The long, yellow buses full of excited campers swung into view. I sat with the other counselors, filled with anxiety and excitement. Did I know enough, I wondered, about children? My co-worker and I would be responsible for eight children in the wilderness who had very little exposure to the woods. Eight little strangers and two counselors would form a family unit working, sleeping, relating in a small camp with the basic necessities of life. No TV, no radios for three weeks. We would depend on each other for protection, safety, food, water, bedding, shelter, and fire to keep warm at night. My co-worker and I would teach them essential knowledge for living, and develop in them a sense of belonging and loyalty, and the desire to give so that every one could feel cared for, and respected by the others. It seemed like a lot to accomplish in a short period of time.
The children got off the buses and we were all divided into small camps of ten people. We listened to an introduction speech and had our campers carry their suitcases out to small camp where the tepees stood. It was fascinating to watch their faces when they saw where they would live for weeks. Our camp was called Awanasa. We gave them time to acclimate to their surroundings and then we led them to the campfire circle, the hub of the small camp. I looked around at these little beings and was fascinated by their diversity. Two Black children came from Harlem. Several were Italian. One was Irish, one Polish, one Puerto Rican, and one was from New Jersey.
They were tired, lonely, and homesick. We introduced ourselves and asked them what bothered them most or what frightened them at that minute, and we gave them answers and reassurance that all was going to be ok. They could rely on us to help them. We went over our routine for the next day and took them to the Dining Hall for a hot meal. We hiked back to the small camp, helped them get ready for bed, took them to the latrines, and got their beds ready for the night. We huddled around a campfire and taught them camp songs, told stories, identified night sounds, and said something positive about the day, and went to bed.
At dawn we got up, dressed, took them to the Dining hall for breakfast, and spent the rest of the day in small camp: learning how to cook, clean-up, chop wood, look for firewood on the ground. We learned to work together, sing together, and live as a family. We had our tough moments, but most of the moments were filled with laughter, affirmations, affection, patience, and acceptance. I learned that children will learn anything if you make it fun, amaze them, and do it with them. They learn best through stories and moving their bodies. They respond to honesty, openness, and kindness. They will do difficult things if they respect you. If you are genuine and real to them, you will win their hearts forever and they will fill your own heart with joy and love.
I came to love these kids like my own and I still think of them from time to time. They were incredible human beings who had courage and the ability to be kind and caring to others. I spent five summers as a camp counselor and those years encouraged me to become a teacher, and a social worker in the years that followed. I have not forgotten the survival skills I learned back then. I still have a love for the outdoors and sing the camp songs, only now I sing them to my dogs as they settle down for the night. The values of that magical place still live within me. The attribute of giving remains with me always.
Camp Song at Trail Blazer Camp
Where my caravan has rested,
Flowers I leave you on the grass.
All the flowers of love and memories,
You will see them when you pass…..