Camp has meant so much to me from the first day I stepped foot onto the powerful plot of land that is summer camp. I first attended camp at the ripe old age of 6 (one year earlier than I should have but, you don’t tell my Mom no!) My mother sent me to camp when I was so young because I did not have a male role model in my life at that point and she realized the importance of me having that. So my first summer I went for one week. I cried the entire week. So you may ask why did I go back again? Because I saw in the staff ( even at my young age) that they cared for me, that they wanted me to be successful. My counselors very quickly could have said “suck it up, or you are ok,” but that is not at all what they said. I don’t remember the exact words, but I do remember the feeling of love, acceptance of the current situation, and the great desire to help me overcome my homesickness. My counselors helped me overcome my homesickness that summer by helping me to get more involved in activities I liked at camp, helping me to write letters home to my mother, and keeping me engaged until bedtime.
I went back the next summer with much higher hopes for myself, and camp did not let me down. I did have some homesickness ( I was only seven still), but I was able to face it with the skills I had been taught the year before. My second year at camp was much better in all aspects. At this point, I was with the group of kids I would remain with until after my CIT year. I quickly gained friends that I would keep to this day. My mother sent me a care package about halfway through my camp session every year. This was when you could still send copious amounts of candy to a 7-year-old and think that was going to be good for them. So that is precisely what my mother did. She sent me a huge box of mixed candy every year. I quickly became known as the kid to see when someone wanted candy. ( I am/was not a huge fan of sweets. Maybe this was mom’s way of helping me make friends.)
After that summer away I fell into the position of ropes course director of a brand new ropes course at a Day camp close to where I lived. This was a dream that was fulfilled that I did not even know I had had. I was worried about working at this new camp. You hear how each camp is so different, how camp is a tight-knit group. However, upon my first day of staff training, I made a friend very quickly ( for a reasonable introverted person that can be hard.) The people that I met were so friendly and welcomed me as the new guy that I had felt like I had been there since I was a kid.
After 6 years of working at the YMCA camp, I felt like I wanted a change again to find a camp that could offer a more diverse camper/staff population. So I went online ( a great plus of today’s technology) and found Camp Walt Whitman my first “big camp” the camp I attended as a kid had about 100 kids per session, and the YMCA camp had around 80. Camp Walt Whitman had over 400 campers from around the globe. Being the new staff member at this camp was even scarier than before, because not only was I the new guy, but also a new person to the senior staff team. I was again excitedly wrong. When I pulled into camp I was beyond nervous, would I fit in, where do I go, where am I sleeping tonight. I was greeted by the very first person I was to meet at camp around 9pm as I was driving from my last day of work at school. I know how tired I am around 9 O’clock, but this person didn’t show it she showed excitement that I had finally arrived. Which was a massive shock to me? This feeling of being welcomed and a part of the team continued over the years. During the winter of each year, the staff would get together, and I cannot count the number of people that would ask each year if I was returning. It made me feel like camp was where I belonged.
After my first summer at Camp Walt Whitman I learned that working at camp could not only be a summer gig but a very fulfilling year-round career. So between summer one and two I met with one of my friends from camp and started asking the question of how do I get a job like yours. (He was working full-time in camping at that point). After my second summer, I started to look for employment seriously in summer camping as a career. Camp Walt Whitman opened that door for me, the director started working with me to help me achieve this new found goal.
Camping has been a place that no matter the situation I knew I always had someone that was going through the same thing. Whether at my current camp or elsewhere. We tend to think of each camp as an island where no one outside of our bubble can possibly understand what we are going through, but as I looked into other camps and talked with friends from other camps, I quickly found that each camp may be an island, but those islands are connected closely. Connected by people, situations, love, and a common goal to provide the campers we serve with the best opportunities to grow. I also have learned in my 25 years in camping that not only do we help change the lives of campers, but they help us to improve our own lives. I would not be the person I am today with the staff that supported me as a kid, and the campers I have helped as an adult.
-Aaron Greene, Camp Kupugani
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