I spend my summers in the woods. I wake up at 6:30 every morning with six hours of sleep after countless middle-of-the-night bathroom trips and at least one counseling session with a homesick 10-year-old. I live in a hot, humid cabin with no air conditioning. I spend the day scorching under the sun and under persistent bug attacks. I'm cut off from my family and friends for seven weeks, with no cell phone service. Many wonder why anyone would willingly do this all summer long.
The answer is simple. Being a camp counselor is an experience I can't get anywhere else. My six hours of sleep begin after priceless bonding with co-counselors while the campers are sleeping, lying under the stars or having meaningful conversations on a porch with people I'd never interact with in my everyday life. I live in a cabin with 10 amazing little girls each week, children that I can deeply impact and make lasting connections with. I don't notice the bug bites or sunburns as I lead the kids in activities that they love all day, and that I love doing with them. I am cut off from where I live, but I am home, and I am with a family for seven weeks, closer than any blood or lifetime friendship could make us.
Camp Turner has taught me skills like how to build a fire, shoot a bow and arrow, and how to identify poison ivy. But it has taught me so much more about people and about myself. After three years as a camper and two years as a counselor, Camp Turner has become a place where I thrive and grow every day that I'm there. I've always thought that I was outgoing, but camp is the place where I learned to let go and really have fun, whether it be through a goofy skit or a silly song. I've always been willing to try new things, but camp is the place where I learned to be adventurous and take advantage of every opportunity, whether it be exploring pitch black, tightly enclosed bear caves or sleeping in the woods under the stars. I've always liked making friends, but camp is the place where I made my best friend and learned that I can form deep connections with just about anyone, from a 7-year-old child to an older counselor who remembers me as a young camper. I've always been one to take charge, but camp is the place where I learned what it really meant to be a leader, how listening is just as important as talking and each person in the group is just as important as I am.
I love camp because it's an experience I can't get anywhere else and one that I wish everyone could have. Everything I do helps a child in some way; the goofy skit makes a shy boy laugh, my willingness and excitement to sleep out creates courage in the girl who was apprehensive at first, a connection with a temperamental young boy makes him feel understood and loved, and my leadership teaches a group of older girls to listen to each other and work together.
Our camp director often says, "It's important to do well, but it's more important to do good." In my two years as a counselor, I have really taken this saying to heart as I work with hundreds of children every summer. I once was a camper who cried and wanted to go home on the first day. I have become comfortable in a setting that can be uncomfortable. I have been able to appreciate the value in a situation that many would find unpleasant. Now I cry and dread going home on the last day.
Building on my experiences, I have grown as a person and created a foundation for future growth which will follow me wherever I go.