influences those around you. Your attitude – how you react, how you carry yourself, how you engage with those around you – is completely contagious. Want to experiment? Go give someone a huge, genuine smile and see what happens. I bet they smile back.

My challenge to you this week: think about the values that drive your daily reactions and choices, your habits and thoughts. Speak to a loved one about them. Sometimes its easier for others to see these than it is to see them ourselves.

Campers, talk with your parents about the values that drive your family. Once you know these values, you can better identify and pick the games you want to play and decide how to play them.

So, go on – go play!

Camp Weequahic Pennsylvania Sleep Away Camp

Important, Uncomfortable & Necessary Growth

While I had planned on taking a bit of time off from writing and speaking, I felt compelled to say something about the sad and important moment our society currently faces.

Now, you may be thinking, ‘Cole, you are a white, southern guy – what the heck do you know or have experienced to make you a person who should comment?’

The answer is: very little. I know I’m luckier than 99% of the world. I also know that I’m a part of a community that, for a few weeks each summer, connects people from all walks of life, all socio-economic backgrounds, and dozens and dozens of different perspectives. Please take the following in the latter vein, that of someone trying to listen, learn, and help.

Race at Camp Weequahic

I spent time over the past week speaking with some of our past, present and future staff who are people of color. They were so open, patient and honest with me. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate their time and courage to speak with me in that way.

We’ve not had conversations about race at Camp Weequahic because that’s not what camp is about. To me, Weequahic, at its very core, is about living out this one truth: we are all worthy of love and respect. No matter where you come from, what you look like, how much money you have or anything else.

“If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”

Mother Teresa

At camp, for a few short, wonderful weeks, we get a sense of ‘belonging to one another.’

There are no distractions. Life is much simpler here underneath the pines for those fleeting moments. And, because our entire staff decides to follow one mission – that of creating an amazing experience for everyone we meet through gratitude, attitude, and courage – we get close to erasing everything that could divide us in the outside world.

Outside of camp, I fear Mother Teresa’s admonition hits a little too close to home. We’ve got problems in our outside world. This is nothing new. We always have problems. You can’t live together as humans and not have problems. Heck, you can’t live by yourself and not have problems.

A House On Fire

Earlier this year, I wrote a note about our small neighborhood. In relationship to the Earth, Weequahic is a tiny neighborhood. We’ve got several small houses, play areas, a nice lake and more. If one of our bunks were on fire, we’d all work together to help, wouldn’t we? We’d get everyone out safely, care for them, and rebuild something even better.

Well, compared to our galaxy, the Milky Way, our Earth is an even smaller ‘neighborhood’ than Weequahic is to the Earth. As far as we know, we are the only humans for millions and millions of lightyears. We’ve only got each other.

Weequahic, one of our neighborhood houses is on fire. It’s been smoldering for years. Because of the repugnant, brutal actions of a few, that house is now burning. Are we going to help put out the flames and work together to help rebuild towards a brighter future? Or are we going to ignore and just focus on our own?

Many people are angry right now. I’d like you to try something: think of anger as pain made public. When you approach it this way, you begin to open up to listening in hopes of understanding and working side by side rather than at odds. You begin to treat the other as you would want to be treated. You begin to find common ground on which you can both stand.

Moving Forward

So, how do we, the eyes of this camp director, move forward to a better, more just world? To be honest, I’m not sure. However, after asking questions of those I respect and love, here are a few ideas that I think may help.

First, recognize we have members of our human family who are in pain right now.

Second, listen with empathy.

That is harder than it sounds for many of us because it requires us to be what’s called emotionally intelligent. Before you can get to that point, though, you have to know how talk about what you are feeling. You have to be emotionally literate.

This is harder when we are stressed, out of our routines or anxious.

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling that way right now. How about you? While we may be in a situation across the US where these feelings are widespread, the Covid situation doesn’t give us a pass for not doing all we can to care for those around us.

The good news about this approach – recognizing and listening for understanding – is that it’ll help you grow. This is something we all want to do.

The bad news is the growth will be uncomfortable.

And it should be. You can’t grow when you are stuck in the same place doing the same things. When you want to grow a muscle or your endurance or your abilities on the piano or with public speaking, you practice and make mistakes and learn and repeat. It’s challenging!

Do you think raising your concerns, your fears, your pain is comfortable? I know many of our campers who have gone through the very natural missing home feelings at camp hide those feelings from their counselors, their division heads, and me. It’s natural – these are uncomfortable feelings. You imagine the conversation about it will be even more uncomfortable.

Weequahic, growth only comes from learning and moving through uncomfortable times. The campers and staff members who have the courage to put a voice to their concerns, a voice to their pain are the ones who come through it better. Those who have the courage to listen for understanding with an open and grateful heart will learn as well.

Tie Your Shoes

Finally, we’ve got to get up, tie our shoes and do something about it.

We, the entire human family, need to

  • Ask questions and listen.
  • Serve and help and lend a hand.
  • Fight (peacefully) for what is just, what is good, and what is right.
  • Show that we share an important common ground – that we are all worthy of love and respect – through our actions and words.

I cannot truly walk in your shoes and experience all that you know and feel. You can’t walk in mine. But, we are better, as a human family, when we strive work and play and learn together. We become something more than just a collection of individuals going in the same direction. We become a community and start to belong to one another.

Weequahic’s Challenge to You

Be grateful for those giving voice to their pain. They are giving you a gift and its not an easy one to share.

To those putting a voice to pain, strive to be grateful for those who are listening for understanding. This will not be easy for you and it’s no less important. We’ve got to meet somewhere in between and work together in order to move forward.

And, difficult as it may be, we must all be grateful for the vast majority of women and men who protect and serve in all the right ways – with patience, fortitude, courage and justice.

Choose an attitude of humility, patience, generosity and hope. With this as our base, we can work together to make the world a bit more like camp.

Finally, develop your courage to peacefully and purposefully strive to make the world around you a more just and kind place.

Build a Bridge

The headlines will soon fall away. The media coverage will find something else to bark about. What will be left are those who work on a day-to-day basis to build bridges and bring people forward. Or not. We get to choose.

Camp Weequahic, let’s tie our shoes and put some GAC into the world around you. Do this often enough, you’ll change your home, your class, your team, your group. If we all do it, the effect will magnify. Start small, aim big!