Words from a Camp Counselor

As we’re nearing the end of April, and the weather goes through its growing pains from cold and wet to warm (and wet), the increasingly sunny days and spring allergies signal one thing: it’s summer camp time.

Through itchy red eyes and an endlessly sniffly nose, I try my best each year to just power through April and May to reach the part of the year I look forward to most: the first week of summer camp.

After four years as a camp counselor and an entire childhood spent as a camper, summer camp never really ends for me. It’s with me all year-round in my interactions with other people, having taught me how to be myself without regard for embarrassment or worry of what anyone else may think. It’s with me when I find myself leading a group project for class or trying to resolve a roommate dispute, having taught me how to lead efficiently and hear other points of view, even if I may disagree, in order to come to the best outcome possible for everyone.

Camp is with me on a Tuesday night in the middle of January as I’m standing in a friend’s kitchen, trying (and failing) to lead a verse of my favorite camp song, “Fred the Moose.” And on a 90-degree day in August during vacation in the mountains of Colorado, as I realize I’m no longer fazed by the heat after spending so many of my summer days outside leading activities for a group of zealous, equally unfazed campers. It’s with me during internship interviews, discussing the intangible skills I’ve acquired only through being a camp counselor, like problem-solving on the fly, being flexible if the first or second (or third… or fourth…) options fall through, and how to best come up with ideas for solutions myself, rather than rely on others to do so first.

More than any other time, though, summer camp is with me in the smile that involuntarily slides across my face anytime I’m asked what I’m doing this summer. I feel pangs of guilt when friends and classmates discuss the summer jobs they’ve inevitably worked in food service or at retail stores in their high school and college years. When they turn to me and ask, “so Chris, where have you worked during the summer?” I can’t help but realize I’ve never had a job during the summer. It may be a cliché, but I feel like I’ve never worked a day during the months of June, July, and August in my entire life.

I’ve been a summer camp counselor for four years, sure, but it’s never been a job. Is it really work if, for every day during the summer months, I get to wake up at 7 a.m., sing songs, play games, get dirty, and give kids their best summers ever? Is it really work to be surrounded by family each day while you give every ounce of your energy towards something bigger than yourself?

Summer camp will be with me as I graduate college in less than two weeks and go off to my first residential camp experience after that, taking two big steps into the unknown, knowing I’m lucky enough to have the care and support from friends and mentors that camp has given me. Knowing that help, advice, and comfort are just an email or a phone call away because camp has given me an entire second family, not just a group of coworkers.

Walking into my fifth summer as a camp counselor, I’ve never felt more prepared to make a difference in the lives I will touch this summer. Each summer that I begin again at summer camp, I walk out better than when the season began; an improved version of myself unimaginable at the beginning of the ten weeks.

Even as I transition out of the university and the day camp I’ve spent my last four years learning and growing in, and into a new camp experience and eventually the real world, I know that the warm months will always take me back to my summer home: YMCA Summer Day Camp. I know that once this summer ends, as they always do, I will head to my car, eyes blurry with tears, more fulfilled, more caring and compassionate, and more prepared to tackle whatever comes next because I know that, no matter what, summer camp will always be with me.

Chris Talley is a Senior at Ball State University studying Journalism Design. Chris has been a Camp Counselor for the last four summers at our Fishers Y Summer Day Camps.

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