I was only 17-years old when I began my job being a camp counselor at GUCI. Fortunately, I was beginning this job in a well-established training program at a camp I fully adored. My first staff-training was filled with so much information to absorb: learning about developmental milestones, communication skills, conflict resolution, incorporation of spirituality. The trainings seamlessly wove into the day-to-day of camp. We would learn about counseling skills and then practice them with our new campers. Throughout the weeks, we would process, together and individually, the challenges and concerns we met daily. All the while, we were encouraged to explore the discomforts and limitations we were facing and to identify our successes. As a staff we were safely nurtured as we moved through disappointments and positive experiences.
I built alliances with those campers and colleagues on staff. I loved what we were doing so much, that I kept doing it year after year. It was delightful to develop and practice these skills each summer. Even though I would find myself in a variety of camp communities, I began to integrate the ways of camp with the way I lived my life; the values and expectations we created at camp became second nature to how I would interact in the world and, ultimately, how I would practice professionally.
I am so fortunate as to be part of GUCI’s Camper Care team for the last 5 years. Our team of ‘camp moms’ bring various skills to the table. We are there to support all of the children and staff with interpersonal issues, conflict resolution, and creating coping skills when challenges arise. We assist with the training of the staff. We work cooperatively through the year, discussing needs related to mental health and our camp community. We empower our counselors with tools when they are seeking help, and bask in the successes we watch happen, daily, as campers and counselors ally with one another. The beauty that is created in these moments is nothing short of magical; it reinforces the benefits of camp for staff and children.
After experiencing another summer in this amazing community, I am now reflecting on what it means to be a ‘Counselor’ Despite a long, circuitous route, I ultimately landed in my career as a Therapist, a ‘Counselor’. I often notice that some of the most basic skills in my field I learned as a Machon at GUCI: The seeds of my career were planted when I was taught to listen to my campers and “meet them where they were”, and to seek to understand them. Camp provided, and continues to provide, a living training ground for people to explore emotions and experiences in addition to testing out a variety of human interactions. Yes, I now have a formal education to reinforce those skills, but I also recognize that it is my education that reinforces many of the emotionally healthy things that happen at camp.
At camp, our children are able to trust one another with challenges and develop support systems. Creating a place for children to feel and express their feelings, and to be unconditionally accepted with these feelings, is something our children can draw upon throughout their lives. As a parent of campers now in the GUCI community, I especially love that our children will have so many positive role models they trust and will always remember.
Just last Friday, at All Camp Shiur, the entire community sang a song about One Voice, interjecting intentions for their cabins based within ideas of kindness, respect and understanding. One of the things that makes this camp so special is precisely our One Voice: one committed to these simple and important values for 60 years. Better still is the knowledge that today’s children will continue to perpetuate them for many more. We are all so fortunate to be a part of the fabric of GUCI’s rich tapestry.
By: Shayna Warner, MSW, LMSW, is a Resident Counselor in St. Louis, Missouri. She proudly shares the title of Camper Care Specialist with Natalie Hart, LCSW and Kareen Shapiro, LCSW. Melissa Klotz, the Parental Liaison, completes this Team.