The summer camp I attended served over 800 campers per week. My first summer, neither of my counselors had ever gone to summer camp (they were international staff), no one in my bunk had ever gone to camp (we were all doing an 11-day starter session), and the 40+ other girls in my “village” were all a mystery to me when I left camp on the 11th day.
I came back year after year for four weeks, learning more about the campers my age, but always remaining closer with the kids I went to school with. I didn’t have “camp friends” — they were just my school friends. When I was homesick or felt lost, I didn’t ever know what to do; some of my counselors didn’t know my name, how could they help me overcome homesickness?
In high school, I went on a travel trip through camp with 24 other kids. There, I made camp friends who remain some of my closest friends to this day. But it was only because of the intimacy of a small group: the possibility of learning everyone’s names, having conversations with each person.
I worked at 3 other camps as I got older, too. Namely Camp Sea-Gull, an all-girls camp in Northern Michigan that served 70-80 campers per week. I knew everyone’s name; I helped 8-year-olds with homesickness even though they weren’t my campers because I had spent time with them at activities. Older campers taught younger campers how to kayak and why “Skeetermoretafeeder” was an insane amount of fun.
Camp Sea-Gull closed in 2011, but I realized the importance of community at camp. You can’t have a community among 800 campers and 400 staff. But that community is built-in at a place like Fleur de Lis Camp, where the age-blind program, tradition, and returning camper base holds tightly onto the camp community.
At a small camp, new campers are more willing to experiment, try new things, and ask questions. Shy campers feel more comfortable because everyone is a familiar face. Older campers genuinely want to help the younger ones. And even in panic mode, staff knows that everything is manageable.
I look forward to witnessing the benefits of a small, intimate camp community at Fleur de Lis this summer!