We caught up with Amy, who has been to Camp YMCA as a Camp Counsellor and a Staff Development Program Director, and she’s here to tell you everything you’ve wanted to know about it. Take it away Amy!
Being a very home orientated person I never thought I could ever associate myself with somewhere else other than home. I knew from the moment I drove down that lane of YMCA Camp Benson that that was all going to change. I have now spent two summers at YCB, as a counsellor and as the Staff Development Program Director, and I’m so happy to call camp my second home.
I was so nervous going over on my first year. I had never gone on a flight alone before, yet alone all the way to Chicago I went. In the weeks leading up to my departure date I had been added to a staff group page on Facebook and I was completely overwhelmed with the number of friend requests and messages that followed, from co-workers (who are now some of my best friends) welcoming me to the staff family. This really helped ease the nerves. I was collected from the airport by two people from of our camp leadership team and we began the journey to the tiny town of Mount Carroll, IL.
I returned to camp for the people. I’m so lucky to have made some of the most amazing friends over the last two years. I’ve honestly made friends for life through camp. Being on a staff together you get to experience the highs and the lows as a team – making memories everyday, from laughing at everything to jumping around at the flagpole singing and dancing. My favourite time at camp was always hanging out with my friends every evening during our time off. Whether it was dancing in the kitchen, sitting on our porches sharing camper stories or lying under the stars talking about life, it’s the friendships you make at camp that I miss the most.
Every week at camp followed a similar structure. We opened with a campfire , which is one of the first opportunities we get to gather all of the campers around a campfire and then the staff perform silly skits, tell stories and sing songs. This is also one of the first times the campers are introduced to the YCB camp compass. The compass is made of six colours which represent a core value we hold at camp. These values include Caring (red), Honesty (blue), Respect (yellow), Responsibility (green), Inclusiveness (black) and Dedication (black).
These core values are revisited during morning reflection. We meet at an area known as Chapel which looks out over the most beautiful view. We then listen to a story or a poem told by one of our staff members. We challenge our campers to really think about the core values and to think about how they can model that core value in their lives.
Camp life is all about the activities. After Chapel there are two activity blocks every day for campers to participate in, and there’s a wide range of activities to choose from. These activities include Water Activities, Ropes Activities, Arts & Crafts, Outdoor & Wilderness Skills and Adventure Activities. As a counsellor my favourite activities to run were kayaking on the river or flying squirrel, where campers are lifted into the air and let fly like a superhero. These activities are followed by a daily trip to the local pool, which is always a plus for the campers. After dinner, cabins take part in cabin bonding time which gives campers the opportunity to build friendships and create memories. My favourite activities to do are Root Beer Floats, where campers go tubing on the river and drink root beer, or the classic pulling pranks on the guy cabins. Each evening is a special time for campers to come together and participate in different activities until the sun goes down! Evening Programs include all camp games in the A-Field, like capture the flag, Staff and Camper Show and Closing Campfire. During all these activities we instil a “Challenge by Choice” attitude in our campers. We encourage campers to grow and try new things but never push anyone to do anything they don’t feel comfortable with. Before bed, campers meet to sing slow songs and reflect on the day.
Weekends were spent staying in my friend’s houses, boating on the Mississippi, visiting National Parks, attending Chicago Fire games, visiting the city, over spending in Walmart and eating all the food in the world with my camp family.
This summer I worked as Staff Development Program Director, a program which is similar to Counsellor in Training Programs. I spent a lot of my time working with High School volunteers, offering advice and training to become staff members. I got the opportunity to organise and run two training weeks for kids who wanted to apply for the program. I ran team building and leadership activities. I’m so grateful to YMCA Camp Benson for giving me a lot of freedom with this program and trusting me to put my own spin on different elements. I have no doubt that the kids I worked with this summer will make excellent staff members in the future.
Every year I leave camp in tears, saying see you later to the place I call home and the people who mean the world to me. I wouldn’t change anything about my last two summers at camp. I’m very grateful for all the friends I’ve made and the opportunities working at camp has given me.
“At YMCA Camp Benson we say See you Later not Goodbye, because Goodbye implies forever and I know I’ll see everyone again some day.”