By Ian "Gunner" Brasset
As a Camp Director, I am understandably biased when it comes to believing in the importance of a positive summer camp experience in the maturation of a child. I consider myself very lucky to have worked at a sleep-away camp every summer since 1988. Watching just how much a child can grow in a short time in the right environment is something I've seen over and over again, year after year. I am constantly amazed and awestruck by the impact a quality summer camp program can have on a child. Children, with the loving support of their parents (from afar), attend camps and leave their support system at the gates (parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, cell phones, e-mail/Facebook) to embark on a great adventure of knowledge and play.
Since Pali offers such a specialized, high energy experience, we have drawn campers from around the globe. Children are placed into active living situations where 12 individual, distinct personalities from diverse backgrounds coexist in fun and harmony. This daily cross-cultural interaction offers children the chance to learn from a whole new perspective, and is one of the many benefits of attending Pali Adventures. In 2011, for example, Pali Adventures cared for campers representing 39 states and 17 countries, including Japan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Mexico, South Korea, Jordan, Italy, China, England, France, Spain, Germany, Columbia, Gaina, Switzerland and Canada and Ireland. Wow!!! And don’t forget our world-class staff members who call 10 different countries home (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Germany, and Holland). Camps place children in a one-of-a-kind melting pot rich with languages and experiences offered by very few other environments!
While at camp, very close friendships and bonds are formed between people who where total strangers two days prior. Campers quickly learn to establish their own support systems through new experiences and acclimatization, which is an essential lesson for anyone on the road to adulthood. In most ACA accredited camps, highly trained counselors observe and guide campers as surrogate brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and children discover great strength from “the happy bubble” that is well run summer camp.
This is why I love camp. I’ve had the pleasure of watching young campers grow into lawyers, doctors, dentists, and big hearted counselors who take pride in giving back to a place that has given so much to them. I’ve seen children go from critical-state homesickness to becoming my assistant camp director. I've watched a camper that I nearly sent home become my best counselor. Here, children given the confidence and ability to face the world.
When parents do their part, showing love and encouragement from the sidelines, they allow remarkable growth to occur. I know how scary and painful it can be for parents to drop off their child at a camp filled with strangers. Remember this, though- when a child is at camp, they have friends in their cabin, counselors whose only job is to make sure they have a great time, and a program of activities and special events that are designed for non-stop fun. And don't forget- while their child is at camp parents get an empty bedroom, a quiet house, and something they are simply not familiar with… time on their hands!
Over the years I've gotten many glowing phone calls from parents after camp, though my thoughts frequently return to a call I received a few years back. A mother wanted to thank the staff and I for the 180° change in her boy. At 14 years of age, she'd given up hope that he'd ever pick-up after himself without constant “nagging”. After 4 weeks in camp setting, he went home a clearly more mature boy. “I didn’t recognize him,” the mother said. “The first day home he made his bed and placed his clothes in the hamper.” The mother initially said nothing to the boy. This behavior had continued up to the time I received the call… three weeks later.
In this tough economic environment and the frenzy of city life, it seems more important than ever for children to enter an environment that is free from the “doom and gloom” of the evening news. The daily chatter, subsequent stresses, and national worries that have been creeping into conversations at kitchen tables and in classrooms across the country can serve to seriously confuse and distract a child. Camp is a place where the only thing a camper has to think about is themselves- who they like to be around, what they want to do, and who they want to become.
Camp may be the closest thing a child will ever get to escapism, if only for a week or two, as they learn to thrive in an environment and program specifically designed for them. Responsibility. Self-reliance. Improved confidence. These are all amazing by-products of campers having a blast in a safe and caring space. Everyday I feel delighted and honored to play my small part in this growth.
Ian “Gunner” Brassett
Pali Overnight Adventures