Header photo by Hamish Grant. Used with permission.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Camp Changes Lives: How Kintail Changed Mine

 I first attended Camp Kintail in 1994. I was 9 years old. It was my mom who convinced my brother and I to go. We really didn't want to camp - she did. She'd met one of the assistant directors while on vacation with my dad (we kids weren't invited to this one), and casually asked if the camp ever needed nurses. They did. Badly. A few weeks later, brochures and information arrived in the mail.  My brother and I weren't impressed. Singing around campfires? Arts and crafts? Please. Low ropes courses and canoeing sounded kind of cool, but weren't all that alluring compared with a summer of endless (original 8-bit) Nintendo!

Mom eventually won, and we packed up and left for camp. She was eager to go. My brother and I? Not so much.

After an eight-hour car ride from Ottawa, we arrived at camp: nervous, apprehensive, unprepared for what to expect. We were greeted by a brood of excited camp counselors. Their enthusiasm was contagious.  Before I knew it, I was whisked away to my cabin, sleeping and duffel bags in tow.  I chose a bottom bunk.  The cabin filled up with other boys my age.  Most of them, I discovered, were first-timers like me.

My first week at camp flew by. My counselors were committed, hard-working guys who I really admired. They were cool. They were fun.  They seemed so old, so mature (they were actually 17 and 18)!  It turns out that the campfires, songs, arts and crafts were a lot better than expected.

That week, I fell in love with Lake Huron's sunsets. I delighted in the smell of a cedar forest. I learned how to shoot an arrow and roast the perfect marshmallow. I marveled at the vastness of on endless sky full of stars.  There is no place like this camp.

Moments after my cabin-mates all said goodbye, my brother and I were back in the van, being driven down the camp lane.  We begged to go back to camp the next summer, and our return was arranged before we reached the highway.

I've been back to camp every summer since. I was a camper for seven years, a participant in the leader-in-training program for one, and a staff member for five years. I've also been back as a visitor and volunteer since.

Camp has been a formative place for me. The most formative place. 

This weekend, I visited camp to attend the Staff Commissioning. This was an open house event in which the camp community came together in support of the 2010 camp staff (many of whom are my former campers).  The moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada blessed the staff. Past staff, camp supporters, parents and friends of Kintail came together to enjoy a day at camp to kick off the summer.

After spending the day at commissioning,  I spent a lot of time reflecting on my own camp experiences, thinking especially of the first-year staff. When I was 17 - the age of many of these staff members - I didn't understand the gravity of the job. I didn't fully get that I was assuming the role of my first two counselors from 1994 - people who catalyzed the most life-changing period of my life.

Being a camp counselor is a tremendously important job.

These camp staff will be the caretakers of hundreds of children this summer. They will be nearly-instant role models and mentors. Their impact can be profound.

It's my hope that this summer they get the support that they need; that they understand how important this job is; and that they treat it as such.

To the 2010 Camp Kintail staff: This summer, there will be first time campers who are nervous, apprehensive, and not too keen on singing camp songs. You have the ability to bring them out of their shells.  You have the ability to show them the magic of a crackling fire and the joy of dipping a paddle into Lake Huron. You can be the reason they come back year after year and eventually come to meet their future bridesmaids and groomsmen.  You can catalyze lasting change in the lives of children.  You can.

Good luck this summer. I'll be thinking about you.

Zack "Zenith" Sandor-Kerr