On paper, my friend Eddie and I shouldn’t really be friends. He’s a country kid and I grew up on the edge of town. He listens to Tim McGraw, while I still rock out to Taking Back Sunday. He drives a tractor and likes red meat. I prefer my bike and have flirted with vegetarianism for the last 20 years. And you might understand that when I say we probably don’t have much in common when it comes to red and blue, we really don’t have much in common. Yet we’re friends. Close friends. I could call Eddie right now and he’d be here if I needed him and I’d do the same for him. Why? Because of camp.
In 2006 when I first signed on to be a camp counselor at the local 4-H camp (because I didn’t want to work another summer in fast food), Eddie was already there. In fact he was the leader of the summer staff. One of only several returning staff, he was big, boisterous and in many other ways intimidating to a new recruit like myself.
We started off on completely different wavelengths. He was an orange. I was a blue. He was extroverted. I was introverted. He was an agriculture and education major at Iowa State. I was studying art at Iowa. Opposites in almost every sense of the word. Yet during our 2 weeks of training, the ideas of mission, community and empowerment were instilled in us daily and we began to find common ground. Then when the kids arrived something special happened.
At summer camp you’re only as good as your effort day in and day out. There you’re not judged on your talents or ability, you’re judged on your willingness to do what you can for the kids every hour of every day. Unlike many workplaces that I know of, at summer camp if your attitude is right you’ll earn respect. Deadlines, quotas and sales aren’t the measure by which camp counselors are judged. What matters is that you show up every day determined to make a positive difference in your kids’ lives. And that is where Eddie and I shined.
That summer we earned each other’s respect out of sheer grit. It was hot, it was tiresome, it was demanding and it was the best summer of my life. Eddie and I grew forever connected because of the experiences and emotions we shared for those 3 months. We laughed, we cried, we howled at the moon, and we screamed with joy…all for the kids. Because of those 3 months I now have a lifelong friend in Eddie. We don’t talk as much as we used to, life seems to be busier these days with family, jobs and distance, but even now as I write this I feel a connection to Eddie because of camp.
So my advice to you fellow Camp Directors: hire people from different backgrounds, unify them around the meaning of the job and let summer camp work its magic…not just for the kids but also for the staff.