The Power of One

Last weekend our 13 dedicated Camp Coleman Olim Fellows participated in something wonderful and transforming at the 2012 Fall Kallah. The Olim Fellowship is one of many staff training opportunities we offer to our summer staff , and Coleman has been a pioneer in camp staff training programs. This unique Fellowship opportunity provides our staff with the tools and guidance to realize their potential and be the best counselors that they can be. Among our many guests and discussions last weekend, two particular speakers resonated with the Coleman Fellows and left a lasting impact:  Sandy Roberts, founder of the Paperclips Project in Whitwell, TN, and David Long, the father of Tyler, a boy who took his own life because of bullying and whose story is featured in the film Bully.

Below are reflections from two Fellows who found the weekend to have an impact:

By Kara Hoffman:

It’s easy to forget why we do what we do. Between sports, swim, and endless Mashehus we all get tired and lose sight of the real reason why we became Coleman staff in the first place. This past weekend I was reminded in an eye opening way. The Olim Fellows were visited by Sandra Roberts, a middle school teacher from Whitwell, TN, who has collected millions of paperclips with her students in honor of those who were massacred during the Holocaust. Despite the close Jewish connection all Fellows have with the Holocaust, this is not the message upon which Sandra concentrated.  Instead, Ms. Roberts reminded us all of the power of one: one counselor, one camper, one moment that can change an entire summer- an entire life. It only takes one single person to have an astronomical effect on an entire cabin, and it is all of our jobs to be that one person in our individual ways! This one moment can happen at anytime during any activity during camp, but if we lose sight of our mission we could miss that unique opportunity.

Is bonding with a camper who needs a little guidance worth missing one nap during menucha [rest hour]?  Is it worth it to dig in the dirt rather than sitting in the shade  if you get to witness a camper find a new passion? The one moment that can change a camper’s whole summer can occur without us even knowing it is happening. The last days of camp are hard. Campers are sad to leave camp and excited about returning home and all at once –the same goes for counselors. We all have to prepare to re-adapt into the real world and say goodbye to our summer of laughter, carefreeness, and comfort. In these last few days it is especially difficult for staff to only focus on campers and the job at hand when we know we also know that we will be leaving our friends for a whole year. But it is these  final days that our campers may remember the most and it is these days that we need to make the most memorable for them. Throughout the weekend our Coleman leadership constantly reiterated that the summer is only as good as its last day. Campers get caught up between the days of nonstop activity and kef [fun] and counselors get exhausted trying to keep up with everything–but we must. Campers are the reason we return to Coleman year after year and it is campers that are the next generation that will keep Coleman running for the next 50 years. It only takes one staff member, one conversation, one hand holding another.

By Rachel Glazer:

One of the first things I learned this summer as a counselor is that no two campers are alike; some bust wild moves at song session, some like to patty-cake Birkat Ha’mazon [Blessing after Meals] , some leave me in the dust at soccer, and some open up makeshift nail salons during Menucha [Rest Hour] . Remarkably, each quirky camper finds another equally interesting friend to share in his or her talents and activities. Wherever one of my girls found joy, another would invariably join her.

Last weekend at the Olim Kallah, there was a reoccurring message underlying many of the speeches and discussions that took place: the power of one.  Sandy Roberts reminded us that the tragedy of the Holocaust was not about numbers: it was personal. Each life lost was valuable and not at all self-contained. Even seventy years later, those losses affect us. As one of her students so adeptly and mournfully wondered, “What if this person had the cure for cancer?” David Long’s  message was similar: by reaching out to the individual, we affect the whole. Neither of these speakers were Jewish, but they reminded me of the Talmudic teaching, “And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Each camper is a world. Just ask their counselors—eleven different perspectives, emotions, needs, wants, questions, and comments at any given moment certainly keep us on our toes. But what gets me is watching those worlds intertwine. Our campers do not just learn from us. They learn from each other. Songs and sayings spread like kudzu through a cabin. A silly dance move becomes a secret handshake, and pigtails become a symbol of solidarity. A cabin is not ten or eleven campers, a couple of counselors, and the odd specialist or Machon. It is one plus one plus one…

Reflecting on my first summer as a counselor, I’d like to amend that message. Picturing it linearly does not express the truly complex dynamics of a bunk. Perhaps it’s more like we’re all sides of a tetrahedron, simultaneously collapsing in ourselves and lifting each other up. We are separate, yet connected, inexplicably four-dimensional and wonderful beyond understanding.

As the earth spins us farther and farther from last summer, I’m trying hard not to let the chill of winter or the stress of school immobilize my relationships formed this (or any) summer. Among the homework assignments, meeting hours, and test dates scribbled in my agenda, there are tasks that are somewhat more important: Call up a friend who may need a boost as finals approach—remember the way you showed me to dip chucks of challah in the grape juice? Remind a bunkmate of how special they are, because they probably don’t realize that those little acts of creativity shared among friends could be the catalyst for something amazing down the road. Who knows?

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