I was all packed, and really nervous. My big brother had been going to camp for years, and was always telling me how amazing it was, but for some reason I was always busy and never made it to camp. Now, I was finally going.
Mum and Dad said it would be fine, that I could call any time, and that I would be having so much fun time would fly, and before I knew it I would be sad to be leaving and looking forward to next Summer. I had packed my lucky teddy bear, and my lucky underpants, and was ready for my first summer at camp.
I may have been 33 years old, and heading off to be Idylwood Unit Supervisor at Surprise Lake Camp, but I kind of knew how some of the first-timers must have been feeling.
We had a week of getting to know fellow workers, from kitchen staff to admin personnel to fellow Unit Supervisors, as well as the gorgeous local area. By day three I was already nicely settled in, spending mornings jogging the trails and cooling off in the lake, (and what a surprise it is, with everything from turtles to iguanas popping up to say hello), and afternoons training for the coming kids.
It is the natural beauty of SLC’s setting which really makes it special, (along with the fantastic people I got to work with, and the campers themselves). One morning I woke up for my daily 7am jog, only to find myself face to face with a deer. I’m not sure who was more surprised.
After a week, just when I was enjoying my vacation, the campers arrived. Thirty-six 10 and 11 year-olds were delivered into my care, and
we started as we meant to go on, with secret handshakes, nicknames, ‘soccer’ (I’m English, so pardon the quotation marks), baseball and frisbee.
The days flew by: up early, morning round-ups with our fellow Mainsiders, songs and dances, breakfast, swimming, sport, art, Jewish studies, climbing stuff, throwing stuff, building making and destroying stuff, feeding the goats, stroking the snakes and iguanas, lunch, more swimming, more sport and art and dance and adventure, dinner, teeth brushed, rooms tidied, a few card games or books read before bed, and up to do it all again the next day.
There were socials: beach parties on the sand, or dance parties in the gym, where we got to mingle with our sister unit, Journey’s Way. First romances blossomed, first slow dances were danced, love notes were passed…and that was just among the counsellors…
The weather was amazing, whatever it was: usually sunny and warm, the occasional storm produced some stunning thunder and lightning, leading to one of my highlights, (and the kids’ too, I’m sure), an impromptu mud-slide session on the field which led to the entire unit showering al fresco, in an overflowing drainpipe. I’ve never seen kids dirtier or happier before.
A lot of my time was spent communicating with parents, and it was a pleasure to speak to and eventually meet each and every one of them on Visiting Day, (a day when enough food was consumed to feed a third world country for a year), but the highlight of my day always came when I had time to just hang out with the campers and join them in whatever activity they were doing, climbing the wall with them, or dodging the ball with them, or taking a dip in the lake when someone needed a water-buddy.
And my parents were right: 18-hour days may have been exhausting to start with, (although occasional days off in Manhattan were helpful for recharging my batteries), but by the end of Second Session I was sad it was all ending. The Summer Olympics kept me away from Camp this year, but I’ve no doubt I will be back for the friends I made, (and have still to make), the things I learned, (and hopefully taught), and most importantly the young lives that were changed over the course of those two months.
I had heard a lot about how the camp was founded as a way of getting city kids who may never have seen greenery to experience something new, and different, and beautiful, and last Summer I was lucky enough to be a part of that, to see dozens of young boys grow up and develop and try new things. >From the camper who started camp homesick and begging to go home who ended up crying because he didn’t want to leave, to the camper who was scared to go in the lake on day one but ended up swimming with the best of them, I got to see SLC in action and will never forget it.
Plus, I can never hear the word ‘announcements’ without a part of me wanting to break into table-pounding song. Thanks, SLC.