How summer camp shaped my life.

Posted by: Ken Kaus on Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 9:00:00 am


It is January 2012 and I have not been a camper at a summer camp since 1992. I've been doing a lot of reading recently about the benefits of sending children to camp. Everyone seems to have an opinion and countless people are doing research. I can regurgitate the numbers but as I was researching, I couldn't help but reflect on the last 20 years of my life and how camp has shaped it.

Instead of quoting research studies spouting the benefits of going to summer camp, I decided to write about what summer has done for me.

In 1986, I spent my first days and nights in camp as a 10 year old. I was a picky eater so I was hungry most of the week and I got home sick. I didn't like it much but I went back the following summer and for 5 more after that.  Camp didn't end though because I joined the camp staff and I kept going for another 7 summers. I don't know where I would be today if I had not gone back that second year.

During the 14 years I spent as a camper and counselor, I grew. Mostly from 4'2, 45 lbs to 5'6", 90 lbs. In ways I couldn't appreciate at the time, camp made me. What does this mean exactly? I wish I knew all the ways but this is what I know for fact. I was terribly shy and I remember standing at the front of a school assembly in the 7th grade more terrified than any previous time. Camp changed that. At camp, I had the chance to sing, perform skits and generally just get comfortable in my own skin.

Camp also gave me the chance to do things that to this day, I probably would not have had the chance to do. Let me explain. I have one older brother, two younger sisters, we all went to private school through high school, my mom stayed home and dad worked at an oil refinery (not exactly making the big bucks). I really don't know how they did it but I'm educated because of their sacrifices. As you can imagine, vacations were at a premium, but because of camp I got to go see Arizona, California, see the northern lights and so much more. I was able to go to those places because camp taught me how to be a leader. It was in camp that the people I worked with began to recognize that I was a hard worker and could be a good friend and I got rewarded by being selected to attend several national camp training programs. After attending several of those trainings, I was offered to the opportunity to be a staff member of those programs.

There is so much more too. My camp experiences didn't give me direction as far as what I wanted to study in college but because of all my camp experiences, it did teach me what I didn't want to study. When I finally had to choose a major in college, I remember asking a fellow camp counselor, "How can I do stuff like this the rest of my life?"

I wish some of my friends now, knew me before I went to camp. Camp changed me and I hardly recognize that shy boy from 1986. <C/p>

As I become more deeply involved with camp here at the JCC, I don't know where I would be if I had not gone to camp.  I think it's fair to say, I wouldn't be here.

In 1986, I didn't want to go to camp.  26 years later, I can't imagine life without it.


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