Who’s at Alleghany the First Time of All? Mini Campers!

20 Years of Mini Camp

How do I begin to summarize 20 years of tie-dye fun at Camp Alleghany‘s Mini Camp? Two decades of fun, mostly in the sun, along the banks of the Greenbrier at our beloved Camp Alleghany! Suffice it to say it’s the greatest gift I could give back to the camp that has given me so much!

I started Mini Camp in 2003 with just a few months of preparation and a van load of everything imaginable from my classroom. Six tent counselors (four alumni including myself, and two “borrowed” term counselors) welcomed 25 campers for their first Alleghany experience. It rained. Every. Single. Day. I laundered clothes for everyone each night so that we had something warm and dry to wear the next day. The “foot fairy“ ran from tent to tent before Taps powdering each camper’s feet to keep them dry. We played human shuffleboard – sailing campers in bathing suits across sudsy wet grass in the rain – for entertainment. And to this day some of those first Mini Campers are still involved in camp. One returned this summer to serve as a Mini Camp Counselor herself! A very successful start to an extraordinary program.

Mini Camp steadily grew from 25 to 36 to 48 to 60 and now consistently 80 campers with a wait list. The average retention rate of those Mini Campers to Term Camp hovers at 80%. Having only one week to savor as many camp traditions as possible makes for a busy, colorful, and exciting introduction through Mini Camp.

What Makes a Mini Camp Counselor Unique

Recruiting Mini Camp counselors is one of my greatest joys. I get to reconnect with alumni who thought their camping days were done. Bringing back loyal alums, who have wisdom and maturity from life experiences, affords us the opportunity to handle the unique challenges of 80 campers who have never been to sleepaway camp before and know nothing of Alleghany’s traditions. Most Mini Camp Counselors quickly recapture the “Ghany Magic “ and return to Mini Camp for many years. Life circumstances call some away, but into their roles step eager alumni who have patiently awaited their turn.

The Purpose of Mini Camp

The main purpose for which Mini Camp was begun remains constant: To introduce young girls to the wonders of living in a community in a rustic setting steeped in tradition. Some aspects of the program have changed over these last 20 years. We found it best that Mini Campers not have their own mothers serving in camp counselor roles at the same time their daughter attends. After a few summers, we made an intentional commitment to Mini Camp serving as an introduction, not an alternative, to Term Camp, so girls now only come to Mini Camp once. However, the biggest, and best change over the years is in the extent to which Mini Camp is integrated with the Term Camp staff training experience. Initially, the program was run parallel to term Staff Training. We shared spaces but aside from activities had little interaction. Now, Term Camp counselors have opportunities within Staff Training to meet with Mini Camp Counselors and troubleshoot experiences they will likely encounter when they, the Term Counselors, have their own campers in the weeks ahead. Mini Campers benefit from having Term Counselors as “big sisters” with time intentionally scheduled to be with each other and benefit from the nuances of interacting with one another. Everyone benefits, and both the Mini Camp and Term Camp programs are stronger for this intentional engagement.

Tie-Dye Traditions

The tie-dye color, given to all Mini Campers, is an intentional representation of all the wonderful groups and colors of the Camp Alleghany experience awaiting them. Our tie-dye color also symbolizes the diversity of girls and the opportunities available at camp. To quote a Mini Camp counselor from our camp video, “You do not have to be a particular kind of girl to be an Alleghany Girl. There’s a place here for everyone! “

Our Most Challenging Season

In 2016, our 14th season, the program was pretty well entrenched and we believed we had navigated well all manner of program revisions and adjustments. Mother nature had quite a surprise for us. Steady rains yielded to rising waters and by our fifth night, we planned a “sleepover “in the Play Hall with 76 girls. As the waters continued to rise and a state of emergency was declared in West Virginia, our sleepover became an extended “camp out. “ As the water began to recede it was still not safe to cross the river for departure so we delayed departure by a day. When I announced to the girls that they were the first group of Mini Campers ever to enjoy such a surprise – an extra night at camp- 76 muddy little girls jumped to their feet and cheered, hugging one another, oblivious to what was happening in the world. They just knew they got an extra day of Mini Camp!

Mini Camp’s Impact on Alleghany Girls Today

I met with our Leaders-In-Training (LITs) young women this summer. LITs are 16 years old. Two-thirds of them were former Mini Campers and still spoke fondly and specifically about memories from their Mini Camp experience. Many of this year’s heads of camp were also Mini Campers at one time. Seeing so very many girls returning year after year, having begun their journey at Mini Camp, has been incredibly rewarding.

Mini Camp Magic Continues

For girls rising second grade through rising fifth grade, Mini Camp is not required, but it has been a very successful option for the girls who choose to come. For loyal alumni who want yet another taste of that ‘Ghany magic, serving as a Mini Camp Counselor is a gift! It has been my honor to serve alongside so very many of you these last two decades. Most of all, it has been a privilege to serve Camp Alleghany as the Director of Mini Camp for 20 years.

I will be eager to see what my future role may be at Alleghany. I know I will enjoy watching Mini Camp continue to thrive as new girls catch that “tie dye spirit” as they become ‘Ghany Girls for life!

A Song to End the Season

(Rainbow Connection tune)

Why are there so many songs about ‘Ghany and what’s on the other side (of the river)?

‘Ghany has history
and lots of traditions.
I’m glad you gave it a try.

But Mini Camp’s only
the start of your journey.
There’s so much more, wait and see.

I hope to see you next summer at Term Camp, as a camper with counselors and me.

Whether you’ve been here
Just one year…  or plenty
Your heart will always here be.

Camp’s where you feel at home, among lifelong sisters,
with whom you’re so happy to be.

Making new friends
and embracing the old ones –
it’s true, just take it from me.

I’m glad you’ve found it,
The ‘Ghany connection.
Of campers, of counselors and me!

-la la la la la la la

‘Ghany’s our home,
Now you have a home.
We all love our home at ‘Ghany!