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Camp OOTB

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I stood by the bay washing prosthetics caked in marsh mud, bug spray, and sweat. As I scrubbed, heads popped in and out of the shallow water of the Chesapeake Bay, intermittently screaming “Polo!” Kate and Keaton, sans half of their limbs, giggled atop the backs of two of their friends, the “Marco” camper in hot pursuit of the more vulnerable “Polo.” As I looked out at the setting sun, I felt privileged to have spent a total of twelve weeks over the past two summers employed at camp, providing a multitude of camp activities and -more importantly- a feeling of self-importance and acceptance for a wide array of campers.

Earlier that morning, twelve eager campers and four counselors, including myself, had set out for a camp-out in rugged canoes filled to the brim with a night’s worth of supplies. Kate steadied herself in the middle of the canoe and trailed her one biological hand through the water while my camper rowing partner alternated between griping and rowing with all his might to ram the other canoes. Two flips of the canoes and three dramatic sting ray sightings later, we secured our boats in the tall grasses of our camp site, a small peninsula of beach jutting out from dense, secluded forest.

I was drained and more than a little irritable after the exhausting day. I just wanted to eat, collapse on my sleeping bag, and sleep. Kate and Keaton sat on their towels near the fire pit, looking around excitedly, while the other campers explored the campsite. Suddenly, despite my exhaustion, I realized that I was the caretaker of these naive, vulnerable, and inexperienced children. I realized that this was what separated a camper from a counselor; I could not focus solely on my own needs and desires but owed it to these children to focus on theirs instead.
I put on my biggest smile, wiped the sand off of my hands, and began showing the campers how to set up the campsite. Keaton scooted himself to my side and eagerly began adding twigs to the fire in increments, proud of himself for contributing to something so powerful. A couple of campers took the initiative to pass out plates while we stirred the sandy but hearty mac and cheese. Kate ambled behind, squirting small puddles of hand sanitizer into the blistered, sweaty hands she was offered. After the campers had their fill, I encouraged everyone to go on a sunset swim. Life jackets fastened and buddies established, they quickly initiated a game of Marco Polo. The pink and orange of the setting sun illuminated their slightly sunburned, droopy eyed, but overall radiant faces. I scrubbed Kate and Keaton’s sturdy limbs and felt proud of myself for being a bit of a surrogate mother this week, for handling both the responsibility of dealing with their fears, quirks, and obscure ailments and for giving them the memorable week they deserved.

The next summer, I was accepted to both the Governor’s School for Humanities and VASTS Summer Academy. As my parents and I nervously made my bunk and read the itinerary, I realized that I was now a camper of sorts. However, as I met the enthusiastic leaders who would guide us through the academies, I understood their position. Having been a leader myself to so many children over the past two summers, I had developed a lasting maturity and confidence. I have developed the skills to adapt and respond quickly to any situation that may arise and to put those around me at ease. Moreover, my years as a camp counselor have helped me to realize that I want to live a life of service. Although I have many decisions to make about my future, camp instilled in me the idea that putting others before myself is crucial to my professional success and my personal satisfaction.



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