Below is the speech our Clinical Director, Dr. Dan Wolfson, shared during a campfire at Experience Camps in Pennsylvania (“PennEx”). After 15 years of being a strong guiding presence and source of wisdom (and smiles) for our community, Dan will be stepping down from the role of Clinical Director in PA and supporting Experience Camps in new program endeavors, including overseeing our “For the Adults” grief-retreat weekend. Here’s what Dan wanted our camper community to know in this milestone year…
Each year for the past 15 summers, I have found myself in a beautiful place, looking out at a crisp August lake, trying to steal a few quiet moments to slow down, reflect, and soak it all in amidst the buzzing energy that is a week of Experience Camps.
This time around I am here for our ninth year of PennEx. The sun is shining, music is playing, campers are eagerly awaiting their chance to jump around on the water trampoline, and I’m feeling tears start to form in my eyes. Not sad tears, though. As we know, there are far more layers to our emotions than just sadness. These are proud tears. Nostalgic tears. Grateful tears. Tears that remind me that somehow, year after year, no matter what is going on in my life, when I’m here in this camp bubble everything has a way of clicking into place.
Since the first time I sat down to write a letter for a campfire all those years ago, so much has changed. So much has evolved.
A story about a man named Steve Hirsch turned into a legend of epic proportions that has been told to thousands- from Maine to California, Pennsylvania to Michigan, Georgia to Maryland to Maui.
College League teams have come together to have their school mascots cheered with passion for a week, before quietly fading to an old TShirt and a memory- of UCLA and Wake Forest, Ohio State, Texas, Florida, Georgetown…now Koppen State and UMontana enter the ring.
Campers have grown to LITs. LITs have become counselors. I’ll never forget a pre-camp event we had for new families at a library in Westchester prior to our first PennEx, where I met an eager little 9 year old with a raspy voice named Zander. A few months later I watched him start to fall in love with camp while riding on the shoulders of counselors, and now he is one of those counselors helping the next generation of Bunk 1 campers feel the love and joy of camp, while he is the one giving the piggy back rides.
I could tell similar stories about the growth of all twelve former campers here with us as counselors this summer- three of them brothers with the same last name that they finally told I’ve been mispronouncing for years.
And over all of these years, I’ve changed and grown too. I went from 23-year-old “Wolfson,” a cabin counselor and first year ExCamps dean for the camp historians out there, who was just starting to find the words to speak about my own grief.
Now the kids call me “Dr. Dan,” a title that to me has nothing to do with papers written or internships completed, but far more importantly represents the trust you all put in me to help to guide you in your own journeys as well. This trust to witness and support the grief journey of each of you is a responsibility and a privilege I don’t take lightly.
But what I hope everyone here can feel, is none of us are alone on this journey. Sometimes it feels like we are, but just as our grief is always a part of us, this place is always a part of us too. These people sitting on your left and your right are now a part of your story, and you a part of theirs.
And our stories are still being written. There will be things you’ll remember and things you’ll forget. You’ll have sunny days, and you’ll have rain. Someone that you didn’t know three days ago might become the first person you reach out to on a day when you’re missing your camp, or missing your person.
I think the most special thing about this bubble we create together here, are the things that we take out of this bubble with us. These relationships are real. Cherish them. Hold on to them. These feelings are real. Let them in. Listen to them.
This place is real- it might be the realest place there is. This love, support, acceptance, silliness, safety, joy- all of it is real. So thank you, camp. Thank you for the last 15 summers you’ve given me, and thank you for everything I know you’ll continue to give me from here. To give all of us.
And thank you all because it wouldn’t be camp without you.
Dr. Dan Wolfson, PsyD was the Boys Clinical Director at Experience Camps in Pennsylvania. He is a licensed clinical psychologist at Wolfson Therapy who works individually with teens and adults, guides couples and families towards strengthening their relationships, and builds communities of support for children and adults who have experienced loss.