Close your eyes and picture your favorite place in the world. When I close my eyes I see these tall trees, green trees that go on for miles. I watch the mountains get taller and taller as I look off into the distance. I can see the lake and the sun reflecting off of it. And if you look all around this place there is not a frown in sight. Everyone is smiling and enjoying the company around them. If any of you picture this when you close your eyes… you’ve definitely been to Surprise Lake Camp.
In the mountains of the Hudson Valley, there’s a special place tucked away that people call their second home for the summer. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to grow up in this place and learn so many things about myself that I couldn’t discover on my own.
It’s been 11 years since the first time I set eyes on SLC and I could never imagine looking back. I’ve made some of the best friends anyone can ask for. I’ve learned what the importance of community is, and what it can do to bring a group of people together, big and small. Not only has camp given me a sense of community but has also built me into a strong and motivated leader.
I was a camper from age ten to fifteen and at the time I could have made the argument that it was the most rewarding time in my life. Spending days on end with my friends and immersing myself in the activities we loved to take part in, yes I’ll go ahead and say right now that Hockey was all a huge part of it!
Being under the guidance of my counselors and learning from them and understanding what lessons they had to pass on to me that I would carry with me for years to come. I found as I got older something seemed more important to me, and that was giving back to camp and being a member of the Surprise Lake staff.
Being a counselor has been the most rewarding part of my time at SLC for so many reasons. For my first few summers as a counselor I was working with Mountainview Boys. While boys of that age can be a complete handful, watching them learn from such silly mistakes and arguments can be an incredible experience. Watching them play sports and work together and understand the concept of teamwork. Knowing that you’ve taught someone who is still shaping into someone who can understand on their own, is something extremely gratifying.
The time came for me to find a new challenge as a counselor, so in doing what any sane staff member would do at camp. I jumped from working with the youngest boys in camp, to the oldest girls in camp. This past summer I had the absolute honor of working in Boulder Hill with an amazing staff and an even more amazing group of campers. Being a counselor to these girls this summer was the most incredible experience I have encountered in camp to date. Having actual conversations with them about what they think, how they feel and what was troubling them really made me understand what the true meaning of being a counselor was. If these girls (not just my group specifically) had an issue they could come to me, or any of the counselors for advice. And being able to address their problems give them some of kind of direction they were looking for and watch them go out and learn from these mistakes, and learn from these problems became the most important aspect of being a counselor.
Something very different for me this summer was finally being head coach of the Girls Hockey team and watching them grow into far more than just a team. We had a motto. How it came about? I just started saying “It builds character”, after everything that would happen whether good or bad. These girls turned into a binding force and I could not have asked for a team that was more focused on taking care of their own rather than winning. The girls put up an amazing fight but at the end of the day win or lose they walked away with something far more satisfying than winning the cup. And that was the bond they had built in just two weeks time. In that moment on the bus ride back I knew these girls had created more than just a team they became a family.
When we go through orientation we’re constantly reminded that we are working the summer for the kids. Now while it’s great to be at camp as staff with the people you grew up with, and the staff that come back year after year from other countries… we sometimes lose sight of what the campers need. That was never the case for me this summer. Before I arrived at camp this past summer I made a promise to myself that I would give the campers a summer that they could hold close to them and remember forever. I’ll admit I was a little intimidated at first making such a jump but I knew it was the right decision.
As the summer passed and came to a close, I reflected on what kind of impact I might have had on the campers in the two months that had flown by. Did they learn anything from me? Could I have done anything differently? These were the questions that I thought on, as the campers were packing and getting ready for their final departures. And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing; I know that I gave my all in making sure these girls had an amazing summer.
I found my purpose in camp, and it was to do exactly what my counselors had done for me. Give these kids the best summers of their lives, and I can’t wait to do it all over again next summer.
Surprise Lake Camp has not only given me memories that will last a lifetime. But it has given me the opportunity to thrive in what I love to do. Not everyone realizes how special our 10516 really is and what it holds and has in store for us every summer.
So thank you SLC and let’s look forward to another 110 years of changing lives and making memories!