How many children attend camp each summer? According to the American Camp Association (ACA), 14 million kids and adults go to camp every summer. To understand why summer camps are so popular, Baltimore’s Child asked several coordinators and directors from summer camps in the Baltimore area to reflect on how going to summer camp helped shape them into the adults they are today.
Director, Camp Louise
Who would have thought that a terribly home-missing, 10-year-old camper would make it through a summer … and the next 40 years at camp? Yup, that was me in 1980. After one of the nurses called my mom and put me on the phone with her—which is not how it’s done today—my mom said I had to stay. I am beyond grateful that she did, even though I know she cried to my dad that they should pick me up right away.
I can confidently say that I would not be the person I am today without camp.
Through the past 40 years, I have learned how to step out of my comfort zone and try something new—even as an adult. How can I talk about our three-level incredible Adventure Park—which is great for everyone else but definitely not my thing—if I hadn’t tried it out for myself? On a Friday night, when the entire camp was folk dancing in the gym, up I went with the support and guidance from our amazing outdoors staff.
I have learned about the importance of community. Camp people are like none other and they truly become a second family. They are there in good times and bad and not just for the two months of the summer. I remember as a camper being allowed to call one of my camp friends after 9 p.m. on a Sunday when the rates went down just to stay connected. How lucky are we today that we can stay in touch so easily?
Most importantly, camp gave me my family. I met my husband Neil, who grew up at Camp Airy and now works full time as our director of operations at camp, and we are so grateful that our three daughters have had the wonderful opportunity to be at camp every summer literally since they were born. What an amazing gift! Thank goodness that my mom did not pick me up early from summer camp 40 years ago!
J Camps Coordinator, JCC of Greater Baltimore
I was a camp kid growing up. I spent the school year counting down the days until summer began. I imagined myself sitting on the big yellow bus rocking over the bumps on Mount Gilead Road on the way to the former Camp Milldale—and sweating off the sunscreen I had slapped onto my face that morning.
Each camp day began and ended in the same way. Camp staff members would greet me with big smiles and a friendly “Hello, how was your morning?” As a camper, the second that I stepped off the bus, I was already learning about what it meant to be a leader and how to be a good friend. I immediately felt a wave of empowerment from being part of an inclusive community that was so much bigger than I was.
Camp taught me that it is cool to try new things like eating pizza that baked in the hot sun and wearing your craziest pair of pajamas. I learned that the more glitter and paint you have on your body for color war the better and that you are never too old to come to work on a Tuesday in a tutu.
I never spent a summer without J Camps. As I got older, I followed the hierarchy and became a CIT, junior counselor, senior counselor and then a unit head. A large majority of my senior year of college was spent traveling to different job interviews. In late April 2019, I got a call from Emily Stern, senior director of camping at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, letting me know she had a full-time job opening on the camp team. From the moment I walked into that interview, I knew this was the place I wanted to be. I knew it was a job where I could make a difference and better myself. I could not imagine spending my summers without camp.
As a camper, I always looked up to my counselors and specialists. Now that I am a leadership member, I look up to the campers. The campers have taught me so much, but above all else, they have taught me resilience, strength, hope and kindness. They are a constant source of energy and light during the craziest of camp days. As a kid, I used to count down the days until summer began. Now I find myself doing that as I sit in the camp office year-round and attend meetings to make sure each summer is the best one yet. I am already counting down the days until June!
Joseph T. Madigan
Senior Camp Director, McDonogh Summer Camps
Attending camp throughout elementary and middle school made a tremendous impact on my development as an adult. Through attending camp, I was able to become my true self by interacting with peers and young adults in a much less constricting setting than school. I had opportunities to challenge myself outside of my comfort levels, develop relationship skills with my peers at camp and learn from my mistakes.
Throughout the daily camp competitions, collaborative problem solving, relaxing art and cooking projects and traditional camp rituals, I felt a place of belonging and pride. My enjoyment of the camp experience lead me to be a camp counselor, educator and camp director. The growth that occurred throughout my camp experiences absolutely helped mold me into the person I am today and approach challenges with an optimistic perspective the same way we did then.
Even today, decades later, I am still friends with many of the peers I engaged with at camp. The experiences and memories we made together were lasting whether they were magnificent—such as winning a color war—or disappointing, such as having multiple rainy days in a week. Even the simplest events such as bus rides or picnic lunches on field trips stand out to me as fond memories that will remain forever. Together, we learned to find the best in every situation.
I still feel the same way as an adult today. Without camp, I’m not sure how I would have overcome so many challenges, developed deep-lasting relationships and evolved an appreciation for the summer camp experience in the way I have today.
Director, Summer at Friends
I don’t remember my first summer as a camper very well—I was 4! But I do remember being adamant that I was coming back. Ever since that first summer, camp has felt like home to me. I was lucky enough to get to explore new subjects and experience so many new activities—something we really push at Summer at Friends.
I learned to swim at camp. I learned lacrosse and soccer at camp. I learned about robotics at camp. I even learned how to dance, but we won’t talk about that. I first fell in love with audio engineering while attending a two-week MIDI Electronic Music camp at Friends. I stuck with it, too, and ultimately earned a college degree in the subject.
Camp was, and remains, a great place to make friends and connections from all over the world. Each year, I look forward to seeing my “camp friends” and making new ones. It’s also a low-pressure place to be bold and try new things. Camp taught me to get out of my comfort zone, and that has made all the difference to me.
All provided photography courtesy of story sources.