The Camper-Counselor Relationship

By: Lanie Yerman

The friendships that you make at camp go beyond your own age group. The counselor not only plays the role of guardian and caretaker, but the role of friend as well. This rewarding counselor/camper relationship provides lasting values for both. I just recently returned to camp for my camper’s 25th reunion. I was their counselor for 5 years, which would seem like a short time to some, but at camp that is equal to twice the amount of “normal” time in the other 10 months of the year. Eight weeks living every day with each other creates bonds that are deeper and, well, just… different.

My campers were my first “kids.” I was there for their bumps and bruises, I played nurse to a stomachache, referee to an argument, I was the hugger, the hand holder, their biggest fan when they won their tennis match, and even bigger fan when they lost. I taught them what I knew about life. I shared my knowledge and provided life lessons when I could. I tried to be a good role model, and in turn they taught me my first lessons on parenting and nurturing others.

You don’t think about these things when you sign your kids up for camp. You picture your child learning how to waterski, hit a tennis ball, or conquer a climbing wall. Those are tangible and easily measured. What parents don’t see are the relationships and the effect that a multigenerational environment has on their children.

One night, I witnessed the youngest division in camp, a group of 8 and 9-year-olds, receive a standing ovation after they performed a play on stage; the loudest screamers, cheerers, and clappers were among the oldest division of campers. This is a priceless moment that only comes from a camp experience, a moment that bridges the age gap to unite the entire camp as one family. You can get that at a school play, of course, but when you have five days to learn songs and lines and it’s not your parents cheering you on but your peers, who have just accomplished the same thing the week before, it is profoundly different. Every child feels the need to be accepted by his or her peers. In that moment, not only do they feel accepted, they feel loved.

My camp counselor was at this reunion as well, and I was thrilled to be able to spend time with her again. The funny thing is, campers and counselors, she and myself included, are not even that far apart in age. Yet, there is a love and admiration felt in both directions. My counselor, for instance, has a wonderful sense of humor and a strong sense of who she is. She plays the guitar and has a beautiful singing voice. I cherish spending time with her and am still in awe of her talent and grace. Years later, I am still learning from her.

As we all sat in a campfire circle singing our favorite camp songs, I couldn’t help but pull one of my campers into my arms swaying back and forth together in song, so content as if 25 years had not even passed.  Mid-song, my now forty-year-old camper looked up at me and said, “I forgot how much I loved you.” I squeezed her tight as we continued to sing.

Could there be a better camp moment?

camper-counselor-relationship

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2 Comments

  • Judie Klein says:

    Brings back some of my fondest memories. Nothing touches that experience!
    I only wish I could go back!

  • Audrey Peterson says:

    I fully agree. My all-time favorite counselor from almost four summers ago, is now one of my role models and friends. I can honestly say that this mentorship and friendship lasts beyond camp walls. She has shown me so much about myself, God, and life in general. I had the chance to be a counselor for a bit this past summer and got to be the same type of role model and friend for girls. As a camper, I remember when she would come and sing my friends and me to sleep with her guitar. It was so soothing and so special. She and Camp Skyline Ranch are the absolute best.

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