The Gift of Camp Wekeela

The last two months of the calendar feel like a constant cycle of shopping, eating, traveling, sleeping, repeating with multiple family or friendship gatherings splattered throughout. However, COVID-19 has changed so much of the aforementioned, most importantly, gathering with others. Thanksgiving 2021, for my family at least, was the first time we had all been able to be together in 2 years. My family stretched from several different states to meet for Thanksgiving, all have been vaccinated against COVID-19. A 15-person gathering just felt abnormal, but so comforting. The same goes for so many families, no matter the holiday you celebrate, friends and families will make the conscious decisions to gather for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Years. The importance of the core beliefs of this time of year should not be lost on any of us due to the pandemic – gratitude, giving, love, and celebration. The pandemic has changed us all so much. Enjoy being able to reconnect with family/friends that you have not spent much time with in the past 2 years.

So, what does this have to do with camp? My belief is that the core values of the holiday times are also very similar to the camp spirit that we all love and preach at our camp communities – gratitude, giving, love, celebration, and to a degree, family. Camp Wekeela is a family business, so at our Thanksgiving table we all talked about camp. We talked about this past summer; what we are looking forward to next summer; the hiring process; the recruitment trips we hope to take; etc. I recognize that this is a unique experience, and many families don’t talk about summertime in the middle of the winter. We are focused on our school year, jobs, etc. But camp is a gift. Working as a camp director and the camp industry presents an opportunity to work in collaborative environments of different types of people. According to the American Camp Association National, roughly 14+ Million children each year attend some sort of summer camp setting/environment. That number truly shocked me. 14 Million children. According to U.S. census data, there are roughly 74 million children in the United States (ages 0-17), making up about 22% of the total population. Which means about only 20% get some sort of camp experience during their summer. If you do the numbers, about 5% of the entire United States population goes to summer camp. Camp professionals have a unique responsibility in shaping the lives and trajectory of so many young people – just by running and organizing our programs for the following summer through the staff we hire, the programs we design, and the campers who we influence. This can lead to millions of good things. At Wekeela, we want our community, the campers and staff who join our program each summer, to feel this sense of family, togetherness, and make an impact on each other.

Every camp is different. Every camp has its own unique culture. Each summer camp has different values, philosophies, programmatic designs, etc. Every camp plans to give campers a valuable and worthwhile experience. As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have returned to a bit more normal. As of this writing, vaccines have been approved for children 5 years of age and up and many camps will face the decisions this summer on COVID restrictions again. As the holidays feel a bit more normal this year, we are reminded of just how lucky we are. We are lucky to do such important work. We are lucky to have our families and our communities. We are lucky to have gotten through such a tough 2020 and/or 2021 with so many challenges. We as a camp community can only grow from our experiences. I know I have. Let’s practice the things that the holidays teach us at camp – being grateful for what we have; bringing joy to others; celebrating life and those around us; celebrating something new and being energized by new challenges. Camp truly is a gift. So as children start unwrapping their gifts, let’s remember as we get ready to welcome the new year, keep our camp memories alive all year round. If you do it right, the glow of camp stays with you until you’re ready to pack up those duffel bags again. And one of the best ways to do that is by keeping connected to your camp family. Whether it’s phone calls, texts, social media, or reunions, staying in touch with the people who understand the pang of leaving camp will make it that much easier to go home. When you have camp friends in your life, you’re never alone, because no matter where you all live, you have your summer home here on the shores of Little Bear Pond in Hartford, Maine to keep you together. Staying in touch with those whom you hold dearest, your camp friends, also gets you through the ups and downs of the school year.

From our bunk to yours, we wish you and your family a happy and healthy Holiday season