At the age of eleven, I was introduced to the camping experience by a dear friend of mine named Emily. Little did the eleven-year-old version of myself know how much she would need camp. Prior to being a camper and later working at a summer camp, I had no idea what real Christian community looked like and Camp Glisson gave me that community.

As my parents drove under the canopy of trees and my first day of camp began my whole body trembled. Being only eleven years old I had so may thoughts of fear and excitement running through my mind. This place filled with such warm smiles from strangers who did not even know my name calmed my fears in an instant. One memory that sticks out in my mind like a neon sign is my first time participating in singing on the porch. This consists of the whole camp being led in song and singing or screaming to be more honest, to songs like Country Roads. This experience made me glow with joy for the rest of the week. This time became what I looked forward to every day. After such a heartwarming experience, I came back to camp every summer up until my final summer as a camper which was my senior year.

Working at a summer camp later as a sixteen and seventeen years old allowed me to further experience this idea of a Christian community. Glisson has a sister program called ELI which allows raising juniors and seniors to be summer camp counselors. This program shocks me to my core. I participated in it for both years and I would have to credit who I am today to that program. My fellow counselors and the people leading me made me feel so at home and taught me many life lessons.

One week during ELI summer of 2017 I was stationed at Midway UMC in Auburn Georgia and I felt like my whole world collapsing on me. My campers told me they hated me and I thought I was the worst counselor in the history of the camp. One day the pressure from it all got the best of me and I snapped. These kids who I cared for so deeply just did not show love the same way I expected. In a hallway in the church, I fell to my knees sobbing. A sweet friend of mine came to my rescue and using magic words he somehow got my campers to enjoy camp. As I sat on the floor in a puddle of my own tears, I remember thinking how blessed I was to have people who could come to my rescue. This community allowed me to lean on them in times of need and also be a safe place to go and recharge.

This community is a safe haven from the outside world. Summer camp through its collection of people showed me how loved I am, that I am worth so much more than my appearance, and that the right people either find you or you find them. When I was on a bus believe it or not is when one of these right people found me. We had the chance to talk and realized how much we had in common. We became attached at the hip the rest of the summer. Even when we were separated we channeled our inner 1980 and called each other on landlines. The distance could not break what a strong friendship we built in such a small time period. Even to this day, I love him to mars and back. Making genuine friends like that allowed me to block out the negative lies I had been told by outside forces.

The picture above forever holds a special place in my heart because that place gave me my two favorite people in this world. The girl on the far left is my best friend of fourteen years. She is my rock and without her, I would have never had the courage to be myself. The girl second to the left is me. The boy third to the left is the boy I met on a bus. While we have only been friends for a short time he has come to play a vital role in my life. I got to be in between my two best friends and that is all thanks to camp.

Summer camp saved my life. If it was those people and the friendships I have been blessed with I don't know where I would be today. Now as I leave my days as a camper behind I walk into this world trying to show others like me and different from me, the values I gained at camp.