by Cassidy Gillard
Camp has a way of uniting people. It happens for campers as well as staff members. You’ve ended up in this beautiful, unique, happy place, and you don’t necessarily get a choice about who else ends up there. You’re pushed out of your comfort zone, but in the most comfortable, fun, easy way. It doesn’t take long before the person you may not have ever made an effort to communicate with is your best friend.
We don’t allow technology at camp. Staff members are allowed to use the internet only in their cabins when campers are not at camp, and campers are allowed to use technology only on the bus ride to/from camp. This opens the door for real, face-to-face communication, which is scarce in everyday life with the distraction of cell phones and computers. Campers, and even staff members, are encouraged to step into an unfamiliar social scene, and to grow and learn with the people who are physically there with them. They lose the comfort and familiarity of their screen and instead, learn how to see and love and feel comfortable with the real people and sights that are right in front of them.
At camp we have groups of kids who are generally within two years of each other. Within their first two days each week, groups participate in our challenge course. They learn how to work together as a team, how to include everyone, and how to use each camper’s different strengths to become a stronger group. For some kids, camp activities are easy, and some kids are pushed out of their comfort zone. As soon as they step across that line of hesitation, though - when they decide after fifteen minutes of watching that they want to try mountain boarding - they have ten friends that they just met that morning giving them tips and throwing confidence and excitement in their direction. The kind of bond that campers form is rare, and not one they usually have the opportunity to find at school.
As much as we’d all like to be at camp forever, we only get three short months with these special people. Campers and staff members come from all over the country - all over the world, even. Staff are there for three months, campers may come for a whole summer, or just a week. Regardless of how long we spend there, by the time we leave, it feels like we’re leaving our family. We get homesick in our own homes. We become desperate to maintain these beautiful, unique relationships.
With all of the social media available these days, it is so easy to stay connected with camp friends throughout the school year. I can hop on Facebook and find any one of my friends, see what they’re up to, read updates about their lives, and feel like I’ve connected with them. I know what they’re doing, and where they’re headed next on their journey, but does that count as being in touch? Is “liking” someone’s profile picture enough to be considered connection?
Personally, I’ve never been keen on young people having access to social media. I’m afraid that it has become such a normal part of everyday life that people aren’t learning how to use it safely the way that I did. Then I think about all of our campers. We have kids who live in different states during the school year, and spend their summers in Colorado at camp. We have kids who live in different countries who come to Colorado for vacation and spend just one glorious week at camp. We have kids who live in Boulder who come to every single day of camp every single summer, or come for a week. Every single one of them comes out of it with new friends. There absolutely should be a way for these kids to maintain their relationships when they’re not at camp together.
Social media is a great resource, however I made a New Year’s resolution in 2013 to send real, actual mail to people, and it turned into a really meaningful ritual.
There’s nothing quite like opening an envelope and pulling out a handwritten letter. You can visibly see how much effort and thought was put into making sure that you are aware that someone was thinking about you. That goes with writing letters as well. When you sit down to actually write a letter to someone, you are willingly giving up a portion of your busy life; putting everything on hold to focus your love and attention on one single person. This is something that you might not even do if you were talking with them face-to-face.
With the simplicity and immediacy of social media, it’s easy to forget about these “old fashioned” ways to stay in touch. It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day, that the kind of to-do lists which include writing letters are forgotten about. Even catching up over a phone call has become rare. Social media is an excellent stepping stone for maintaining connection. Camp friendships, though, are worth a little bit of extra attention. They weren’t formed over social media. They were formed through genuine human interaction. They are beautifully authentic, and they deserve more than the effortlessness of a comment on a picture, or a “like” on a status.