Growing up as a camper going to Experience Camps was something of a blessing in disguise. I had no idea that first summer just how much camp would impact my life. Experience Camps is a camp that no one wants to have the reason to attend, though when we (I was a camper and now a volunteer) walk off the bus, our lives are changed forever.
My name is Keith and I am one of the original 27 campers that attended the first year of Experience Camps back in 2009, and I haven’t missed a year since. Over the years of going to camp I’ve made many close friendships with other campers as well as staff members. I now join the ranks of the staff, and have been a volunteer for 4 years. Experience Camps staff are like wizards. They manage to squeeze in as many fun activities as possible to keep everyone having fun, while still being able to bring both campers and counselors back in for the “why” everybody is at camp. Staff and the program itself give the campers a chance to just be kids alongside others who understand the same feelings.
Everybody at camp both campers and counselors alike have their reason why they make the yearly trip to camp. For me, it is my father. When I was four, my father crashed his hang glider at Burke Mt. in Vermont. He died a week later in the hospital from his injuries. He was only 36. He worked for the Berlin Fire Department in the city where I grew up and was a Lieutenant at the time of the accident. I grew up knowing “The Guys” that he worked with stopping in occasionally to say hi. Camp helped teach me about legacy, and two years ago this may I graduated from college with a degree in Fire Science and am now the third generation of firefighters in my family.
After going to camp as a kid and participating in sharing circles with my former bunkmates, it was made clear for us that it was okay to talk about who had died. I learned that other people want to know about my dad and that bottling those feelings up inside only slows the process of grieving. Now many years later as a volunteer counselor, I truly understand how campers feel. From sitting back and sharing very little to being very up front with what happened, answering other kids questions and everything in between. The campers become more mature every year and realize that soon, they could be counselors as well. It is a huge responsibility for them when becoming a LIT (Leaders in Training), but handle the responsibility with ease. They learn to lead and mentor other younger campers and the skills they learn carry over into the real world, not just camp.
Each year I find myself coming back to camp. One of the main reasons is that I love seeing the campers year after year and watching as they transition and grow. Reconnecting with others you haven’t seen in 51 weeks, for the best week ever, picking up like you never left. I am always trying to make the most out of the week to give back to the new campers for what others have given to me over the years. As Experience Camps likes to say, “it’s FTK (for the kids)!”
I heard the news last week from my son, Larry Rodman, who has been a volunteer at Manitou for years. Sad about the cancellation but understandable. Looking forward to hearing about next year’s Experience Camps.