By Josh Hahn
No two days at Experience Camps are ever alike. They are a roller coaster of activity and emotion but always seems to strike the right balance; the highs and lows, the joy and pain, the tears and laughter.
Following the raising of both the American and Experience Camps flags, it’s on to a hearty breakfast and then instructionals. From tennis to waterskiing, rock-climbing to radio, baseball to hockey, instructionals provide an opportunity for campers to explore both their favorite activities and new ones, and receive organized instruction that leaves with them with improved skills and self-confidence. There are very few things as rewarding as the joy on a camper’s face when he or she waterskis for the first time, or hits a ball further than ever before.
Two periods of morning instructionals give way to arguably the most significant hour at camp, the sharing circle. This bunk activity provides the unique opportunity for our campers to share memories of their special person that died. Some circles get very deep and emotional; others are light and filled with happy memories. Either way, it’s an important time in the week for the campers to establish the bonds and openness with their bunkmates that are so important to their experience at camp.
Afternoons are reserved for College League, our highly spirited week-long competition. All the campers and staff are placed on a team, named after a college, and they compete in a wide array of both athletic, artistic, and mind-bending games. Points are awarded, team loyalties run deep, and cheering and enthusiasm overflow. By emphasizing sportsmanship and the spirit of competition, campers learn the value of teamwork, lifting up those who fall, and how to win and lose gracefully.
Some afternoons are reserved for non-college league activities and provide the ideal opportunity to explore the beauty of our natural surroundings…a boat trip on the lake, an oceanside hike, or a trip up one of the area’s amazing mountains to capture some majestic views. These moments of rare beauty and tranquility are ones that no camper could ever capture back home.
Food is a always a highlight of the week and dinner meals shine. Pasta bar, lobster rolls, steak and fries, homemade BBQ pork, lavish salad bars, vegetarian options and spectacular desserts like baked Alaska and whoopie pies. With a schedule of non-stop activity, dinner time can never come soon enough.
With the night still young, evening activities abound. Favorites include Steve Hirsch Night, or, in simpler terms, a big milkshake party. Game shows, talent shows, and the always popular Mr. or Ms. ExCamps competition round out the week. A further evening highlight is the trip to the local mini golf course. As if golf and ice cream are not good enough, this activity allows the youngest campers to be paired with their CIT (counselor-in-training) buddies. The buddy program provides our younger campers with someone looking out for them while our older campers have the opportunity to give back to those whose shoes they once stood in. It’s amazing to watch these relationships develop and to see how it benefits all the campers, young and old alike.
Most nights will typically end with a moment of quiet and reflection. Perhaps a campfire with a camper or staff speaker or song or an opportunity for the campers to write a quiet note to their special person and place it in the fire on the way back to the bunk. Unquestionably though, the week truly culminates with the final evening’s closing campfire. There are no words to properly set this scene or describe just how powerful it is. As the CITs line the entrance to the campsite, campers once inside have the opportunity to light a candle for their loved one and bravely speak to the entire camp, telling their story, sharing a memory, or thanking their friends. Tears flow, warm embraces follow, and love fills the air.
Despite the vast amount of activities, the amazing facilities, the incredible food, and the caring and enthusiastic staff, it’s friendships and connecting the invisible strings of a shared experience that bring our campers back each summer. And, as we like to say, it’s what make a grieving child’s time at Experience Camps the “best week ever.”
Experience Camps truly are the best week of the year. As a camper who goes to ManEx (Manitou Experience in Maine), I can say that it is truly the best week of the year. The bonds formed at Manitou (and all ExCamps) bind us into a community, a brotherhood if you will. We stand together, eat together, laugh together, cry together, compete togethef, and have fun together. Every person in ManEx, CalEx, and KenEx shares a special bond- a loss of someone near to us. Everyone understands the immense pain we all have gone through. Of course College League is amazing (Go Roadrunners!), Mr. ManEx is astounding (From the 2013 Mr. ManEx), Steve Hirsch Night is wonderful, and I am beginning to run out of adjectives to describe Instructionals, Meals, Campfires, Hikes, Games, Bunk Time, and so much more. However, I really do believe that the best part of camp is the fact that this is probably one of the only places in the world where everyone "gets" that feeling deep down inside every camper. That is where I think the Manitou Magic lies.
4 Year ManEx Camper
Former Mr. ManEx