Community at Camp
“Community” is a hot topic these days. Building a community, managing a community, the difference between an audience and a community. But this isn’t another article about the importance of community in marketing, I’ll leave those to the experts. This is about the communities I’ve been a part of and how they’ve shaped who I am.
I’ve been thinking a lot about community this year, at work, on Twitter, and in my own life. I’ve been a member of a handful of communities but the two that stick out the most are the Cub Scout Day Camp Staff and National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) team. Obviously, the BSA is a flawed organization with lots of pain and tragedy at the hands of some leaders, but I was lucky that the leaders I had were some of the good ones, who continue to help me grow into a better person.
I worked at Cub Scout Camp for four, maybe five summers (time is an illusion). It was my first paycheck, below minimum wage with a boss who verbally abused her staff. But that staff banded together. Sure the staff changed each summer, and the kids were different every week, but I always felt like I belonged. It was the first time I wasn’t asked “why are you here, you’re a girl” at a Scouting event. It was the first time my brother and I were on mostly equal ground and I wasn’t just tagging along behind. It was long days in the heat, and I definitely dozed off in the car on the way home on a regular basis, but it was the first time I knew what a community felt like.
After day camp was over, I was back at camp for NYLT, our local council’s version of the national program. It was my first time at any sort of sleepaway camp. I experienced my first overnight backpacking trip (a few miles away in the same camp). My first sprained ankle. I didn’t realize it at the time but I learned a whole hell of a lot. It was the first time our council allowed the female scouts to join. I felt like a trailblazer.
A few months later I was asked if I wanted to be on staff, to give up 4 weekends in the spring and 10 days in August to train other scouts. I was one of the first female staff members. I was doing something my brother never did. If anyone ever tells you you learn more by teaching someone else, they’re telling the truth. Over the next handful of years, I presented on team development, SMART goals, event planning, the teaching EDGE, evaluation techniques, diversity, and Leave No Trace. I skipped out on the prom after-party so I could be at camp earlier enough the next day. I left my college graduation and drove right to camp for a training weekend because I was the senior leader that year. Because I couldn’t let down my team, and I couldn’t let down myself.
We learn that a team is a group of people who share a common vision, an idea of what future success looks like, and they work together to get there.
A community is much the same. A shared vision, a common goal. A shared understanding. Sure there are differences in opinion, some of the senior staff were really tired of watching Apollo 13 every single year, others loved the movie. It was later replaced with The Avengers to illustrate the stages of team development. But we still worked for the same outcome: educating our participants.
The community extends far beyond “Youth Staff Members of the Hudson Valley Council’s NYLT program from 2012–2017.” Anytime I connect with anyone who has ever worked at a camp there’s a realization that it doesn’t matter what camp or where it was, we’ll find something in common. Camp staff is a different type of people: everyone I’ve ever met is passionate, and chaotic, and knows the same songs (talking about Baby Shark before the remix hit), and tends to work well on a lack of sleep. People who have worked at camp, especially at Scout camp understand things I can’t even put into words. And sometimes, I miss that feeling of belonging I found at camp.
But I’ve found my corner of Twitter, and my hiking groups on Facebook, and years ago had my fandoms on Tumblr, and while I’ll never have that “first community” feeling again, it can be pretty close.
Some days I really miss camp. But I don’t miss who I was before camp. I’m more confident than I ever thought I could be, I care more about other people, I care more about nature. And while most of that can be attributed to the national guidebook, a good part of it is due to the people I was with, and the place. It’ll take a lot to replace the memories I have at Camp Nooteeming.
Maybe my feelings about camp are why Wet Hot American Summer is my favorite movie. Maybe I just really enjoy any movie with Paul Rudd. Maybe it’s just a little bit of both.