Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Max Kuechen

My journey with Experience Camps started in 2015, and not by choice. My dad signed my brothers and me up for the camp in Maine after our mom died that January from an allergic reaction to flu medication. I was 12 at the time, and started camp at age 13. I did not want to get on that bus, and neither did my brothers. But things changed real quickly after I stepped off the bus into a sea of wild cheering and energy from the volunteers as I was led to my bunk (Bunk 17, I’ll never forget). 

The connections I formed during that first week–and every subsequent summer–have changed my life forever. The guys from my bunk are still some of the closest people to me, although I only spent a few years with them. One of my biggest breakthroughs that first summer was telling the story of my mom’s death at the sharing circle. I did not share until the second circle and, to my surprise, I cried. It was the first time I cried since she died, and it was the biggest relief in the world. It helped me feel normal– not like the crazy person who couldn’t even cry over the death of his mom.  It’s what keeps me coming back to camp year after year. 

Max: 2nd from left on top with his bunk at Experience Camps in California

After my gap year in 2020, I returned as a volunteer counselor this summer. Originally, my college wanted us to move in early so I thought I would have to miss Maine and signed up for Georgia, the first camp to open this summer. Luckily, I was able to attend camp in Georgia, California, AND Maine this year (making the housing people at my college UMass very frustrated)! Volunteering at all three camps was the best decision I made this year.

With Georgia being the first to open, none of us knew what to expect. It was our first summer at Camp Twin Lakes, and the COVID restrictions were on everyone’s mind. My co-counselor Alex and I ended up with an amazing bunk, six first-year campers going into eighth grade. They hit it off immediately; within the first 10 minutes, all six were playing mini-basketball in the bunk. It seemed like they had known each other forever.

I was shocked when almost none of them shared during the first circle. I was worried they would not get as much out of the week as I had during my first year. I was so concerned that I called Amy Ritzhaupt, my longtime clinician from Experience Camps in Maine, and she reassured me that this was normal. She reminded me that I myself didn’t share during my first circle. It turns out I should have just trusted the process! All my campers shared during our final sharing circle and also at the final campfire. At the end of the week, they made me promise to come back. I’ll be back.

It was for all these reasons I wanted to donate to Experience Camps. When I turned 18, I received a portion of my mother’s teachers’ pension from the German government. I had thought of donating the money to Experience Camps for a while. After volunteering in Georgia, I knew it was the right thing to do. So I donated $7,700 from the pension, and I’m so happy it will allow more campers to experience camp and transform their lives.

When Sara Deren, CEO of Experience Camps, recently shared an email with testimonials from caregivers of campers, I recognized SIX names of campers in my bunks! This made me realize just how special the summer was, and how many amazing moments I experienced. The most powerful moment was in Georgia, realizing that I was the same age now as my first counselor and the campers in my bunk were the same age I was when I started. One day they will be where I am now, hopefully, volunteering as counselors with their own bunks.