Coming to GRP as a counselor this summer I knew I wanted to work with the youngest Campers. For a lot of these campers, this is their first time at GRP or even their first summer camp experience ever. I can relate to those campers on that. This is my first time at GRP and it’s also my very first camp experience. Because of that, I knew I’d be able to teach the first-timers and learn alongside them as well, all while being the comforting presence I know I would have wanted if I were in their shoes. I also knew I would get to know more about GRP specifically from the few returners I would have. What I didn’t anticipate was just how much these campers, both new and returning, would end up teaching me.
The young campers bring so much to camp with them and I’m not just talking about their books, card games, stuffed animals, pop-its, or their extensive selection of assorted odds and ins they definitely snuck into their trunks when their parents weren’t looking. I’m talking about their imagination, their out-of-the-box ideas of how the world works, their optimistic outlook on life, I’m talking about their simple and pure perspectives on it all. These wonderful little humans have caused me to stop and think time and time again. Granted, some things they make me think about aren’t as profound as others but they are always interesting and provoking. “Why don’t we just wear our outfits for tomorrow to bed tonight, it saves time in the morning.”
Having the littles, especially so many new ones, I get to experience a full range of emotions and a lot of homesickness. I have had so many teary eyes tell me how much they miss their families, or oftentimes just their dog, and how much they want to go home. Every time those tears come I meet them with open arms and encouraging words. “You’re doing great! Let’s take it a day at a time! You are so brave for being here and letting me know how you are feeling!” And I always thank them for trusting me with their feelings. But much to my surprise homesickness doesn’t always present itself in tears. Thanks to one of my campers I learned, or rather he taught me, that sometimes homesickness presents itself in anger, and the camper who taught me that wasn’t even the one who was homesick.
I have had a wide spectrum of campers all with their own wonderfully individual personalities. Some genteel, some rambunctious, and some still figuring it out. They are all just expressing themselves in the most genuine way they know how and sometimes those ways bring about beautiful interactions and other times there are some pretty intense clashes. During a few particularly challenging days one of my campers pulled me aside to talk about a couple of his cabin mates. What he said to me was probably one of the most profound things I’ve heard from a child. He said he knew that the kids who had been angry and acting out were very homesick and they didn’t know how to handle those feelings. So simple. So pure. That incredibly insightful observation stopped me. It made so much sense and I hadn’t even considered it. My camper showed so much emotional awareness at that moment. He opened my eyes. He gave me a fresh perspective. He taught me.
It’s so easy for us as counselors, as adults, to assume kids are capable of processing complex emotions or that their processing is a one size fits all method. That’s not the case. I’ve kept this new perspective with me and it has aided in so many situations in my cabin since. I came to GRP to teach and guide kids, and I’m so thankful that, in turn, they are teaching and guiding me.
Story by TJ Lewis with photos by Brandon S. Marshall & Samantha Keebler