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Gift of Camp

December 21, 2021

This time of year is always busy. November through January always feels like a constant cycle of shopping, eating, traveling, sleeping, repeat with multiple family or friendship gatherings splattered throughout. However, the COVID-19 era has changed so much of the above, most importantly, gathering with others. Thanksgiving 2021, for my family at least, was the first time we had all been able to be together in 2 years. My family stretched from several different states to meet for Thanksgiving, all have been vaccinated against COVID-19. A 15-person gathering just felt abnormal, but so comforting. The same goes for so many families, no matter the holiday you celebrate, friends and families will make the conscience decisions to gather for Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanza, New Years, etc. or not. However, the importance of the core beliefs of this time of year should not be lost on any of us due to the pandemic – gratitude, giving, love, and celebration. The pandemic has changed us all so much, and if you are able to spend a little extra time with family/friends that you have not spent much time with this past 2 years, enjoy it.

Now you may ask, what does this have to do with camp and my role as an Emerging Professional? My belief is that the core values of the holiday times are very similar to the camp spirit that we all love and preach at our camp communities – gratitude, giving, love, celebration, and to a degree, family. My camp is a family business, so at my Thanksgiving table we all talked about camp. We talked about this past summer; what we are looking forward to next summer; the hiring process; the recruitment trips we hope to take; etc. I recognize that this is a unique experience that many EPIC’s don’t have. I’m sure many EPIC’s get the questions we all receive from those outside the camp industry “what do you actually do during the year?” or “I get you work for camp, I wish I got the entire winter off too” from a distant uncle or cousin at our holiday gatherings. However, camp is a gift. Our career presents us an opportunity to work in collaborative camp environments of different types of people. According to the American Camp Association National,  roughly 14+ Million children each year attend some sort of summer camp setting/environment. That number truly shocked me. 14 Million children. According to U.S. census data, there are roughly 74 million children in the United States (ages 0-17), making up about 22% of the total population. Which means about only 20% get some sort of camp experience during their summer. If you do the numbers, about 5% of the entire United States population goes to summer camp. That 5% is so huge and we as EPICS have such a unique responsibility in shaping the lives and trajectory of so many young people – just by doing our job. The staff we hire, the programs we design, and the campers who we influence, can all lead to millions of good things.

So let me get back to the holiday spirit. Every camp is different. Every camp has different values, philosophies, programmatic designs, etc. However, hopefully every camp plans to give campers a good and worthwhile experience. As we have entered nearly year 3 of the pandemic, life has returned to a bit more of normal, as of this writing. Vaccines have been approved for children 5 years of age and up and many camps will face the decisions this summer on COVID restrictions again. As the holidays feel a bit more normal this year, we are reminded of just how lucky we are. We are lucky to do such important work. We are lucky to have our families and our communities. We are lucky to have gotten through such a tough 2020 and/or 2021 with so many challenges. We as EPICs can only grow from our experiences. I know I have. Let’s practice the things that the holidays teach us at our camps – being grateful for what we have; bringing joy to others; celebrating life and those around us; celebrating something new and being energized by new challenges.

Camp truly is a gift.

Jonathan is the full time Assistant Director of Camp Wekeela in Hartford, ME. Jonathan has a degree in Hospitality Administration from Boston University, and he serves on ACA, New England’s Emerging Professionals in Camp Committee and the Education Committee. Jonathan has spent every year of his life at Wekeela, 10 years as a campers, 7 as a staff member. Jonathan’s roles at camp have included being a Landsports staff, Cabin Leader, Operations Coordinator, Leadership-in-Training Coordinator, Campus Leader, and now oversees Wekeela’s summer program as Program Director. Jonathan oversees all of Wekeela’s Staff Hiring to ensure that Wekeela has the best staff possible!

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