There are a lot of reasons why kids go to summer camp. We talked about some during staff training here at Manito-wish; those reasons include a desire to get away from problems at home, to try new things, and because of friends they have made at camp. As staff, we have the responsibility to ensure that these kids have an enriching experience and that they are encouraged to grow.
“Summer camp can change a child’s life.”
This is something that I have heard from the year-round staff here for the past 2 years, but that I had not actually witnessed or truly felt a part of until Boys’ Camp started.
First day of camp means first day of program areas. It can be a little intimidating – especially for young first-time campers. Lucas is one of those campers. He didn’t know where to go for sign-ups and when he got to “Horses” it was completely filled up.
We were doing safety beads—a lesson where kids learn how to lead, mount, and dismount safely. My two assistants, Miriam and Paige, and I had 6 horses in the arena with campers and another 6 campers waiting for their turn (we partner them up so we can have 12 campers with only 6 horses). I was in the arena when I noticed Lucas sitting on the ground by the hitching post with his counselor.
Allowing Miriam and Paige to lead the lesson, I quietly left the arena and went to sit with the two. I asked what was going on and the counselor explained how the sign-up process was confusing and, if there was so much freedom at camp why did we need sign-ups and so on. I listened and talked about the limited amount of horses and why we do what we do and expressed my agreement with the sign-up confusion (it is a chaotic time of morning, for sure).
Then I asked Lucas what he wanted to do, to which he continually answered “nothing” or “I don’t know.” As we continued to talk, it turned out that Lucas was not only upset about sign-ups, but also a bit homesick and was dealing with some other things (like not getting mail while all the other kids did). He was worried that, even though he had to keep his part of the cabin clean so the mail would get delivered, he wouldn’t ever receive any. He also said he wasn’t good at anything and that no one liked him. I told him that the horses would like him and he shook his head, but eventually agreed to walk around the pasture with peppermints to meet the horses.
At first, he hung back while I gave the horses peppermints – but then the magic began: Lucas took a peppermint and fed it to a horse.
While this may seem like a small moment, it was really much bigger because Lucas became a horse’s friend in that instant. When we left the pasture and I asked Lucas once more if he wanted to ride, he reluctantly agreed. (It probably helped that his counselor agreed to ride as well.) While he started out nervous, Lucas continued talking to me and, by the end of the ride, he was smiling.
When the morning was over, he was talking and laughing with the other boys out at the barn. His counselor was amazed at the turn-around, saying he’d heard of things like this happening but had never seen it happen so quickly.
For me, the exchange between boy and horse and the change it initiated in the boy was touching and warmed my heart. This is why I love doing what I do here at camp.