Being a camp counselor this past summer was an unbelievable experience for me. This opportunity allowed me to bring my camp experience full circle as I worked with kids in the same aidot I attended as a camper. This cyclical coincidence along with my more mature perspective made this summer so much more meaningful as I learned just as much, if not more, from my campers than I taught them. For me, it was a blessing to get to work with this age group and use the mistakes I remembered from being their age to help improve their experience. Most of all, I remembered being part of the petty drama that exists between girls on the cusp of high school – the height of adolescent insecurities. Because I was familiar with the unnecessary pain this drama causes, I made it my goal to make sure that my bunk became a family. It was so incredibly moving for me to see my girls doing the same activities I had learned in Young Judaea that had helped me make some of my most meaningful friendships to overcome many social barriers.
Dynamic icebreaker questions and bonding board games helped new girls feel welcomed at an older age when many friendships had already been formed. Journal entries and fill in the blanks helped an already close group of kids form a beautiful and connected family by helping them learn what they truly connected to and believed in. Knowing that I played even a small part in helping facilitate the formation and evolution of these friendships that I know will last a lifetime was more meaningful to me than I can describe. More than what I contributed though, I was amazed by what I learned from the kids I worked with. I witnessed girls so compassionate and mature for their age that their work to include and please all their peers brought them to tears. I saw a group of individual 13 year olds become a community when they comforted one another after tensions got too high and then took the time to calmly discuss their differences of opinions. These kids showed me what it means to be comfortable with who you are and understanding of who those around you are.
As I was entering college this past week, I found myself very worried about meeting new people. However, I knew that if I could be anything like the 12 and 13 year-old kids I worked with this summer I would have a new family in no time. I was inspired by the confidence and compassion I witnessed this summer to enter this new phase of my life with no apologies about who I am or what I believe but rather patience and understanding for those who disagree with me. I learned from these kids what power a simple smile holds and how the best friends are those who listen to and engage with others. It was the confidence and newfound self-awareness I gained from watching and befriending these amazing kids that allowed me to approach the first day of my pre-orientation program (arguably one of the scariest days of my life) with a smile, handshake, and proud voice of who I am. These skills have already carried me far in my first week alone and I can’t wait to see how they continue to do so.