There’s an old saying that goes something like;
Find what you love to do and you’ll never work another day in your life.
This past summer, I did just that. Hopelessly lost one day in January, I was on Facebook dreaming of all the things that I wanted to do this year, all the things I wanted to accomplish. I saw an ad that, for some reason, stuck out to me. It read “Change Your Life This Summer Working With Kids” and had this picture of a counselor smiling and a camper smiling even harder. I made a mental note of it, but didn’t act on it, after all, I was too busy dreaming.
Two days later, the same ad popped up. I decided to check it out. You know how God sometimes opens up doors for us that we didn’t even know were there? This door was a camp called Kingsley Pines in Raymond, Maine and God seemed to have flung open 20 doors at once.
I applied, was accepted after an extensive interview process and made travel plans to start working in June. I was to be teaching Ceramics and Pottery and as the time to leave grew closer and closer, I realized that I physically could not wait. I researched articles on how to be a good camp counselor, I brainstormed ideas for games and I daily checked out pictures of KP. The calm waters and the pine trees and the distant mountains seemed to be calling for me.
I packed, repacked and reached out to at least 6 counselors on what to pack. I felt like I was in such new territory. I had been to camp as a kid but I couldn’t remember what to bring, I couldn’t remember what I wore and as I was to stay there the entire summer, I didn’t know what to expect.
But the day finally came where I took everything I had fit into two suitcases and a backpack and headed towards my new home.
I was greeted at the airport by a guy holding up a sign that read “Welcome to KP Stephanee” and it had a (very well drawn) buffalo. This struck me, I remember. I was born in Montana and there are buffalo everywhere, just roaming and free. Montana is my place to gain clarity, to see things wholly again and having a buffalo seemed to be a sign that this was where I was meant to be and I just remember smiling so hard that it hurt.
I was here. It was beginning.
We picked up another girl who was a newbie just like me and we could barely contain our excitement in the backseat of that van. As a 23 year old woman, I have never been more giddy. It was like we were the kids on our way to camp.
We talked about our goals for the summer, how we were both searching for something, anything to give us direction. Both of us had reached a point in our lives where we lacked not a purpose, but a passion. We had high hopes that this place would be the answer to that dilemma.
As the van pulled onto that gravel drive and we drove past the greenest grass and the thick woods blending and swirling into this beautiful landscape; it was like an oasis for the weary, a jolt to the heart of everyone who felt lost.
That first day, no, that first week was a blur. We were in and out of meetings and orientations and trying to sleep whenever possible.
The day came when our first campers came, and I honestly don’t know who was more excited; the campers or the counselors. I was assigned to Hatcase with 7 girls who were all 13. At first, I was intimidated. That’s a whole lot of early teenage girls but the second they arrived, all of my worries were dispelled. They were goofy, charming, sweet, and even more goofy.
They were at this age where looks and what everyone else thinks are starting to matter but they’re not quite ready to let go of their childhood and they recklessly abandoned their worries. It was 3 weeks of laughing and giggling and dance offs while cleaning the cabin and absolute tom-foolery. They were my nuggets.
Some memories will always stay with me and others add to the memory of camp as a whole. One memory in particular sticks out about this session. The cabin, as a whole, has to come up with a way every morning to show unity within the cabin and we seemed to be running late that morning (no surprise there…) and I was in charge of cleaning the shower. When I came back out, there were all 7 of my girls sitting on the floor in a circle writing things about each other that they appreciated.
They had, on their own, created an idea together and had governed themselves to do this act of writing out how they felt. And not just “You’re really nice” or “You clean good”…they were things like “The way you try new things at camp makes me want to try new things too” or “I really like having you in my cabin because you’re my best friend”. It’s amazing what a few words strung together can do for a teenage girl’s self esteem.
I honestly have to say my favorite thing about Session 1 and Hatcase was the absolute gut-wrenching laughter that happened every day. Whether it was laughing at the girls being silly, laughing with the girls at a camp fire skit or laughing at myself, it brings a smile even thinking about it.
Opening Day was always hectic for me. It’s moving 200+ kids into cabins scattered all over. It’s lugging trunks and suitcases and bags. It’s airport runs, It’s integrating campers into their new environment and affirming parents. It’s teaching and learning and absorbing. It’s a beautiful chaos that runs effortlessly well.
This Opening Day was no exception, I had come back from an airport run of picking up 8 campers in Portland and I learned that I would be with the OGC that session. I was excited, scared, nervous, and thrilled all at the same time. The OGC is the Older Girl’s Circle and it’s for the campers that are 14-16 years old. I would be in Androscoggin and I loved that little cabin, I think the most of any I stayed in.
I would have 3 campers staying with me and 3 that would reside in the one next to it. I had the oldest of the older girls. They were bright, they were smart, they were gracious, they were beautiful, truly, inside and out. They had these big ideas and a tenacious love for life.
The wonderful thing about Older Girls is you don’t need to keep track of 6 different schedules because they know where to go and when to be there. You don’t have to constantly check up on them because they’re little mini-adults and they want to figure out how camp works on their own. I learned that the more you stepped back and let them thrive, the more they wanted to flourish. My co-counselor and I often to referred to this group and our time together as “3 weeks of bliss”.
Every night you would close out the evening with Embers, which was a time for reflection on your day and things you wanted to accomplish in the future. The articulate and graceful talks we would have during Embers took me aback. Here were these 6 teenage girls, 2 of which spoke Spanish and 1 who spoke French, revealing their goals and insights on the world. I often went back to the counselor whom I shared the ride with that first day and we marveled at how much we were changing because of these kids, how much we were growing and learning thanks to these campers.
This session’s favorite memory was a night spent on the beach. I decided to do a star-gazing Embers and I had each girl pick a song that was near and dear to their heart that we would play and they would get to talk about why the song meant so much to them. When we got down to the beach, all bundled up in sleeping bags and blankets and sweatshirts, we looked up to see the crispest night sky. The stars looked like they were shimmering in the sky and on the lake and there wasn’t a cloud in sight.
Since KP is far away from any big cities, there’s no light pollution and the night skies are breathtaking. That night we talked about everything we could think of, showcased our hidden talents, giggled about the going-ons of camp life and every now and then, the entire group would fall silent just to marvel at the sky.
Everyone was starting to become aware that camp was ending soon and this being the last session of campers, we all wanted to make the most of the time we had left. I was again placed in the OGC and was so grateful; I had found my niche. I was in the cabin trio of Brandy-Nubble-Crystal and resided in Nubble. I had 3 quirky, fun and awesome girls. We had this tradition of saying one thing that you liked about someone else in the cabin before bed. It honestly made my heart swell each and every night.
Here are 3 teenage girls who know little to nothing about each other but every night they consistently found something about their bunkmate to compliment. With this particular group of girls I never knew what to expect. The compliments towards me ranged from, “You’re the chillest, most swaggiest counselor that works here” to “I honestly want to grow up to be like you.”
My two co-counselors and I this particular session decided we wanted to do everything in our power to knock things off the girls’ bucket lists. Since we had 9 girls, this was no small task. Our first Embers, we came up with a Cabin Contract and a Bucket List. The Bucket List was at least 15 items long with things ranging from; star gazing to climbing a mountain at sunrise.
But, we did it. We did it all. We star-gazed the last night of camp in the middle of the common field, all squeezing on a much too small blanket. We climbed Rattlesnake Mountain before dawn to catch the sunrise, or the “Sun Ball” as the girls called it. We built a human pyramid on Quaker Ridge and may or may not have stolen snacks from a certain camp photographer.
The greatest thing about this group of girls,though, was there were no two that were even remotely similar. You could not have picked 9 more different teenagers. But as the two weeks drew to a close, we realized that their differences made them a stronger unit. They were helping each other and joking about how diverse they were. They were making each other friendship bracelets and talking about past camp memories.
The one memory that resides with me the most from this group was an Embers we did on one of the last days of camp. We got a huge assortment of beads and each girl picked out a bead for every other girl. We then went around the circle and told the girl why we had picked that particular bead for them. Although it was a small gesture by each person, when you have a bracelet full of beads with stories behind them, it amounts to so much more. I still wear mine around my ankle and I received a snapchat from one of my campers and she was still wearing hers. It made my day.
Teaching Ceramics was like a dream. Every day I woke up and walked to this shack that was lined with handprints and names written in clay. Where the sound of the pottery wheels drowned out the noise of the radio. It was this place tucked away into the woods where campers could build anything they could think of. They could build pots and bowls and cups and animals and plaques.
Some of the funniest and most honest conversations I had with campers happened in the Ceramics Shack. We taught 3 periods that lasted 50 minutes long and each one seemed to be like a party. We had music and dancing and we were creating these works of art.
I loved literally every second of it.
I can’t put into words what this past summer meant to me. There are too many memories, too many people to thank, too many smiles and laughs, too much fun, too many moments that took my breath away. It all adds up to this beautiful, chaotic, wonderful and sometimes crazy thing we call camp.
Related: What To Pack: Camp Counselor Edition