Every morning at camp, after we eat breakfast, all of the girls and staff members go to a place called “The Chapel”. It’s this beautiful little area behind the main part of the camp where we meet regularly, usually full of noise and excitement, which we call “The Bowl”. As we all walk back from breakfast, finally coming out of the morning coma many of us fall into, most are very giddy, full of excitement for the activities and the day ahead. But as soon as we cross through the bowl and see those greeting us silently with their pointer fingers raised gently against their mouths, a certain peace crosses over each individual entering.
This area is cleared of almost all of the trees. There are lines of benches for all of the kids to sit. At the front, there is an altar with an enormous cross and just behind that are a few of trees that shade the lake. In the mornings, especially in the summer, it’s sort of gray and overcast, if not in the sky there is always a certain glaze over every eye, not yet fully awake. But during the five minutes we spend there, more often than not, the sun reflects off of the lake and a sort of glow arises behind whoever is sharing, drawing everyone’s attention.
I talk often about how camp is more than just a bunch of activities and a place to make friends away from home and how in reality it is a place of emotional growth both in and out of those activities; well in my opinion, this is the most essential part of that growth. In the chapel every morning, every camper and every staff member is offered a powerful message to reflect on throughout the day. This is called “Thought of the Day”. These messages are ones that everyone, no matter what age, can connect to on even the most minute level, and that they can carry with them throughout the day; maybe even through their life time.
As counselors, we like to think that we can make an impact, but no matter how great of a connection you form with your campers, there is no designated time of day where you can sit them down and try to teach them a lesson that you have learned over the years, and that you think will better them as people. For the most part, it is our responsibility to do that by leading by example. “Thought of the Day” is our one opportunities to share with the entire camp, something that will challenge them on an emotional level.
Many of these stories and poems are ones that I remember from when I was a camper and I aspire to share them with as many people as I possibly can in and out of camp. I have one example that I will never forget, where a story read often in “Thought of the Day”, genuinely affected the way I felt about myself and the people around me.
Last summer (2010) on the staff trip to Six Flags, I saw a plastic bag dropped on the ground by the group in front of us, being taken by the wind. Immediately I ran towards it, across the parking lot, retrieved it, and threw it in the trash. As I re-approached the group, a friend of mine said “Look at Ellen, trying to save the world! You know one plastic bag won’t make any difference?” I had no response. I had picked up the bag out of habit and I was not prepared to be questioned on my reasoning. Immediately a particularly caring individual responded with a story that had touched my heart. It was posted in a previous blog called “The Starfish Story”.
Not only had that story inspired me to do small good deeds since I was a young girl, but it had also inspired a staff member who had been a camper years before me, and who was from the boy’s side. Hearing him repeat that story to the person who had questioned my actions gave me a feeling of reassurance and it reminded me of the purpose behind my instinctive actions. Now when I am questioned, I share that story with everyone around me and try to spread my inspiration with as many people as possible, in hopes that I will influence them in the same way that my fellow staff member influenced me.
Written by Ellen Carney