By Shayna Warner, URJ GUCI Camper Care Specialist
I’ve been trying to figure out exactly which part of camp is the most important to share in a brief blog post. How do we sum up all that is this place? For every one of us who has anything to do with GUCI, we have emotions and experiences, memories and hopes. Returning for my fourth summer on staff in the role as one of the Camper Care Specialists, I figured I’d try to come up with a few reasons why I think camp matters, from a few of my own perspectives.
Why I think camp matters to kids:
Children learn self-reliance at camp. Within the safe confines of their cabins, they learn how to take care of themselves and their belongings. With the guidance of their counselors they manage their time. They gain skills of independence, empowering them to feel confident and capable as individuals. They develop relationships in close quarters, learning to manage conflict and emotions. They build coping skills that will prove invaluable to them as they go through life. They get to unplug and be kids again! They explore their Judaism and general spirituality, engaging in religious practices in informal and non-threatening ways. Kids learn to feel accepted unconditionally in a larger community.
Why I think camp matters to staff:
The staff gets to make the magic that was made for them. As counselors grow through the summer, they learn about responsibility for others and their roles in the larger community. Counselors learn to sacrifice, to think about people besides themselves, and to learn that sometimes responsibility can be really uncomfortable. They build relationships with children that matter; they become safe mentors to kids, and help campers see other grown-ups (besides their caretakers at home) that can love them and care for them wholly. GUCI staff learns to create programs quickly, to understand that free time is not really free, and every minute they are with campers they have an opportunity to impact the life of a child. They learn to create Jewish programming/lesson plans-invaluable skills for those pursuing fields in the Jewish community, education, group management, and more. As counselors, they themselves are able to transition more smoothly from their high school years to their college experiences and beyond.
Why I think camp matters to parents:
GUCI’s primary priority of keeping kids healthy and safe allows parents to rest at ease, knowing our children are in good hands. As parents we can be comforted by the knowledge that our children are being nurtured by loving young adults. Our kids are not only supervised all day, but lovingly cared for throughout each day. We learn to separate from our children-which is really, really hard and extremely healthy. When we send our kids to camp, they learn that we trust them to go into the world (even though we are so scared and worried inside). We get to refresh-to stop having to fight about brushing teeth and doing homework. We are able to relax in the knowledge that are children are being held tightly, and loved deeply. While we wish we could watch their every move at camp, we are able to observe the magical changes they make after they get back home. Each year our children come home with newfound skills, new foods tasted, new relationships made.
Why I think camp matters to me:
Over the course of 30 years, I’ve been able to be a camper at GUCI, a counselor, and songleader. I’ve joined my husband as he served on faculty, and have now been a part of the staff again. I have been able to know and work with the children of my camp role models and friends. Cumulatively, the support I received and the values I learned in my early life here at camp have remained a constant thread in my personal and professional growth. I get to watch my own children blossom every summer-returning home with self-confidence, enriched senses of humor, beautiful friendships and more appreciation for the time at home and at camp. The multi-generational component of the GUCI family is something that is truly awesome; GUCI is a place filled with the children of former staff and campers. Observing the way the next generations engage with one another, and truly adore one another, is absolutely the most magical part of camp for me. When I see my sons being guided by counselors who are the children of my camp friends, I feel even more confident and content with our decisions to send our kids here. I can close my eyes during a song session, and the smells and sounds are exactly the same as they were at any point of my GUCI experiences.
All our lives really are circles, especially in Zionsville.
Shayna (Lerner) Warner, is a Licensed Social Worker living in St. Louis with her husband, Cantor Seth Warner, and two sons, Simon and Isaac. A camper at GUCI in the late 1980s, she became a camp songleader and art specialist in Zionsville. Her love for camp kept her working for the Reform movement, as a Regional Youth Director and Director of the Urban Mitzvah Corps program for 4 years. After getting her Masters’ degree at Tulane, she took some time to raise her beautiful sons. She has been on the Camper Care team at GUCI since 2014.