I'm guessing your name really isn’t Charlie, but since you’re imagining yourself at Camp Sangamon, I’m hoping that you can also imagine, just for a few minutes, that your name is Charlie. I’m writing to you to try to tell you why being a new kid at Sangamon is easier than you might think. The letter’s a little long, but we’re talking about two weeks of your life, here.
Sangamon is a great camp, and it's very, very different from most of the places you've heard about. We really believe that kids should be in charge. Every day, we can look around and see 90 boys busy and happily doing and learning things, and know that every one of them is doing what he chose to do.
The biggest thing that kids find hard about camps (other than ours) is that they usually get stuck for at least part of their day doing things that someone else thinks they ought to do, and that the kid really doesn’t want to do. Either they signed up at the beginning of the session, or the beginning of the week - or sometimes they just got no choices at all - and it isn't what they thought it would be. At Sangamon, that just never happens. If you choose something and it isn't what you want to do, you can leave and go somewhere else. Boys are really in charge. There are no hidden agendas. We don't think that a boy who likes competitive soccer or tennis is any better than a boy who loves arts and crafts and pottery, or horses and farm animals. So we really don't care which of the 16 activities they choose... or the three or four trip possibilities every week day.
At the end of every session we ask the boys to fill out a form telling us what they've done. It is just for our information. (I've attached one of those so you can see the vast variety of choices) And the amazing thing to me is how DIFFERENT the sheets are from each boy in each cabin. There is no way in the world that we could have scheduled the boys to meet those choices.
The other big thing is that going off to camp for any length of time means putting yourself into a situation where you have to make new friends. The most important thing to remember is that it's not like going to a new school where everyone has been together forever, and you somehow have to "break into" the established groups.
Every camper comes to camp with at most one or two other friends, and many jump off the cliff and come not knowing anybody. And they have all leave with new friends. All the boys were "new" kids at some point, and the other new boys in your session are feeling just what you're feeling .... so there is a natural understanding among the other kids about what's going on for you. And all the old returning campers have been new, not so long ago, and the reason they're back (We remind them) is because they made friends and were welcomed into the mix. So they pass the torch. Some of them like the camp so much that they want to eventually be a staff here to share what they got out of it with other kids, and to carry on with the friendships they've made.
Also, a lot of the staff know personally what it feels like to be the new kid. Over half our staff are internationals, from places like New Zealand, Australia, Ecuador, England, Wales, Scotland, Sweden, Ireland, and Cambodia (where we have a huge connection five staff and three campers- Almost ALL of these 20 internationals came to camp not knowing anyone. They not only came to camp, but they were coming to the US, many for the first time - to new people and a new culture. Also, because "camp" is a particularly American concept, even that experience was new.
So – they were new to camp, new to the people, and new to the concept of camp. That's you, too, right??? So you've got all these young adult staff (our median age is something like 23) who have gone through exactly what you'll be going through. Many of them return for several years, but four or five are brand new this year. These are the people you'll be living with. They are TOTALLY in tune with what you're going through, because they went through it themselves - some just a few weeks ago. You live with ten kids and three staff - two men and a woman- and their JOB is to make sure you get oriented to the camp, make friends, and feel comfortable.
Making friends at camp is actually pretty easy. You'll make friends with your cabin, because you eat three meals a day with them....no hunting around a cafeteria for a friend to sit with... and you'll spend "rest hour" after lunch every day, playing cards, board games, or just talking, and you decompress and talk at the end of the day too, as you go to sleep eventually. Then you’ll make friends at the activities you choose, and it's a self-selected group of people who like what you like: Archery, pottery, kayaking, mountain-biking, soccer, woodshop, rocketry - whatever you chose to do. The point is you're surrounded by a bunch of people - (well, five or six or seven, really) who like the same things you like. You'll make friends really easily in this group because their interests, at least some of them, match yours.
What about two weeks away? Well, the hard part is all in the first couple of days, while you figure the place out and make friends, and get used to getting letters from home as your communication with your folks. But remember, you have 45 staff and 40 Leadership boys who are all trying to help you make that transition. After that first couple of days. you'll blend in with everyone else and no one will even know you're a new kid. And after a week you'll be comfortably at home with your cabin and your activity friends, and the entire camp. The next two weeks is icing on the cake. You'll go on trips, learn a bunch of new stuff, make new friends, meet your "sister" cabin of same- age girls at BC, and wake up every day knowing that you have 16 different activities and 3 or 4 trips to choose from.
Weekends are different, and break the routine with crazy games and events. This is not some place where the "teachers" start the game and sit and watch....the staff are right in the middle of it all , usually dressed in costumes and playing the game with you... a quick look at our photo gallery will show you a lot of that. The reason we have a 90% return rate on the staff is that it's a place where we ALL have fun! Most camps are still out looking for staff for their camps. Our staff was almost completely hired by the end of January
To sum up - You will be in charge of your own life in a way that you've probably never been in charge. You'll be in a place where everyone knows that welcoming the new kids in is crucial to everyone's good time. You'll be living with staff who totally understand that you're the new kid, and they know from personal experience what that feels like, and they want to help you get through it. And there's SO much to do that you'll never get through it all or get tired of it in two or three weeks or three summers of two or three weeks.
Charlie, thanks for reading this letter about this great camp. I'm one of the sailing masters, and I take sailing trips out every day, or for three days, or a week on Lake Champlain. I was Director for a long time, and I'm still excited to be at this place every summer. You can probably tell. I hope to meet you this summer.