The Impact of Camp “The things you learn at High Rocks, that you cannot learn at home”
March 5, 2010 by Woody Noland
Summer camp… These words evoke games on a field, overnight camping trips, long sunny days, and sitting up late around a campfire. Parents are regaled with excited stories about favorite counselors, new experiences, friends made, and critters encountered. Where else would a child (or adult!) get the same breadth of experience packed into such an intense few weeks. The stimuli are nearly overwhelming, often resulting in a young camper exclaiming, “I don’t want to leave yet!”
With our population of all boys, that initial assessment is often all we hear at first. But it is in the slow accumulation of stories from parents, moments of reflection from campers, and our observations as staff that another level of camp begins to reveal itself. A current counselor observed about one of his campers: “The concrete skills that Billy learned such as paddling a canoe in a straight line will most likely not help him in his everyday life. However, when he leaves High Rocks, he will certainly take home skills which he won’t even realize that he learned.” Beneath the excitement, there are quieter impacts camp can have, frequently without a camper conscious of them occurring. In this particular time for our country, with every decision being weighed carefully, it is important to look past the surface talk of fun and consider the full value of a camp experience.
When a young camper arrives at High Rocks for the first time, he comes as an individual into a brand new environment. Often for the first time in his life, he now has no one to define him. His is a blank slate to build upon as each choice begins to define who he becomes in this new place. The benefit of camp has already begun as he enters the unknown. A new camper does not know what lies in store for him, how he will do, if he will make friends, but now he knows that he has made a choice; he has decided to brave the fear common to all first time campers and try something exciting, scary, and new. One of our Upper Seniors, the oldest campers and leaders for the rest of camp, reflects on his first time here, “When I first came to camp, I was very bad at making friends. I was under the impression that people would not like me and that I would be shunned. But at camp, people befriended me and I gained self-confidence. In my years coming back to camp, I have tried to do the same with others.”
In the time that follows, the days blend together in a series of activities, trips, meals, and games. Our new camper has made friends, tried many new activities, learned new skills, encountered challenges and experienced fear in pushing himself farther then he considered possible. He has become comfortable with his cabinmates, is part of a team during morning chores, and knows camp’s many secret trails and shortcuts. After stepping into a new world, He is emerging on the other side armed with friendships, memories, skills, and pride in his individual accomplishment. As one current camper put it, “I learned many more things at High Rocks than how to ride a bike. I learned leadership, and when to follow. I learned how to win, and how to lose. I learned how to be who I am today. I will remember that and take seriously the task of orienting, teaching, and leading other boys at camp.”
The second part of that quote reveals another impact of camp. As individual choices are made and changes recognized, our camper also begins to think of his new community. Camp life makes fellowship a necessity. There is a need to support and be supported in order to face challenges, to attempt the unknown. For campers, this takes the form of pitching in with cabin chores, volunteering for clean up on a camp out, or helping a partner pass the gates course in a canoe. As campers return, their perspective slowly shifts. A returning Upper Senior: “Another skill I am finding to be invaluable is teaching. Having to work in the blazing sun with kids who can’t do things I find very simple is, at the very least, frustrating. As I work with my classmates and younger kids, I have found that the patience and ability to slow things down and move step by step not only helps the other person understand; it helps me learn whatever I am teaching so much better than I ever knew it before.” Consistently we have seen returning campers take a new guy under their wing, a young camper talk to a peer about how he got over missing home. That respect of others occurs naturally in the camp environment, and will remain with a camper far beyond his years here….
(For the rest of the story, check out the High Rocks Alumni newsletter coming to your mailbox! If you can’t wait, download the newsletter today.)