I don’t know about you, but a good number of my current communities are one step away from reality — they only exist online. I have a Facebook community, which includes a good number of friends-of-friends that I’ve never met in person. I visit a set list of blogs every day and have a great time interacting with the authors and the other readers. While our definition of community might be expanding, I don’t think any of us have lost sight of the importance of a good, old-fashioned in-person community though.
According to the American Camp Association, parents have identified the development of social skills/living in community (such as making new friends, getting along with others, becoming more responsible, and learning group-living skills) as one of the main reasons they send their children to camp. The owners, directors and staff at summer camp all understand the power of community and structure these skills into their programs in several areas.
1. Communal Living
I am an only child, and as such, I always had my own room when I was a child, so living in a camp bunk for the first time was a huge learning experience. For the first time, I had to be part of a community of people who were sharing space, delegating work and working, communally, to make things work. It didn’t take long for me to get into the routine of doing my part and see how even the most menial job — mine was taking out the trash – contributed to the health of the community.
Bunkmates must also learn how to navigate the waters of communal decisionmaking. They must work through the inevitable issues and conflicts that come up in bunk living — and they must learn to adapt and get along when things don’t go their way. They learn to live by the will of the majority, while at the same time respecting the needs of others who represent the minority. Again, according to the ACA, “small group living also provides the necessary intimacy for individuals to achieve a sense of belonging, explore a variety of group roles, cooperate and form relationships with others, and have input into the group’s activities”.
2. Eating and Singing Together
In the past few years there has been a large ad campaign promoting family dinners. Sitting around the dinner table sharing stories, concerns and the high and low points of your day with family members — or fellow campers — creates intimate bonds between all of the participants. Most camps have family-style meals and singing traditional camp songs together is often a ritual. Songs are always a founding piece of any culture and at camp, at the end of session when everyone knows the camp songs, they too become community bonds that live through the years.
3. Connections that Last
Although sometimes I am annoyed with how much of my life occurs online, there’s no arguing that modern social networking has helped nurture the lifelong friendships developed at camp. Now, instead of waiting days or week from a letter from a camp pen pal, you can send a text message, IM, or just nudge them on Facebook. Many camps have Facebook groups, some devoted exclusively to alumni from certain years, so the 50-somethings reminiscing about camp in the 70s can be a subgroup of a larger online camp community.
Camp Weequahic bike races. I’m guessing early 1980s here. Any alumni want to chime in?
No matter how much time passes, the camp community lives on. Alumni have frequent get-togethers and are always welcome to spend a day visiting their old camp haunts. Many camps host reunions every year and invite alumni from different generations to come and visit together, creating yet another community, another branch of the family tree.
Want to get connected with Camp Weequahic again? Check out the Facebook page!
How did you experience community at camp? How have you sustained it since? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below!
Summer Camp is a time of firsts. The first time you try to catch a ball with a lacrosse stick (and realize you can!). The first time you get on on water-skis. The first time you serve an ace in tennis. The first time you get up on stage in front of hundreds of kids your age. Now that camp has ended for the summer and everyone is getting ready for the school year, we thought we’d share some tales from camp. What have the kids taken home with them to last the next 9 months, until camp starts again?
Many families are surprised at the sheer amount of first-time experiences their kids have at summer camp. When Justin, a 12 year old who attended camp this year, was asked to list things he did for the first time at camp, he had quite the list. “I learned how to play guitar, archery, and golf,” he said. During our conversation, it also came out that he also learned new baseball skills and got to play tennis. He also experienced the camp evening programs for the first time, which he raved about as being “fun and creative.” Justin’s going to be talking to a lot of people about camp when he goes back to school. And what is he going to tell them? “I made a lot of new friends and tried a lot of new things. I had the best time!”
My own summer camp experiences – way back in the 80s – were largely defined by a feeling of the summer camp community breaking apart at the end of the summer. We would often promise to write letters we never sent or make long distance calls our parents wouldn’t pay for, but when summer was over, camp was tucked firmly behind us for another year.
With today’s technology, however, the summer camp community can stay together all year, even when they return to the home cities, states and countries. Each of the AFSC family of camps has an active Facebook community where current campers, families and alumni can connect, share stories and keep up to date with the staff and the current session. In these waning days of August, much of the chatter is about how much everyone misses camp and wishes they were back on the lake, singing in the dining hall, etc. For those who’ve connected to Weequahic through facebook and other new social networks (Twitter anyone?) the camp experience doesn’t end with teary good-byes in August. So when will we meet again?