It is no secret that camp teaches you important skills that will prepare you to face life’s many obstacles: independence, teamwork, creativity, leadership, and being true to yourself – to name a few. We all know that attending sleep away camp will make the transition to college easier. We have all read the articles outlining how a summer as a camp counselor is more valuable than a summer as a coffee-running intern. However, what not everyone readily realizes is that camp also prepares you for challenges you may never expect to face. My eleven summers at Schodack prepared me for an important experience I never saw coming my way.
In August of 2013, my sorority little sister was struck while crossing the street in Manhattan. Sadly, she succumbed to her injuries two days later. Almost immediately after her passing, the Lauren Nicole Marcus Foundation was born, to honor Lauren’s life and carry out her legacy. The main goal of the foundation is to keep Lauren’s memory alive by recognizing, and changing the lives of, outstanding young women who share the same positivity, hard-working nature, and passionate zest for life that Lauren embodied. In addition to the three annual scholarships at the schools she attended, we created L.A.U.R.E.N.’s Camp—a three-day summer camp program that teaches less-fortunate middle and high school girls the importance of many core values: Learning to Accept, Understand, and Respect Each other No matter what.
When the time came to plan L.A.U.R.E.N.’s Camp, we knew that in addition to showing these girls all of the joys of summer camp, we needed them to leave as better people. It was essential that we show them how to resolve personal conflicts and get along with one another despite their differences, at such a critical time in their lives when drama and pettiness is high. This seemed like a tricky task, considering the many reasons why the Windsor school district selected specific girls to join: Some came because they were bullied, while others came because they were the bullies. Some came because of a tough family life, and many came from families who struggle financially. How could we take this melting pot of girls and leave an impact on their lives in just three days?
I looked to my own experiences at Schodack for guidance. I spoke to members of the SCI board, former SPEC’s and members of ropes staff and head staff. I dug deep into my memories of what made the biggest impact on me as a camper and as a counselor. As is turns out, the lessons I learned at Schodack and the lessons we wanted to teach this group of young girls were not very different after all.
Lesson 1: Unity. Upon arriving to camp, we split up the girls into bunks by age. We encouraged them to come up with a bunk name, design a sign, and create a cheer. We took bunk photos. All things we did on our first day at Schodack. Drawing inspiration from my CIT years, we sat in a circle and introduced ourselves, tossing around a ball of yarn. By the end of the activity, we were all connected. We were unified as a group and had a string bracelet to prove it!
Lesson 2: Team Building. How do you show a group made up of a mix of long time friends, acquaintances, and strangers how to work together? Well, it’s the same way we learned as counselors during staff orientation, or senior campers about to head to the high ropes course. In our team-building workshop, the girls untangled themselves from the human knot, organized themselves in order of their birthdays without saying a word, and raced a hula hoop over and under without breaking the chain. With verbal instruction, they led blindfolded teammates across a field to collect puzzle pieces, and then worked together to complete the puzzle. They constructed pasta towers using only marshmallows and scotch tape. Turns out, teaching a group of counselors and a group of young girls is pretty similar! Through some important anti-bullying lessons, we were able to help the girls understand that it’s ok to be different from one another and, by the end of the weekend, guided them on how to work through these differences to accomplish a goal together.
Lesson 3: Confidence Building. Although we plan some specific confidence-building workshops, it turns out, the regular camp activities really helped our campers build the most confidence. Think about the fear you might have felt standing at the top of the trapeze before jumping, and the feeling of accomplishment you felt after catching the bar. Even if you never actually caught the bar (like me), we’ve seen that the feeling of taking that leap and conquering that fear has brought a great feeling of accomplishment and built confidence for the girls to take on to their next challenge. My all time favorite memory from L.A.U.R.E.N.’S Camp 2016 was when one girl conquered her fear of heights at the trapeze. After only a few seconds, her hands slipped off the bar and she was slowly lowered to the net. She was overwhelmed with emotions about the fear she had just conquered. In 2017, she stood tall in line about to give it another go, and even encouraged the younger girls to give it a try. This time, she caught the bar and swung back and forth until it was time to let go on her own. It was absolutely incredible to see her growth, physically and emotionally. She came back the next year more confident than ever! And my favorite memory from 2015 was listening to one girl sing for the first time in front of others at the talent show. WOW did she have a beautiful voice, yet had never been placed in the spotlight to know it! It is the every-day camp activities, like scoring a goal at soccer or catching the fly-ball at baseball, that truly develop confidence and self-esteem.
Lesson 4: Have fun!! Last and most importantly, the joys of summer camp can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age, background, and life experiences. Playing BBG, decorating cookies, roasting s’mores around a campfire, and singing camp songs are memories I’ll never forget, and I am so glad to be sharing these joys with this wonderful group of young girls who would have never otherwise had the opportunity to attend sleepaway camp.
I don’t think I could contribute to the success of L.A.U.R.E.N.’s Camp without all that Camp Schodack has instilled in me. There are so many lessons we teach, activities we enjoy, and memories we make with these girls that, ultimately, I’ve learned from Schodack. And for that, I will forever be grateful!