“The organized summer camp is the most important step in education, in the broadest sense, that America is giving the world,” said Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot, over seventy years ago.
On this basis we have developed the philosophy of summer camping in which we strongly believe, based on the theory that a democracy cannot flourish without men and women of virtue who will conduct themselves wisely and honorably in public and private life, and who will influence their fellow citizens to follow their example.
Independent private camps have exceptional opportunities to cultivate faith, integrity, and learning in their campers through a program touching every aspect of their lives. It is our duty to make the most of these opportunities.
We believe that camps must do everything possible to promote high standards of honor, to develop a respect and active concern for others, and to develop sportsmanship, self-discipline, and a willingness to assume responsibility. Establishing a distinct honor code at camp teaches girls and boys not to lie, cheat, or steal from others.
We see it as our mission to stimulate our campers’ interest in our program and to encourage them to think and act rationally, critically, and independently. The goal of summer camp is to promote good health to provide training in and opportunities for various activities, and to develop an interest in nature and in outdoor living and the wonders of the great natural environment found in the hills and valleys of our great country.
Summer camps are a unique community of men and women, living together in the great outdoors, learning how to get along with their neighbors and learning respect for others and the responsibility that goes with living closely together.
In the words of Nancy Regan, “camps can make a difference in the development of children when we try.” At summer camps we should try very hard to build self-esteem and love for each other amongst our campers.
I think that summer camp is a wonderful opportunity and in the 70 years since my first trip to a boys’ camp in West Virginia, camp has been the thing which has supported me through all these long years. The friends that I made as a camper 70 years ago are still my friends. I now see their granddaughters and great granddaughters at the girls’ summer camp I own and operate alongside my son. The love and support of the many friends I have made through my camping years has brought me to my 85th year. I still get much enjoyment when I hear how our camp has helped guide a young girl in the right direction.
The spirit of camp, without sounding trite to those who have felt it or vague to those that haven’t, is something that is shared by many people. Here are a few quotes that help demonstrate what a summer camp can provide:
Girls…come from Colorado to Czechoslovakia, from Texas to New York and everywhere in between. Some come from abusive homes, others ‘Leave it to Beaver’ families. Some do not have a lot of money and others live in mansions. Yet, we spend seven weeks together and our friendships strengthen every day and will probably last forever.
[Summer] camp taught me that it’s okay to be me and that there are people who like me for me. It taught me that importance of friendship and open-mindedness…it’s the best place on earth. I can never thank my mother enough for passing the tradition on to me. — Jessie Marshall, 1994
Take advantage of those hiking trails that wind through the mountains and the lazy Greenbrier which always lends a soothing hand to any weary soul that yields to her. Say hello to those Alleghanies, to those daffodils and daisies and Queen Anne’s Lace, to the willows and oaks and elms that always offered me their shade and created so many fantasies, and especially to the river which erupts a nostalgia in any one of our hearts at the thought of it. Leave a seed to my spirit which you carry as my father in order to let all of these things know that they are still very much a part of me and me a part of them. — Katherine Houck, 1990
One special benefit of [summer camp] that is not always stressed is the opportunity for young women to develop a sisterhood with other talented and intelligent young women. In the typical coed environment, girls are sometimes inhibited from trying new things for fear of looking foolish “in front of the boys.” [A girls camp] gives young women the opportunity to develop at their own pace, form friendships with other girls, seek out new adventures, relax a little from the demanding academics of the school year, and become confident young women. — Adrienne Rasmus, 1990
Like every other [camp] summer, there were exercises in patience, cooperation, and leadership during my first summer as a counselor. I learned to live independently, while assuming responsibility for others. My role as a counselor taught me how to be a mother, a teacher, and a friend at the same time. Through this experience I have gained a new appreciation for my parents because I understand what I have gained from my six summers [as a camp counselor]. I know it is rewarding to make a child happy for even just one summer. This sense of appreciation and understanding has helped me in my life outside of [summer camp].
So when someone asks me what I did during the summer, I can talk about friendship, acceptance, laughter, leadership opportunities, and personal growth. But I never mention camp because camp is too short a word for all that [the experience] has taught me. — Virginia Seabring, 1990
You don’t have to be an old timer at [summer camp] to be captivated by its aura of love, spirit, friendliness, and fun; all are words often used to describe such a place. Many times I sit and think, and think, and think, but I still can’t seem to come up with more and better adjectives, because the words just aren’t there. True, the more summers you can experience at [camp], the closer you come. However, one can grasp such an intangible feeling through a single smile. You don’t keep the spirit you find and possess at camp in a box to admire throughout the long winter; instead, it fills you with such happiness that you just can’t keep it to yourself. It’s at this point when you know you have found [summer camp’s] true meaning.
This spirit isn’t just a Blue-Gray game or campfire, but a way of life. If you carry it with you always, you can carry it with you as a model. No, you can’t pull the spirit of [camp] out of a hat, or snap your fingers and suddenly feel it. You can’t see or touch it, so it takes a little bit of faith to believe in it. It takes understanding and love. It’s there, it always has been, and it always will be. This, to me, is the wonderful magic of [summer camp]. — Genie Land, 1977
A special place, a special role
Our camp is not that different from other camps. It is a special place, as all camps are. Actually, our camp is modeled after another camp in New Hampshire.
Summer camps specialize in a variety of activities. Some camps emphasize sports and some emphasize the outdoors. Some camps are coed while some are single sex. Whatever type it may be, summer camps provide an environment in which we can teach young people to be better citizens. Summer camps help children grow and I can’t think of any job more important than helping a child build self-confidence and independence in a strong and supportive environment.
Some people feel that camps are an escape from reality, a place to go to block out the rest of the world. I believe that by going to summer camp you are not escaping from life, but learning to live it.
— by the late S. Cooper Dawson*, Former Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls
Originally published in the 1995-96 Vincent/Curtis Educational Register, Boston, Ma.