Posted on May 31, 2010 by spreston

Recently, Kids in Camp, a new Ontario charity whose purpose is to make camp available to kids from all backgrounds, invited former campers to recall what camp meant to them.

Their words are worth pondering by camp counsellors at the start of a new camp season. The message is strong and clear: never underestimate the huge influence you will have on your campers and the influence camp will have on you, the leaders.

Adam van Koeverden, Olympic Gold Medalist, Canadian Kayak Team wrote:
I went off to train for a sport that seemed obscure and weird before a camp counselor showed me how to do it for the first time.  For kids nowadays, there are too many reasons to stay indoors: television, video games and the computer. My experiences at camp were entirely formative: I knew right away that I loved the forest and being outside, and once I got my balance in a kayak, I realized that it was a heck of a lot better than video games too.

Tom Alderman, ex-CBC-TV Journalist said this:
I was 11 or 12. There was an occasional activity called Hobby Hub, which included “Newspaper.” I turned up and was the only camper to do so. “You and I will put out a camp newspaper,” said the counsellor, who, I learned, had once worked part-time for a news service. Sounded like fun. I’d get to wander around camp with a notebook, talk to people who wouldn’t ordinarily bother with me and write about what they told me. At the end of the week, the paper would be printed on the office gestetner and distributed to campers and staff – and there, for all to see would be my words and my byline. Who could resist? I knew, after the first week, that this was my thing.

From Jane E. Kelly, Madam Justice, Superior Court of Justice
It [camp] taught me how to be tolerant, how to express your opinion in a most positive way and how to lose a game of Capture the Flag without any hard feelings thereafter.  Camp was such a success for me that I stayed for ten years.

I stayed in camp until I started law school.  I wondered how on earth I was going to get a job on Bay Street if the only job that I had ever had was a camp counsellor. It soon became clear that this was not going to be a problem. Most of the people who were doing the hiring assured me that the things that I learned at camp were far more valuable than selling Big Macs.  They were right.  I got that job on Bay Street and twenty-five years later, I am a Judge in the Superior Court of Justice.

How do I apply what I learned at camp while I sit on the bench and judge others?  Well, first of all, I am courteous to those in the courtroom as the staff at camp were courteous to me.  I listen and I do not judge the case before I have heard everything as the director did when I was busted with my two buddies in the kitchen at midnight.  I hope that I show the same respect to the litigants that the director showed to me on that night.

Retired Camp Director Mickey Johnstone agrees that camp teaches valuable life lessons.
At camp the kids share a tent or cabin with several other kids so they learn about
sharing, independence, responsibility and the importance of building relationships. They learn to be less self-centered and to care about others. Many of my friends who are now in their 70’s and 80’s will tell you that they spent many years trying to make money only to find out in these elderly years that what is so important to them is not money at all but people, especially their family and friends.  There is no other place as great as camp to learn life skills, to learn about relationships, to move out of the ME and into the WE. Think about it: WE is a prerequisite for the workplace where we spend so many years of our lives and WE certainly is a prerequisite for a successful marriage.

The Honorable Larry Bagnell, Member of Parliament, Yukon
There is a proven theory in sociology that goes like this:  in many cases in life, when a child has nothing and by rights you’d expect him  to end up in jail or a failure in life, simply one significant other person in their life can get them through and as successfully as everyone else. As a director of a camp for underprivileged children, I saw this happen so many times, with the camp and the caring staff being that “significant other”.  Campers  experienced what life could be and went back, sometimes to a desperate situation, energized to survive it and to discipline themselves with the efforts needed, to build a good life and relationships for themselves and eventually their families.

Graeme C. Clark, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Canada to the Organization of American States
Looking back, some of my earliest lessons learned in managing people came as a result of my time at camp. Cajoling a finicky camper into trying a new dish; motivating boys to keep their cabin reasonably clean and tidy; reaching consensus among a group of counsellors as to when individuals got their time off; pointing out performance issues to a CIT with tact but also so that there could be no room for doubt as to my message; or dealing with the requirements of a demanding (and rightly so!) camp director who was always pushing his staff to be the best. These lessons in leadership and personal diplomacy have stayed with me and informed my own trajectory as a public servant, a manager and a diplomat.

Have a great summer!