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Be Well, but Make it EPIC

April 8, 2021

Be Well, but Make it EPIC

In early June 2020 while in my role as the Assistant Director at Camp Wawenock, a residential girls camp in Maine, I was helping prepare to open Camp under uncertain and often overwhelming circumstances. I was also grappling with what working at Camp during a global pandemic would mean for me personally, as a wife, a sister, a daughter, and dog mom. “Wellness” and “self-care” are phrases we now use for something Camp Directors have known to be true for generations: a tired and worn out person is not going to be capable of giving their best. Rest hour exists for a reason! While the culture of wellness varies from camp to camp, it exists in some form for all of us. With Wawenock’s 2020 Covid procedures, many of my tried and true methods of taking care of myself weren’t going to be possible. 

I can happily report that in 2020 I didn’t just survive Camp, I thrived. For the Wawenock camp family, and also for me personally, 2020 was arguably the most fulfilling summer I’ve had in my twenty-one summers of being a camper, counselor, and now Assistant Director at Wawenock. Covid taught us how to identify the essential elements and core values of our camp events, traditions, and activities and how to preserve and adapt those elements in the time of cohorts, masks, and social distancing. As emerging camp professionals we should be preparing to take care of ourselves this summer in a similar way. What is essential for you, not just as a camp professional, but as a whole person, to thrive? So while you’re planning for Camp this Spring and wearing your Assistant Director, Program Director, or Head Counselor hat, why not also take the time to plan and prepare for caring for the other aspects of your identity? Here are three steps that helped me last summer, and that may help you identify and put in place a plan to be your best self this summer and into the future.

Step 1: Reflect.

As we get closer to summer, take intentional time to reflect about who you are and what you need. Questions like: “What am I thankful for?” “When do I feel most rested?” “What brought me joy today?” “Who lifts me up?” will illuminate the path toward genuinely rejuvenating self-care. For me, and in classic introvert fashion, the key to showing up as my best self is time alone to recharge.

Step 2: Logistics.

After identifying your need (in my case, being alone), consider how to fulfill this need within the framework of your camp’s Covid protocols. In a pre-Covid summer, I would escape to my house, which luckily is only 45 minutes from Camp and was the guaranteed mental distance I needed to recharge. It was just enough time to see my husband, take a nap (or binge watch TV), and eat something delicious I couldn’t get at Camp. Knowing that option wouldn’t be available to me in 2020,  I knew that I needed to find a space and time that could be just for me while at Camp. I also bought every possible snack item I might want for seven weeks and stockpiled them in my cabin. (I’m only sort of kidding). 

Step 3: Speak Up.

It can be hard to be vulnerable and express needs. The desire to feel like, and be seen as, an invincible child development superhero who doesn’t need breaks is there for many of us, but we’re also all human. We love our jobs, and although working at camp is a big lifestyle shift each summer that feels all-consuming, we still have families, friends, hobbies, and needs outside of camp that don’t disappear just because the calendar turns to June. I’m incredibly grateful to have Directors who see me as a whole human first, not as that superhero who can work 24/7, but instead someone who needs to take care of her whole self in order to show up for our camp family. They are responsive and thoughtful when I ask for what I need. But, even though it sometimes seems like it, Wawenock’s Directors can’t read my mind. I have to tell them what I need, and then we can work together to make it happen. I’m willing to bet that if you thoughtfully share the “why” regarding your need for that 20 minute daily nap, or 30 minute car ride outside of the camp gates, your supervisors, and also your peers, will brainstorm with you to find a solution that works for you and the needs of Camp. As emerging professionals in camping, in order to make our jobs sustainable for our future careers and to develop professionally, we have to learn how to articulate our own needs. 

When all was said and done, last summer we were able to find a designated solo space that was tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Camp where I could sleep, watch a movie, and eat my favorite snacks on my time off. As with many changes resulting from Covid, I found a silver lining with this style of time off. I didn’t have to think through any logistics! I benefited from the same plan we created for our counselors’ time off. Just like our counselors, the day before my time off I placed an order from our favorite local sandwich and ice cream shops using the same spreadsheet our counselors used, and our designated outside-of-the-bubble driver was assigned to go pick it up and bring it to the staff refrigerator. All I had to do was sneak there when I knew no one else would be around and retrieve my treats. Magic! Unlike in pre-Covid time off, none of my time was wasted thinking about the logistics of driving and traffic or what to eat. 

At Wawenock we have a saying, “Counselors First = Campers First.” We want our staff to know that they need to take care of themselves so that they can best take care of their campers. I believe it has to start with us. “Camp Leaders First = Camp Community First.” Make sure to value and plan for your self care now so that you can be your best self for your campers and staff this summer. You deserve it!

If you need help getting started, join fellow New England EPICs on April 29th at 2:00 pm EST to dig into this topic more. ZOOM REGISTRATION HERE

Kristy Andrews Harvey
Assistant Director and Waterfront Head

Kristy was a camper at Wawenock and continued on through many different seasonal roles. After graduating from Bates College, Kristy taught abroad and then returned to Maine to pursue her passion for camp by becoming a year-round camp professional.  Her favorite camp tradition is at weekly campfires, when campers and staff can publicly thank a member of the Camp Family for something specific they did that week.  Her favorite camp memory is when the youngest girls unit put on a dog wedding for two camp dogs, her Bernese Mountain Dog Kessler, and a Golden Retriever named Keeper. Their wedding was complete with invitations, vows, and a reception that kicked off with “Who Let the Dogs Out!” Kristy is also the chair of the Maine Summer Camps Community Connections Group and loves being a part of the EPIC committee!

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