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A Sense of Homecoming

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The first day at Green River Preserve is truly something else. I remember the feeling well from my own time as a camper: the endless drive down the winding gravel road; the anticipation as an eager counselor unloads trunks and backpacks into carts; the thrill of walking the fields and trails of base camp one more time; the nervous excitement of meeting new friends and learning names (and racing for a coveted top bunk). The rest of the day is jam-packed with a camp tour, a swim review, and a delicious dinner, but we always begin with a ceremony that helps acclimate campers and staff members new and old to the culture and individuality of GRP: the Respect Circle. This is, perhaps, one of GRP’s most special moments; we put aside the silliness and fun for a few minutes to be reverent, first simply listening to the silence and stillness that some of our city-born campers have never experienced before. Then, one of the directors outlines the expectation that all expectations circle back to here at camp: respect. Respect yourself, respect others, respect the earth and nature, and respect this place. Every single camper and staff member then takes a moment to say “I will.” Those two words set the stage for every camper that walks the Preserve to leave feeling validated, happy, respected, and wanting to come back the next summer.

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Things get a bit noisier after that. Delighted yelps punctuate the next hour as each cabin gets a taste of our (often cold) swimming lake, and we learn a few songs while lining up for dinner; this summer’s favorites thus far have involved giants, rapped nursery rhymes, and something called a rick-a-bamboo. The dining hall is filled with chatter as campers try and remember each other’s names, hear stories about last summer, and make rounds asking for more breadsticks (a camp delicacy). GRP is also visited nightly by two waste-fighting superheroes, Ortman and Scrappy, who remind us that reducing our food waste is yet another way of respecting the earth. As evening falls, we head to our first Council Fire for music, stories, and a little more GRP magic as our founder, Sandy, reads a letter from Chief Seattle, reminding us how truly special this place is. Finally, our exhausted campers and staff members head back to their new cabins for Rose, Bud, Thorn, a nightly check-in where campers share their favorite part of the day, a challenge, and something they’re excited for tomorrow.

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I know - it’s a long day. Your campers will be sleeping quite soundly in their new bunks. But while it can seem like a lot to pack into the first few hours in a new (or familiar) place, and while we aren’t quite settled into a normal schedule, the first day is transformative for many campers, new and old. There is a strong sense of homecoming, welcoming, and family at GRP, and it shines through brightly in these first few hours as we establish who and what we are.You may have noticed it on your way into the back field, or while moving your camper into their cabin; staff like to greet each arrival with a “Welcome home!” And it’s true; over the next two weeks, this place will begin to feel like home for many campers, as it has for every staff member already this summer, and as it has for the generations of campers to sit through the Respect Circle. It’s this sense of home that means people keep coming back summer after summer, and it’s that same sense of home that gets our first-timers acclimated so quickly.

I saw it firsthand last session, when a one-week camper turned to me at dinner and told me, “I can’t wait to come back next summer.”

“You’ve only been here a few hours!” I said. “How do you know you want to come back?”

“I know.” She shrugged. “I can just tell.”

Story by Lillie Wright with Photos by Brandon S. Marshall