Alright parents, let’s talk about camp for a minute. We love it for many reasons: we know our kids are having fun, they are safe and they are entertained. At GUCI, our kids get to marinade in Judaism, developing and growing spirituality and culturally. Those of us not at camp get a small reprieve from the daily grind of schlepping and cooking and cleaning and running. Some of us actually take this opportunity to travel or to do a house project. It is an opportunity to breathe and refill our ‘parenting-gas-tanks’. But in reality, a lot of us parents don’t really know what happens day in and day out when the kids are at camp.
That’s where we come in. We are the GUCI Camp Care team. We are all products of Union camping (2 of us actually growing up at GUCI). We all happen to also be parents of campers at GUCI. We are Licensed Clinical Social Workers who work with the staff and the campers, in staff training, conflict management/resolution, special needs issues and day-to-day issues that merit our assistance. We pay close attention to ‘what makes camp work’ through a different lens: one that is filtered through mental health and community growth. We daily navigate the struggles and challenges that present themselves.
When it comes down to it, the thing that we do the most is address the idea of discomfort. We work with you, the parents, who are adapting to life without your children at home and worry about how your child(ren) are doing. We coach and counsel staff members as they learn to enrich their strength, patience and empathy for children and navigate through their own independence. We watch children separate from the comfort zone of home, and integrate into the camp community, building relationships, skills, independence and memories.
But what we love most about doing the work we do, is our opportunity to watch as people move through the discomfort and revel in the success of growing and thriving. A favorite memory from last summer occurred when a Garin cabin was climbing the migdal (the climbing tower). One of the nine year old girls was terrified of heights and was very reluctant to try and climb. Her counselors and bunkmates urged her to try and they told her she could stop if she wanted. She reluctantly listened to them and started to climb with the assistance of a counselor. She cried and cried, yet she put one foot in front of the other and climbed up the tower. Her fears did not vanish and it was apparent she was doing something really hard. But she persevered and she made it to her goal. When she came back down, her friends cheered for her and hugged her and told her how proud they were of her. She was clearly proud of her accomplishment as well. It was apparent that the experience was uncomfortable for her, yet she pushed herself and the outcome was worth the cost.
So why bring this up now? It seems the intensity of our collective discomfort is pretty astounding these days. We are here to remind all of us that, at camp, we have successfully navigated the waters of discomfort before. And we believe there is not a better time to remind the community of our strengths and abilities to muddle through right now. In our GUCI community, there are constant experiences like the one above where campers (and sometimes staff) are pushed to the edges of discomfort. The experiences are often stressful, yet, because of the safety net and structure of the community, the outcome often brings personal growth, increased confidence and resilience.
So how is this connected to us sending our kids to camp, you ask? Well, we are here to remind you that, in some ways, we have already done some of this before. Parents, you’ve navigated your discomfort as you ‘let go’ of your kids and sent them to camp. Staff, you’ve moved through struggles that felt overwhelming and aggravating-often sharing your vulnerability with one another and allowing the camp community to support and hold the discomfort with you as you move through. Campers, you’ve daily taken calculated risks to do things that were scary and different, to push all the way out of the comfort zone. In some ways, camp has instilled in us the precise skills we need to harness right now.
We would like to encourage you to discuss with your child(ren) ways they remember being uncomfortable at camp, and how they grew from it (making new friends, trying new things, learning new skills). We encourage parents to remember that the structure and safety you are providing your family is very similar to what we work to create in the camp setting: something that is consistent, predictable and sometimes messy. It is often hard to see that discomfort is actually what has to happen in order for us humans to GROW. And just imagine how much growth is happening right now. Just as you tend patiently to a plant as it grows, so do we all need to remember to slow down, follow the cues and allow for patience and the process to happen all on it’s own.
We are available for our camp community to discuss issues that might be on your mind related to mental health, self care and working through the discomfort of life right now. Please feel free to reach out to camp and they can connect you to us. Just as we are here for parents, staff, and campers during the summer months, we are also here for you now!
Shayna Warner, Natalie Hart and Kareen Shapiro