On a cool April morning when I was in fourth grade, my family packed up our car to go to the Wisconsin Dells for a weekend. For some reason, my parents decided that April was the perfect time to go to the water park capital of the world. My dad was a CPA and could rarely take a break around spring break, so we often took excursions in the weeks following Tax Day. I didn’t know what we would do on our trip, but I was told we would spend a portion of the weekend seeing the camp that I would attend for the first time that summer, Camp Chi, which is surrounded by the Wisconsin Dells.
I don’t really remember much about my first time on the grounds of Camp Chi, but I remember stopping when we got to the rock walls. At that time, camp was situated on three old rock walls near the lake. Close to these walls, there was an old-fashioned swing. My brother and I played on it for a bit, and after we were done, my family decided to take a picture there.
A few months later, I went to camp for two weeks and I was hooked on the spirit, activities, traditions and camp life as a whole almost immediately. I came home only to ask if I could go straight back (this request was not granted because in a typical chain of events, I had to go to the dentist and was told I had to wait until next summer). In 2000, I returned for four weeks. Eventually, my four weeks at camp grew to eight weeks and my days as a camper grew to days on staff, and the rest was history.
As I said, from the first time I stepped off the bus, I was truly hooked on camp. I remember the Staff In Training (SITs) cheering around camp my first summer, the inflatable trampoline on the lake, and lots of programs filled with music, dancing and more. Beyond that, I can’t tell you much about my first summers at Camp Chi except it just felt right. It felt safe, it felt comfortable, and I somehow just knew that was where I was meant to be. It was almost as if I subconsciously knew that this was home before I’d ever been here.
My family doesn’t have many great pictures of the four of us: me, my brother, Brian (who is currently spending his 11th summer at camp training this year’s Staff In Training class), my mom, and my dad – who passed away a few months after my second summer. There is something serendipitous about the fact that the best picture we have as a family ended up being at the location that my brother and I can only describe as our favorite place in the world.
We all have hurdles to leap over throughout our lives; many of mine have occurred earlier in life than they’re supposed to. Some years were better than others, but even with the years that seemed grim, there was always a light at the end of the tunnel: there was always camp to look forward to.
When I learned about this blog series, I didn’t even know where to start because most of my posts end up being about camp. I think that is because when you are a camp lifer, everything leads back to camp. (I think I can still use the term “lifer” because even though I am spending just my second summer away from camp since I started going there, it is where I always would choose to be). Many of my closest friendships, best memories, favorite stories, struggles that I’ve overcome, and so on, have all either happened at camp or because of camp.
I started a new job last week, where my supervisor is someone I have known for years because of camp. Camp not only builds the leadership skills that you need to succeed professionally, but it also builds you an unbelievable personal network. I can’t tell you how many times I mention Camp Chi professionally (granted I work in the Jewish world), but even so, I know most of my friends have spoken significantly about camp during interviews and expounded on experiences that have led them to where they are today.
When my family took that picture so many years ago, I had no idea what camp would mean to me more than 15 years later. The impact that camp has had on my life is almost indescribable. Camp is something that will always be a part of my life and I know will continue to change the lives of those who are a part of it. I am extremely thankful for Jewish camp. We live in a crazy world, filled with many things out of our control. To have a bubble, a safe place, a home away from home – that is something truly irreplaceable.
As I sit and look out on the beautiful Chicago skyline, I am counting down the days until I am walking back down gravel roads with the fresh smell of grass in the air, stars in the sky, and undoubtedly, the biggest smile on my face, because I’ll know that I am home and ready to create even more memories at this place that I love.