99 THINGS to Enjoy at Camp This Summer Part 9: Personal Growth

Editor’s Note: There are at minimum 99 Things about life at Camp Alleghany for Girls that are NOT changing this summer! That’s why we started our 99 THINGS Blog Series with: Part 1: Activities,  Part 2: Downtime!, Part 3: Food., Part 4: Mornings & Evenings, Part 5: Evening Activities., Part 6: Traditions!,  Part 7: Camp Clothes, and Part 8: Nature.

Over the course of my own lifetime I’ve personally experienced the surprising, exciting, and inspiring ways that everything at camp offers opportunities for personal growth and development.

Whether it’s through our friendships, activities, or goals, a special project, age cohort program, or an event like a touching Vespers or Campfire, or our glorious natural setting, the sense of returning to a familiar place, stepping away from life back at home, or stepping into a new role like as a Junior Counselor or leadership role, so many aspects of camp hold countless possibilities to test our mettle, help us grow, and nurture our innermost selves.

Even a challenging summer, a frustrating situation, or a difficult task has the ability to shape our character, ideas, and selves in new and positive ways when we remain open to growing through something unexpected (remember the flood, the derecho, and now a summer with some COVID challenges?)

I saved this category for last because…it’s complicated. But also the best!

Change, Change, Change

Personal Growth means so many different things to different people. Just thinking about change can arouse emotions from anticipation and joy to uncertainty and even a bit of anxiety.

But rest assured that not only over my many years as a camper, and then as a counselor and Head Counselor, but my years working my way up to Director and now running camp for what’s going to be my 4th summer, I’m more than confident that the personal growth that happens at camp is almost universally toward good, enriching, and ennobling ends!

Growth can be simple and small — learning to reach out and make a new friend — or momentous and huge like shifting from the role of a camper to a counselor during a Junior Counselor summer.

As I highlight a few of my favorite aspects of personal growth in my list below, I invite you to reflect back on your own camp journey — or to look forward to the summer ahead — and note the many ways camp has influenced you in ways surprising, unexpected, and even life-altering! Dig deep within to look at how you’ve changed even as the backdrop and context of camp remains consistent, familiar, and like a special retreat that’s a “home away from home.”

Here’s my list (to which we could add hundreds more ideas). What are yours?

Stretching Into Personal Growth

1. Learn how to set specific, time-limited, achievable goals in your chosen activities knowing that you’ll be supported — and celebrated — as you reach for them!

2. Stretch your wings and open your heart and mind to people from all over the world, making friends you never knew you’d have.

3. Intentionally step out of your comfort zone by trying an entirely “new-to-you” activity — maybe Archery, Canoeing, or Rifle?!

4. Get organized and put together by making sure your supplies are where you need them, and that your space is neat, tidy, and Inspection-worthy. You just might find your new habits last beyond your time at camp!

5. You know you’ll be taking a “taste or a serving” when bravely trying new foods you might otherwise pass up. You never know – you could discover a new favorite food by our cooking team this summer, WOLFoods!

6. Put pen to paper when writing a letter to someone back home the old-fashioned and s-l-o-w way, giving yourself time to fully form your thoughts and feelings while connecting to the ways of the past.

7. Explore your independence — simply being away from home for one or three or six weeks leads you to grow into yourself in so many unexpected ways, including by being your own best advocate (a topic we’re writing about in an upcoming email).

8. Afraid of being in the spotlight? Go out on a limb and try hamming it up in a skit, Airband, or even on stage in the Dance or Drama show!

9. Quiet the noise. In a busy, hectic modern world it can be difficult to think, reflect, and hear your own inner voice. With nature to inspire you daily, and moments like Rest Hour to let go of it all, you’re freed to explore new insights about yourself and discover a refreshing new sense of who you are!

10. Ditch the mirror. Well, yes, we have mirrors in the Bath House at camp. But we’re liberated from the tyranny of mirrors and all the messages sent to girls and young women about their appearance, and worse, their appearance determining their worth. We shine from the inside out at camp, and free our unique voices. For some it might be scary to let go of thinking about how you look. But most girls find a deeper part of themselves — and there’s no mistaking how beautiful each girl is when she’s true to herself!

11. The “still small voice within” is you trusting yourself. Yes being away from familiar people, places, and routines can be an adjustment, and whether you’re a first-time camper or back with us for your tenth summer, you might wonder where you fit in. You Simply Fit In. You do! And while it might feel like you’re out on a ledge and feeling vulnerable and uncertain at different ages and stages, just taking a deep breath and saying “I can do this” to all the opportunities, moments, and the whole culture of camp is an ongoing act of trusting yourself, which is always about personal growth. So let your little light shine!

Wow, I know there are so many more ways we grow at camp. So as a bonus I’m going to add one more — the 100th Thing that isn’t changing at camp, and it’s something that adds immense personal growth in these times:

12: Get ready for a liberating, life-altering, and intensely overdue (because of COVID and last summer’s cancellation) “digital detox.” There’s no question that the pulls, pressures, and omnipresence of screens, social media, and cell phones has fundamentally altered modern life. It’s hit kids (and girls) especially hard with a ceaseless barrage of superficial messages, most of which are designed to undermine rather than support girls and women. FOMO — “fear of missing out” — also ties us to relentless connection without giving us meaningful connection. It’s exhausting.

At camp we’ve long touted the merits of tech-free living at camp, something that was always a part of camp over this past century. At Alleghany we practice being a “fully connected” camp, which is a clever word play on the idea that screens connect us when in fact mostly they don’t. When we’re connected it’s because we’re shoulder-to-shoulder in song. Because we’re looking into each other’s eyes during a time of sharing. Because we’re feeling the flow of the river or the kiss of the breeze or the rising of a sudden rainstorm or the joy of its following rainbow.

A digital detox can be challenging for some, a breath of fresh air for others, and, in the end, transformative for everyone, meaning a sure avenue of personal growth. Most girls gain personal command over the unhealthy aspects of e-life by spending time at camp simply by having it at arm’s length for that period. They can see more clearly its traps, its dramas, and its dead-ends. That’s growth we can all use, or be reminded of each summer.

I know that I will grow at camp, even if it is my 31st summer here. You will too. And that, dear readers, is awesome!

Can’t wait to see you all at camp. Let the countdown begin!

— Warmly,

Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls

*If you want to learn more about the merits of sleepaway summer camp, download my FREE e-book, 3 Reasons to Begin Your Child’s Sleepaway Summer Camp Experience Early. It’s a great resource to share with friends, or if you are a first-time camp family and you wonder what sleepaway camp would be like for your child. We’re open this summer — so come join us!