Life long lessons learned at camp

The summer camp experience and training provided enables campers to gain crucial skills that will extend into the work world.

Youth Football Team Training With Coach

Camp is a great place to learn (among many other things) how to swim, sail, paddle, kayak, water ski or rock climb. But more importantly, it is the best place to learn to be independent, co-operative, responsible, resilient, tolerant and tenacious.

Once in a while, you may even get the opportunity to see how well you respond in a crisis. Let me illustrate with three true stories.

Alison sat nervously in front of a review panel that would be instrumental in determining if her application to medical school would be accepted. As an older woman scanned her résumé, she realized she had a connection to Alison, a former camp counsellor.

Unknown to Alison, this woman credited her with saving her granddaughter’s life. Several years earlier, her granddaughter, who was fatally allergic to bees, had been stung on a camp excursion.

Realizing the grave danger, Alison had quickly assisted the camper to administer her EpiPen, then immediately paddled her back to camp for further medical assistance.

Because of Alison’s calm, competent, swift action that day at camp, this grateful grandmother resolved to strongly support her application. She persuaded the panel, and Alison gained entry to the McMaster School of Medicine.

Second: Angie was a highly skilled, enthusiastic canoe tripper. She was confident and competent, but also strongly opinionated and stubborn.

One afternoon, on the last day of a five-day trip, she persisted in taking her canoe around the shorter windward side of an island, while her partner steered his canoe around the longer leeward route.

When her partner reported the incident on arrival at camp later that day, I criticized him for allowing the trip to separate. Then I thoroughly “chewed out” Angie for making an unwise choice and stubbornly taking a route that, though shorter, was more dangerous, more tiring and resulted in the packs becoming wet from the splashing waves.

I warned Angie that if she persisted with her uncooperative behaviour, none of the trip leaders would choose to work with her and her tripping days would be numbered.

Ten years later, I met Angie at a camp reunion. She informed me that with her Master’s in nursing, she was now the head of a team of 20 health professionals engaged in diabetic research for a major hospital.

She never had difficulty filling vacancies on her team because she had earned the reputation of being a caring, co-operative leader who listened well and worked effectively with her team. She had learned her lesson and had applied it to good use!

For six summers, Scott led our campers on many successful, canoe trips. As each camper, counsellor and trip leader left the dock, I shook their hand. The traditional handshake was an unspoken agreement that each participant would pull their weight, do their share of the work and ensure everyone came home safe and happy.

As trip leader, Scott shouldered the greatest responsibility. He willingly and consistently put others before himself. After several years of study and travel, Scott became a journalist in Bangkok, Thailand. On the day after the disastrous Phuket tsunami, Scott went to the site hoping to find a good news story – a family reunited, or a lost child found.

However, he soon realized there was no good news to be written. He then volunteered to work with the Red Cross. He said his experience at the disaster site reminded him of camp, as he was again working with young people.

Remembering the commitment of the handshake, he was determined to do his best to get a grim job done. But this time, he could not bring everyone home safely.

For three days, he volunteered to help carry the native corpses to one morgue and the non-natives to a second, in order to assist authorities in identifying the victims.

Camp is the ideal place to learn to live and work co-operatively, happily and effectively with others. As returning campers become counsellors, the experience and training gained at camp will serve them well in the working world.

Catherine Ross is communications officer for the Canadian Camping Association.