This guest blog was written by Kat Martin, Assistant Director of Camp Kamaji in Cass Lake, Minnesota.  Kat shares what she loves about being a camp director, mainly being able to be a part of the development and journey that each camper experiences at camp and the impact camp has on each child’s life.  These moments occur at thousands of camps across the country each summer.  Kat can be followed on Twitter @kamajikat.

 

At the end of a staff interview the other day, the young woman asked me, “What is it that YOU love about camp?”.  Woah.  What a loaded question!  As I think back, my mind is pouring over 14 summers worth of memories: gooey rolls, staff skits, sunny days, co-counselors, Wishy Washy Washer Woman, caramel ribbon bars, regattas, campers and friends.

As a camper I loved staying up late and laughing about our inside jokes with my cabinmates, I couldn’t wait to rally with new people in tennis, take out a Barnett with my pal, Julie, try to win dinner with a Rainbow Boy during Casino Night (our fingers were crossed for Paul, the windsurfing instructor from Australia), sit and listen to the Smith Sisters sing an Indigo Girls song at O’Naug, and cheer as loudly as I could for the Metig tribe.

And as a counselor, to say that I loved my campers was an understatement.  I ADORED my campers, they made me laugh, I got to make them laugh, we sang, they choreographed dances, they tied bandanas around themselves to use them as tops (I laughed more), we laid on the archery field to look at stars and we trudged through muddy portages together on the Canadian.  I loved every moment spent with my campers.

The camp director in me thinks about all the things I tell prospective Kamaji campers about: the activities, the new things you learn, the friendships, the Evening Programs, the dancing- oh, the dancing…

All those things, ALL of them (and more) are reasons I LOVE being at camp, I love Kamaji.  But I couldn’t possibly start listing all that off to this counselor applicant on the phone.  So I re-think my response. Time is ticking away, and my brain is racing as images of Marjena, mud-fights, Willy Wonka Night, Cotton-Eyed Joe dance lines, tetherball, Kamaji’s Lost and Found, hugs, smiles, high-fives, secret handshakes, “The Club”….Ahhhhhhh!

But this is what it comes down to ladies and ladies…

The reason I love camp includes all the above.  But now the best part, though, is getting to be a small part of all those experiences and memories for today’s Kamaji campers.

During the off-season, I am invited into a prospective family’s home where get to talk about Kamaji- what a typical day is like, what the campers are like, what the activities are like…and I am able to watch as the at-first-nervous 9 year old girl’s eyes get wider and wider with excitement as she hears about the fun that is in store for her at camp.

I’m there when that little girl, Rachel, clinging to her over-sized teddy bear, gets off the bus at camp for the first time and ducks through a bridge of counselors’ arms greeting her. She’s nervous, maybe even a little scared and that’s when I run up, ask her if she remembers me and I introduce her to a counselor standing nearby, who is also new to camp and equally as nervous!  The two of them walk to the Lodge together.

I watch as Rachel’s name is called in the Lodge and she steps forward to meet her counselors and her new cabinmates.  The eight girls and three counselors are off, up the wood-chip path to their cabin, their home-away-from-home for the next four weeks.

The next few days are a blur for Rachel. Unknown to her, I observe as she revels in stomping her feet on the benches after lunch, she now knows all the words to her cabin song, she is overjoyed to be a Waubun because by some crazy stroke of luck, the bands in her braces are orange.  I walk by as she plays her regularly scheduled tetherball match outside the dining hall.

Each week I smile as I type Rachel’s activity choices into the computer: sailing, horseback riding, archery- are instructional activities Rachel signs up for every week.  She also loves windsurfing, waterskiing and ceramics.

She’s no longer wide-eyed and cautious with her arms wrapped around her furry companion from home; but instead she smiles with cartoonish glee, and strolls with confidence from one activity to the next, arm-in-arm with a camp friend.

I’m giddy with delight when I see her perform and entertain with her new camp “bestie” during the Variety Show and read a story she wrote for O’Naug in front all of camp.

She cries during the staff’s rendition of Jet Plane after the Staff Show and gives her counselors one last hug as she tearfully and slowly gets onto the bus to take her home.

I get to see Rachel during the school year at the Kamaji reunion where her mom gives me a big hug.  Rachel signs up for another summer at camp.  In fact, she signs up for the next 6 summers of camp.

As a Pine Manor camper, Rachel has grown tall. She’s become an expert horseback rider and skilled sailor.  Her “bestie” from that  first summer remains her bestie now.  Their families take trips together during the year after which they send me pictures of each of their annual visits.  Rachel becomes a Waubun tribe leader, and while she no longer has orange braces, she wears her orange Chuck Taylor’s everyday.  She and her bestie still perform the same Variety Show act they did when they were 9 years old- it’s tradition after all.

She cries during Jet Plane and is almost inconsolable when its time to say “goodbye” and get on those departing buses one last time.

It’s been some time since Rachel was last at Kamaji- I still get an occasional email from Rachel and I get the warm fuzzies when I drive past her street.

This is why I love camp.

I was able to watch and be a small part of Rachel’s Kamaji experience.  And after eight years of working full-time for Kamaji, get to have that same experience over-and-over again- the girls’ names are different, but I am there when Kamaji is introduced to a first-time Kamaji camper and watch as Kamaji becomes part of who she is and who she will grow to become.

I love camp- and I love watching as other girls, not unlike the one I once was, grow to love it too.

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