Caring for Campers as they ‘Come of Age’

Spending a summer on the shores of Maple Lake is nothing short of a ‘coming of age’ experience for every camper.   A session at camp requires that each camper build upon his own sense of independence, enhance his ability to live in a communal setting and improve their ease of interacting within groups.  This is no small feat for any one camper and we, as the adult staff of Camp George, are forever mesmerized by the personal growth that we are privileged to witness.

Camper Care Team Member Kerryn Rose.

Camper Care Team Member Kerryn Rose.

There is a facet of staff at Camp George that is referred to as the ‘Camper Care Team,’ a group comprised of teaching and/or therapeutic professionals who work each summer to position our award-winning inclusion strategy. After many successful summers, in 2009, the UJA Federation honoured us for our achievements in creating an inclusive community with the Community Inclusion Award of Excellence. Camp George has been the example for other camps to follow since our inception and we were humbled to receive such high praise for our on-going work.

The Camper Care Team is a team with a seemingly simple mission: ensure that the needs of all campers are met.   And yet, there is nothing simple about this mission, as all campers arrive at camp with slightly different needs.   Sometimes we recognize before camp that a child may require additional support and we begin to work with the family during the school year to ease the transition to camp**.  Other times, it is only upon arrival at camp that our Team may lend an assist to improve the camper’s experience.

The experiences to which we tend run the gamut: some campers may arrive at camp and find themselves shocked at the communal eating experience of the dining hall.  Other campers may have never slept in a room full of others’ breathing, snoring and sneezing, and find it difficult to fall asleep.  Perhaps a camper is frightened of the lake and finds himself in a cabin full of waterskiing enthusiasts.  Another camper might need help learning how to bridge many friendships simultaneously in a group setting, rather than one at a time.  And there might be another who is overwhelmed by the quantity of new adventures to be tried at camp, from rock climbing first period to kayaking the next.  We recognize that camp presents a new opportunity at almost every turn and Camp George has a team in place to support campers as they expand their emotional, social, and physical horizons.

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The Camper Care Team works both behind the scenes and on the front lines to support campers through the transitions that camp requires.  We do so by creating plans with cabin staff members and with the campers themselves.   That camper who had trouble sleeping? The Camper Care Team helped the counselor figure out that if he tucked him in each night, more like his home environment, the camper might find it easier to fall asleep.  That camper who was scared of the lake? The Camper Care team arranges for the lifeguard to do a private session with him so he could attempt the lake without an audience.  And that camper who had trouble making friends in a group? The Camper Care Team helped figure out that while not everyone loves the Ropes Course, the whole cabin does indeed love the card game Spit, over which they can create group bonds.

The success stories are endless.   After fourteen years, many former campers have become staff.  A camper who once struggled to make friends in her cabin was the counselor last summer who ensured that each one of her campers had a friend in the cabin.  She literally passed the lesson learned from generation to generation.

We watched campers who were homesick during the first few nights, cry when their camp sessions came to an end.  They knew what we knew: the power of the camp experience had helped to transform them – they had ‘come of age’ and relied on themselves.   With a little help from their community.

 

**Note: if you would like to discuss the school year process for our Camper Care Team, please contact Karen Kollins, Associate Director, in the camp office at: 416-638-2635.

 

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