Blog  Challenge your children to keep an open-mind and heart at sleep away camp

Challenge your children to keep an open-mind and heart at sleep away camp

By Debra Freyman Klevens, URJ GUCI Parent

Originally posted on

I am often quick to judge people based upon my perceptions, but when you truly stop and try to get to know a person is when the real beauty begins.

As my daughters prepared for sleep-away camp, I challenged them to try and get to know each of the people in their cabin. Since I’m a high school journalism teacher, I urged my daughters to think of themselves as journalists, with an assignment: Get to know each girl in their cabins.

My daughter and her long time camp friend merged cabins with a new cabin of girls this summer.

If past perceptions were bad about that person, I ordered them to throw them out the window, to find out about the individual and to truly try to get to know them.

I shared with my daughter’s my own personal journey of judgement. This past year I had a senior boy in class that played varsity football. When he arrived in my class my first thought was he enrolled in the class because he thought it was a blow off, to entertain his buddies, and to hit on the girls. What happened next was unexpected. He remained in the class, even after all his buddies dropped. I then took a deeper look at myself and was mad that I had judged him unfairly.

Over the summer of 2016 I had the opportunity to travel with 37 strangers to Israel for a Jewish Women’s trip. Before going I was extremely intimidated by the women based upon a meeting we had had where we had to go around the room and share something about ourselves. I had shared a yearbook related item. The women next to me shared she had traveled around the world on a boat.

I immediately went home and told my husband I was out of my league for this experience. I thought all the women on the trip were extremely wealthy. What I learned was that my perceptions were incorrect. The women next to me had studied in college on a Semester at Sea program. What I learned from this experience is that while some of the women on the trip had money, that did not make them bad people or materialistic. When I stopped judging people and got to know them for who they were, the real magic happened.

I applied that same knowledge in my classroom with the football player. I ended up learning that this his father had died when he was in the fourth grade and his mom was mentally ill and unable to take care of him. Throughout the year he let me in on some more. He was raising himself under his uncle’s roof, paying for his own food, and taking care of his household.

By being open-minded and getting to know him, I learned that I had the opportunity to show kindness to a young man that truly needed a parent figure. He taught me the true meaning of perseverance and not judging others.

My daughters have a wealth of opportunity in their cabin this summer. They could write a blog about their summer experience. I am not telling them to do that. However, I am asking them to give each and every person they encounter a chance. They will not only learn about themselves, but they will get to see the beauty of people’s differences.

In doing so, I hope they learn the value of BEING KIND 100% of the time. Whether at sleep-away camp, in the classroom or at the grocery store, we all can make this world a better place by seeking to understand, not judge.