It Takes a Village to Raise a Camper

  • Camp is an “all hands on deck” kind of place. Head Counselors fill the role of parent, nurse, confidant and tooth fairy. Bunk staff are event planners, mediators and short order cooks. Department heads take on different roles depending on the day’s events and camp’s needs. Job descriptions are fluid, no day is the same, but the mission is simple: We are here to make good people. There is no set rubric, no strategic plan, and no formal curriculum, and yet, it happens. In the bunk during Rest Hour, on the Big Diamond during Bunk Activity, and on the Waterfront during 4th period. Campers and Staff contribute to one another’s summers in the most significant and inspiring ways, often with tremendous intention and other times with gentle guidance.

    The moments of kindness, sharing and growth happen constantly, and I’m always amazed that even with many years of camp under my belt, I can still walk around with a sense of awe, and what better time to soak that all in than Shabbat. Saturday was also Jeremy’s birthday and summer birthday’s are always a mixed bag…amazing that you get to spend them with 400+ camp friends, but still not entirely complete without your entire family to celebrate. One of Jeremy’s bunkmates stuck with one of his own family’s traditions by making a handwritten card for J and putting money in it. It was an adorable, and slightly hysterical, birthday gesture, especially in the context of camp. He had just befriended Jeremy a few days before, but already saw the value in their friendship and wanted to (literally) invest in that. Saturday night, after a quick Havdallah service around the flagpole (led by Ethan Wx2, Jack, and Ben W) we joined Northern Lights for a Beach Party, complete with photo booth, t-shirt launcher, a smoke machine and plenty of giveaways. Saturday also marked the beginning of Bunk 4B’s Baby Seal Training. Their counselor, Avner spent his years in the IDF as a Navy Seal. He decided his campers need to earn their rank, so they are earning their title through various bunk bonding activities, runs around camp, and mini competitions. The boys are engaged, smiling and sweaty, and to say they look up to Avner would be massive understatement.

    Sunday was a typical busy day. Our campers welcomed the Junior Girls’ Basketball teams, we sent our Senior Girls’ Team CYJ and our Tennis team headed to Tevya. While the periods ran, our campers cheered on the different games and the sun shined, I got the little mid-day pick-me-up I needed on my walk to lunch. As I approached the Dining Hall, it was hard to ignore a visibly upset camper, standing with his back towards me, being comforted outside the entrance. I couldn’t see who, but it was obvious that the person, kneeling in front of the camper, speaking calmly to him, and placing a comforting hand on his shoulder, knew exactly what he was doing. What I didn’t expect was to see Oliver, one of our Bunk 8 campers. I was moved, but at the same time I was not entirely surprised. Our campers have been raised to look out for each other and take care of one another, and I was just lucky enough to get to see one of those moments.

    Not all of our moments are proud ones. Sometimes, campers look out for one another and it doesn’t go quite as planned. Like when your friend says he likes your haircut and so you offer to give him one. And then you realized your scissor prowess doesn’t quite align with your desire to help out a good buddy. A day or so of wearing a hat, a little clarification on our no “altering your appearance at camp” policy, a quick buzz cut and we are back in business. No love lost…a little bit of hair, but we can just chalk that one up to a good life lesson. Our campers, for better or for worse, care about each other and want to be a part of making each day great. They may not be purposefully identifying those moments where their involvement could enhance the experience, but that’s the best part, they just jump right in.

    Asher did just that during his Tsof waterskiing elective. After a few unsuccessful attempts at skiing the wake, he was ready to pass on his turn to the next camper. Instead of throwing in the towel (or rope) and getting back on the boat, he offered to stay in the water to help the next person put their skis on and explain to them what didn’t seem to work for him as the two of them floated in the water together. He’s in Bunk 3, only 11 years old. So cute, so cool, and another snapshot of the amazing moments we get to see each and every day.

    Meanwhile, about an hour from camp, a fantastic cohort of our Bunk 8/18ers were proudly representing CTN at a Jewish Arts Festival rehearsal at Newbridge on the Charles. We were lucky to be able to invite the parents of those performing and even more lucky that some of our campers had grandparents present in the audience. So many of the family members who attended talked about not having ever seen their campers do anything singing or dancing related and so…our campers, in true CTN spirit, decided to give the CTN parents an after show performance and gave them all a sneak peek of the dancing portion to be performed next week. After a couple pit stops (Starbucks and JP Licks) on our way home in two, very loud 12-passenger vans, we got back to camp just in time for 8/18 to get in one final run-through before Monday night’s Tish B’av service that they were leading. The solemn service was beautifully and thoughtfully done. At the conclusion of the indoor portion, we all quietly walked to the beach to release lanterns as a camp community but Mother Nature had other plans. The sky opened up and as we stood together, toes in the sand, arms slung over our shoulders and hair dripping, no one budged and no one ran to seek cover. We stood together, sang Hatikvah, and I think everyone took in the moment. I’m not sure if it was gratitude, amazement or pride of our community, but it felt good to smell the summer rain and stand alongside some of my closest friends in one of my most favorite places.

    In one of my most favorite places, I have my most favorite days. Tuesday night bunk nights will forever be the best part of my week. There is nothing more amazing than walking around each week, in every little nook and cranny of camp, observing the creative, fun and new ideas that our counselors have come up with and planned for their bunks. Bunk 14 had a glow stick scavenger hunt around camp.  Bunk 5 did mail man on the lower basketball court. The boys laid down in a circle, wrote notes to one another and listed to a camp playlist. Bunk 1 went kayaking. Bunk 11AB went for a sunrise Aquaglide experience. Bunks 7 & 17 did relay races and Bunks 8 & 18 watched Beauty and the Beast in anticipation of the upcoming Bog play. Each week our counselors spend time planning and creating a unique, bunk-centric experience for their kids and watching it come to life on Tuesday nights.

    This week has been filled with those moments that make us proud to be a part of our camp village. Trips to Ogunquit (Bogs), Bowling (Tsofs), and Lazer Craze (Oles) yesterday paved the way for shared tokens and pooling tickets for prizes. Today’s Israel Day has been the most impressive display of passion, energy and effort by our Israeli counselors. A report from Camp Pembroke on our campers’ fantastic sportsmanship during the Swim Meet. Dancing with the Staff performances on Sunday and Talent Show displays on Wednesday. The warm CTN welcome to our Dor L’Dor participants mid-week. All the little moments add up to the big stuff, and lay the foundation for a strong, tight-knit community.

    Our counselors set the tone with their bunk, whether it’s a Tuesday night bunk night or a 2am Monday morning wake up in Bunk 18 to make end of summer wishes and light candles together (it was a lot less creepy than it sounds). Counselors are role models and when a counselor makes an intentional decision to set a strong example for campers, it does not go unnoticed. Twice a week, small groups of counselors visit the Mish room (short for Mishpacha meaning “family”) for a period of reflection, discussion and activity with our Staff Engagement Coordinator, Marriah. On Wednesday, after Eden’s mish period, he pointed out to Marriah that the room was filthy, she explained that the room wasn’t on the regular rotation for facilities cleaning, so trash, dirt and other junk had collected over the last couple of weeks. The next day, the room was spotless. Eden had engaged the help of two of his campers, Eli W and Andrew, to clean, organize and give the space the much needed TLC that it deserved. No questions asked and not expecting anything in return, and for Eli and Andrew, it wasn’t even a space that they utilized as campers. It was a huge moment of gratitude. For Eden, he was grateful to have the support of Marriah in her role, and for Marriah she was touched by the effort of the boys and their care for something that is so important to the function of camp and to our “village”.

    Each summer staff and campers show up, and each summer we all go home in August with new perspective, new skills and new friends. When all is said and done, 420 campers will have spent part of their summer at CTN, and 136 staff members were here to make it all happen. I am grateful to each and every person who is a part of this crazy village. It’s our camp, our home away from home and the most incredible little place in the world!

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