Camp is loud and exciting.

Camp can seem like controlled chaos, but a fun controlled chaos.

But each week, we like to take time to slow down and reflect.  We want our campers to appreciate serenity and community as much as water toys and the Pirate Ship. 

OK, perhaps this is a slightly unrealistic goal, but we can get them to appreciate serenity and community somewhat.

The way we do this is Vespers. 

Every Sunday, we conclude the day with Vespers, which is simply a time that we slow down, go to a special place and talk about our values.  The girls meet at the girls’ sail point and the boys meet at the boys’ sail point (the logic is hard to deny here).  Everyone wears a white shirt.  The white shirt has no significance.  We chose white because it is easy to find a white shirt (an inside-out uniform shirt does nicely) and because it looks nice. 

Susie Ma’am runs Vespers on the girls’ side while I do so with the boys.

Last night, Susie Ma’am decided to talk to the girls about compliments and forgiveness. Specifically, she talked about girls being as complimentary and forgiving of themselves as they are with their friends. Girls tend to be increadibly supportive of their friends, but quite hard on themselves.  They will be quick to point out the strengths in others while focusing on their own shortcomings.

If you want to bring an increadibly chatty group of 13 year-olds to silence, ask them to list 2-3 things that they love about themselves. 

Susie told the girls that loving themselves can be hard.  She challenged everyone to give the same advice to themselves that they would give to a dear friend. Specifically, she asked every girl to give herself a compliment when she wakes up and then give two more compliments to someone at camp during the day - choosing two different people each day. 

They also discussed what makes a good compliment and there were some terrific insights. The counselors are going to occasionally check in with the girls to see how this happiness project is progressing. We hope it will play a small part in helping the grils improve self image and build confidence and pride in themselves.

On the boys side, we started with “Grateful Deeds”, where campers get a chance to publicly thank someone that has made their life better. 


I challenged the boys to embrace the gifts of camp.  I shared the story of my first days in New York City when I was 21. I was working on Wall Street and I arrived ready for a a great adventure.  The first week, however, was a jolt for me.  Most of the concept they were teaching us at work were unfamiliar to me (I was liberal arts graduate while others had studies Finance), it was brutally hot (bad for a wool suit) and people seemed cold and rude.  A pit bull snapped at me on day 2 and ripped my suit. That night, I returned to my apartment to find a homeless person confusing the door to my building for a urinal.

As I entered my apartment, I decided I wanted nothing to do with New York and that I should return to Texas.  I then looked down at the menus that had been slid under my door.  Each promised 24 hour delivery of a different type of food. I looked out my window and saw part of Times Square. 

Even in my frustration, I saw that New York offered so many things that I could not have anywhere else.  So I issued a challenge to myself: every time I missed Texas, I would do something that I could only do in New York: go to a show, order Indian food at midnight, go to a museum.

In this way, my time in NYC became an adventure once again.  I thoroughly loved my two years there and consider them among my best memories. 

My challenge to the campers was to embrace all the things that make Camp Champions special: their cabinmates, their counselors, the activities, the traditions. We all miss aspects of our non-camp life, but I promised them that they will miss camp when it is over. If they can embrace camp, they will make the last weeks at camp the best possible.

We concluded with the boys being silent for over a minute while they thought about things they are grateful for (parents topping the list of recommended topics). [Note: this is actually a powerful experience to share silence with so many people who are so rarely silent.]

Susie Ma’am and I treasure these moments with the campers and the counselors. It reminds us how camp improves self-esteem, creates a community of love and acceptance, and fosters open communication and sharing. It might be a little tough for the youngest campers to sit for 20 minutes, but even they enjoy it. We especially like to see how connected the older campers become.  They, like us, enjoy sharing the grass and the water and the breeze with people that care about.   The campers that return several years come to love these moments as well.  They say they feel so connected to each other and to nature. 

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday evening.


Steve Sir


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