When it comes to deciding how to spend those crucial summers in the years leading up to college, junior high and high school girls these days have a lot of options: traveling overseas for a volunteer program, interning for someone in a field of their interest, taking some extra summer classes, and more – all with the hopes of bulking up résumés for college.
While each of these summer options all have worthy benefits, I’ve had the distinct privilege of seeing firsthand the benefits of taking a slightly different route: Sleepaway summer camp in general, and The Upstart Program at Camp Alleghany for Girls specifically.
Upstarts On the Camp Alleghany Journey
During the summer of 2019, I had the incredibly rewarding opportunity to work with eighty-nine 14- and 15-year-old girls as their Upstart “Mom.” I watched as these girls spent a summer, whether it was three weeks or six, growing in maturity and confidence.
As part of the mission of the Upstarts Program, they developed their problem-solving, time management, and speaking skills, just to name a few. Often the girls learned or achieved these things without even realizing it and all while having so much fun and quite often laughing until their stomachs hurt.
I worked with the Upstarts either every day (with the 15s) or every other day (with the 14s) in our Upstart Class. Upstart classes are designed very intentionally to work on a variety of skills, but all in a casual and supportive environment that’s unlike school and doesn’t have the pressures and counterproductive grading found in schools.
While many of the activities change every year, the goals remain the same: To grow in confidence, competence, conviviality (friendships), and communication! This summer, some of our activities included lessons on helpful communication, empathy in our interactions with others, public speaking, recognizing and emulating qualities we see in leaders, and learning project management as the Upstarts planned a variety of events over the course of the summer.
The Deeper Growth
Outside of these classes, I saw girls continue to develop those skills as they took on a host of responsibilities, including: managing their daily schedules, role modeling appropriate and empowering behavior for younger campers, tackling more challenging levels in their activities, and becoming leaders among their peers.
One thing our Upstarts do for others in camp is called “Upstarting,” which is when an Upstart babysits for a tent of younger campers when that tent counselor has time off. Inevitably, every summer, our Upstarts come to realize on their own what an influence they’re having on those younger girls (sometimes as young as 7).
I love this moment because I see it dawn on the Upstarts that their role modeling doesn’t end when the counselor returns to her tent, but continues long after. Younger campers search the Upstarts out in crowds, want to continue connecting with these big-sister like figures, and model their own behavior after the Upstart’s behavior. They do everything in their power to form close relationships with the Upstarts. The responsibility these older girls feel, as well as the self-awareness that develops, is so wonderful to see, and I saw it again and again this summer.
Camp Alleghany is designed in general to positively guide girls of all ages, to challenge and push them, but to do so within a supportive and loving community of people who want to see each other succeed.
For the Upstarts, whether the challenge is learning the skill of waitressing if they choose to be Hoppers in our Dining Hall (and the personal time management that comes with that job), speaking in front of the whole camp at Upstart Vespers, or leading groups of younger campers in evening activities, there’s something to challenge each one of them toward more age-appropriate personal growth and self-development.
While we love to see campers come back as Leaders-In-Training (LITs), Junior Counselors (JCs), and more, when deciding whether to come to camp for an Upstart summer, it doesn’t matter whether campers plan to spend many more summers on the Greenbrier River or not. The lessons gained from the Upstart summers easily translate to fit any number of future conference or retreat opportunities, jobs, internships, or leadership ventures. However, there’s only one place where a junior or high school girl can have these time-tested training ground experiences all while in the relaxed, uplifting, and naturally-inspiring setting of a community of young women and girls – and that’s at Camp Alleghany for Girls!
— Lilly Walsh, 2019 Upstart Mom, Camp Alleghany for Girls