By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director
This week’s Friday night gathering for the entire Chestnut Lake community brought back the Varsity Campfire. Our 9th and 10th-grade teens, with support from their exceptional staff, planned a special campfire ceremony that featured some of our standard rituals (like “Community Service Awards”) and a wonderful tradition of division lip sync songs presented for the whole camp family. Emceed by young Varsity leaders, the program welcomed each gender/grade group to stand before the audience with the backdrop of a bonfire and show off their choreographed renditions of their chosen songs. We had some Billy Eilish, One Direction, and other popular hits, but the music was not the best part. It was clear with each group that came up that our campers (and their dedicated “Dance Mom” and “Dance Dad” staff!) had put in the time to learn some great moves and were out to win. It brought a great spirit to the Campfire, and though we could only have one first-place finisher (way to go, Sani!), everyone in attendance got into the fun.
But my deeper thoughts this week are more aligned with the sharing and conversations around the Community Service Award portion of the program than anything else. It was a week of watching and listening to campers about their time here and about each other, and what you hear from the people living here each and every day is what matters. The awards are always sweet and heartfelt, and this week was no exception. Campers who have never spoken in public somehow have the presence to share their kind words about another person and how they have made a difference in their camp experience. Staff members recognize kids who they say have taught and inspired them simultaneously while the staff person is trying to do the same. Friends recognize each other’s respect and love and can speak to that in front of hundreds of people. The themes this week included advocacy, patience, support, fellowship, joy, and other things that we try to teach and reinforce. But no matter how hard we might try, it only works when someone actually does it, and it may only impact others in the community as fully as it should when we share it aloud. Being a part of that this week was touching.
I listened this past week to campers modeling teamwork, with one player passing the ball selflessly to another for a shot and then being thanked for that later. I heard a camper tell another quietly before trying something for the very first time that they were really scared, and then after they took a “Leap of Faith” at Outdoor Adventure, they jumped into the other’s arms to tell them how proud they were for doing it. In the Dining Hall, I sat with a group of campers to hear about their day and summer so far, and story after story was about people – how this person did this, how another person said that – without even a mention of a scheduled activity. After the Talent Show this week, I listened to a 13-year-old boy tell a 10-year-old girl (that he didn’t really know) how great they were on stage and how hard they laughed. A group of campers enjoying a visit to the Canteen told me that there were dozens of things to improve or add at Chestnut for next summer, but when I asked them to rate their session after I dutifully jotted down every suggestion (or demand!), there was a unanimous chorus of “10 out of 10!” And a camper told me this week that being at Chestnut Lake this year has made them feel more like a “whole person” because they have finally made a true friend that they know they’re going to keep forever.
Our camp has great facilities and programs, but it is a people place. The people have spoken this week. And I am listening.