Whenever I’m asked to speak about Camp Alleghany, I find it so difficult to put into words exactly what it is that has compelled me to return almost every summer for nearly two decades.
Yes, Hazel’s food is amazing. Yes, I love waking up to see a slight mist over the beautiful West Virginia mountains. Yes, I love the first jump into the clear, cold Greenbrier River after a year away. There’s even something special about being woken up at dawn to a bugle and lulled to sleep at day’s end by Taps.
Yet, it’s so much more than this.
Alleghany is a magical place – a place that turns young girls into confident, secure, honest, and loyal young women. Alleghany changes you.
How it all began for me…
I began my camping years at the age of 7 at “another camp” in North Carolina.
At age 12 I switched to Garrison Forest for middle school and met three girls who convinced me to give Alleghany a try. I did, and that summer was the beginning of my love affair with Alleghany.
At Alleghany there were no cliques, no school stress, no technology and… no boys. It was as if we were able to shed the insecurities of home and become our true selves in a place that accepted all of us for exactly who we were.
I was afforded not only some of the best memories of my life, but by far, some of the deepest, most honest and most loving friendships I have had, and they’ve extended well beyond camp. These friends were in my wedding, they’re the godparents of my children, and they’re usually the first people I call when something good or bad happens in my life.
I have ‘Ghany friends all over this country. I can truly go to almost any city and have someone there from camp that I can’t wait to catch up with. When we see each other, it feels as if no time has passed.
The greatest thing of all is that camp washes away age differences. I have ‘Ghany friends who are 12 year old campers and I have ‘Ghany friends who are 20 years older than me. That’s because Alleghany ties its girls together in a strong bond of sisterhood. Alleghany gives us that.
Where else but ‘Ghany?
Alleghany has also offered me experiences I never would have had elsewhere.
Not only is living without electricity in a tent with four girls something that I would never have done staying in Baltimore during the summers, but I also learned to shoot a rifle, paddle a canoe, and weave a basket. I learned to make a bed with hospital corners with the pillow facing out.
I learned the correct way to raise and lower a flag from a flagpole.
It was at camp that I learned to say “Yes ma’am” and “no thank you.” I was taught to honor my country, my friends and most importantly, myself. I was able to be as silly as I wanted, lip synching to the latest songs while dressed in ridiculous costumes. But I was also taught the importance of listening and respecting others.
Alleghany was a significant and treasured part of making me who I am today.
Memories and future memories
I remember one day my father asked me, “What is the best thing I ever gave you? Garrison Forest, Wake Forest, or Camp Alleghany?” Without hesitation, I replied, “Alleghany.” To which he quickly said, “Great, and that was the cheapest of them all!”
But I think my father realizes that he gave me so much more than three weeks at summer camp. He gave me friends that I couldn’t live without, memories I cherish with all my heart, stories I’ll tell my grandchildren….and honestly, he gave me a second home.
I just had my first daughter a year ago after two boys and the most important thing that I want her to be when she grows up is a ‘Ghany girl!
–Natalie Litz Bissonnette, Camp Alleghany Alum