By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director
Fifty days ago, over 500 kids began to arrive in this special place in Beach Lake, PA. About 20 days before that, the first of over 200 staff members began their orientation and training for their roles as leaders and role models for those campers. Approximately 290 days before that, our year-round directors wrapped up the 2021 season and began preparing for a program meant to instill meaningful values, started building an inimitable community and culture to reflect our camp’s past and future, and kicked-off developing the fun that children truly deserve while they spend time with their friends in this awesome place. Here, in this uniquely familial and intentional environment; here, among the trees that surround Chestnut Lake and nestled in the Poconos Mountains; here, with the endless flow of smiles and the sounds of voices filled with spirit and laughter echoing through each and every day of vibrant activity. The evidence of what works about camp is right here, and it’s as clear today as it ever was before.
This summer has been inspiring. With only one day left together (and tonight’s extra-special Campfire), this group of campers and staff will finish packing and will depart from our home here at Chestnut Lake Camp. Of course, there will be joy in returning to our home lives; we’ll have our favorite meals, will reconnect with family and friends, and will share stories and special moments with others to try to describe what went on over these weeks. But the events of this summer – for me and for so many other Chestnut Lakers – will make the transition back into the “Real World” tough. There are some things that we have seen and been a part of while here at camp that simply cannot be duplicated or even understood at home.
At home, we seldom get to witness the sensitivity and thoughtfulness of a young adult caring for someone else’s child in the way that it happens here. Many of our counselors – those that may have grown up here and those that have made Chestnut their new home this summer – have extended and challenged themselves to make sure their campers are safe and able to develop their own identities and independence here. There are the regular embraces, pats on the back, high-fives, fist-bumps, and kids and staff arm-in-arm that show the essence of what happens here every day that may never be possible at home. The relationship between the young adults and children at camp is one of the things that we leverage to teach and affect in a totally immersive environment, and that cannot be imitated in someone’s home or school, or most other settings. Camp is a place where we can make fun of ourselves, where we can compete with compassion, and where we can let ourselves make an incredible mess and then clean up afterward because we care about how we take care of this place and each other.
When I return home, I will miss the opportunity to work with so many amazing leaders. It’s been so gratifying to see our staff accept challenges to further their skills and develop themselves into people that are sure to make a difference in the world. Counselors at camp work hard and are pushed to maintain such high standards that might be unheard of at home. Ask a counselor after the summer is over if they learned anything working at camp and be prepared for a long list of insights that will make them more capable and confident students, employees, and even parents (someday) in the lives that they live away from Chestnut Lake. Those that have led them – the “Blue Team” and “Upper Leadership Team” members that have dedicated themselves to round-the-clock oversight and commitment to camp and the campers’ needs – have done mostly thankless work, and without them, our directors would never be able to successfully steer this ship nor would our camp parents at home be able to hear about all the successes their children will have had while at camp. And of course, there have been all the staff members that care for health and wellness, feed us, keep camp clean and working, and so many others that are part of this community and contributed each day to everything coming together.
At the end of the summer, I’m always reminded of the core principles of camp that go beyond what type of camp this might be: we are an immersive experience that is without a child’s parents for an extended period of time. We create a virtual city for a couple of months that attends to every need of its residents, including every aspect of their experience. We have parents choosing to send their sons and daughters to us to be taken care of by – essentially – strangers, and the only contact that they have directly with their children tends to be through slow-paced and often too-brief letters, the viewing of a handful of photos, and maybe one or two phone calls. And we do all of this for weeks at a time. It’s kind of nutty when you really think about it. But that’s also what makes it awesome and so different from anything else.
Like all of us here, I will leave in the coming weeks to restart my life at home with Ann. Our family will reconnect briefly before saying goodbye again to our daughter as she returns to college. I’ll lose track of the amazing routine created here at Chestnut Lake, and I’ll miss the people here more and more each day. I will go from a world where everyone says, “Hi” to one where people tend to look at the ground or at their ubiquitous screens as they pass you. I won’t putter around in a golf cart from place to place to engage with young people when I leave here. And I won’t get to see children growing up right before my eyes. I’ll have to wait – just like them – for the countdown to camp to slowly reach zero when we come back for the summer of 2023.
It’s been a summer of new experiences and development at Chestnut Lake. After the summer of 2021– a difficult restart after almost two years apart from each other, coinciding with the start of our tenure as directors – we have helped to celebrate what camp is really about. We’ve protected the foundation that was started here before us, and have started to build around and on top of it to be sure that our camp will be strong forever.
I will continue to relish the opportunity to share my passion for camp, whether sitting at the Campfire each week with campers and staff or dreaming of the next time I’m together with them in this extraordinary spot in Beach Lake, PA. I have cherished the moments that we have enjoyed together in 2022, and I hope that every child and adult that has been here does, too.
Thank you for this incredible summer.