My feet tread the gravel road winding around the lake with a thick layer of fog.
The Enchanted Mountains of Western New York loom above the valley as I breathe in clean air, unadulterated from the city I'm used to. It's 6:25 a.m. I've had a cold shower, put on some clean clothes, and I walk around the gravel road up a slope from the girl's cabins to the lodge on top of a hill.
I'm pierced with the morning cold of a northern summer, despite my sweatshirt and a pale flannel blue blanket I've wrapped around my shoulders.
I walk inside the warm lodge. I pick up a mug on the shelf next to the big containers of hot coffee and hot water. The assortment of mugs at camp makes me very happy, cups with pictures of Currier and Ives, a lime green frog with eyes bulging, "You're the best mom ever" slogans, and of course, mugs with the camp logo of a pine tree, heart, and flame next to each other. My mugs of preference were a plain turquoise mug and the mug with a Currier and Ives design.
Pushing the tab on the well loved container with hot coffee, more counseling staff start filtering in to get their dose of caffeine for the long day ahead.
While the camp ambrosia fills up my turquoise mug, a friend comes beside me with a smile.
"Good morning Katie," Bonnie says.
"Good morning," I say, while I stir in my sugar, cream, and grab one of the sweet flaky pastries the chef left out for the counselors. I smile as we share about our first night with the campers. Ten new faces in each cabin, eager for a full week of camp. Excitement filled their hearts as they reveled in the anticipation of horse rides, zip-lining, sports, kayaking, skits put on by the counseling staff, camp fires, late night conversations, and of course, camp food. For an ice breaker, sitting in a circle on the wood floors of our cabin, I asked my campers to share their highs and lows of the day. There were lots of giggles and thrown pillows, but we went to sleep a little past midnight. An early night to start off the week!
Camp Li-Lo-Li is Christian camp in western New York state. The name stands for life, love and light, referring to attributes of Jesus Christ in the Bible.
I've been going there since I was ten. Located in a valley surrounded by mountains, it's a place where kids unwind from hectic lives at home. No phones, no internet, no calls or texts. All electronics are turned into the office when campers arrive. Some naturally struggle with separation from the technology that never seems to be shut off, yet the time kids spend disconnecting from technology is evident in their bright and shining faces as they get to focus on one thing: being a kid. Laughing with friends, goofing off, playing outdoors and being present in the moment: not worrying about how many likes their Instagram photo got, the plot of a new television show, or the latest updates in the news.
It's freeing, being in camp. In the valley, surrounded by mountains and friends.
As a counselor, I have one of the best jobs in the camp. I get to be with kids 24/7. Actually, let me rephrase that.
I get to be a kid --albeit responsible-- for my time volunteering. I get to lead and play sports with the kids, act in Bible skits, teach outdoors skills classes, help kids make crafts, and talk. Kids have a lot to say and I have a lot to learn. It seriously is the best job.
Growing up at this camp was a big factor in my growth as a child. I didn't grow up with many friends or a good family situation, so being at camp was always the highlight of the year. I felt like I had a home. I felt like people truly cared about me and worked for the purpose of giving me the best week possible and teaching me about Jesus.
As a counselor, I'm able to reciprocate the feelings of belonging and love I felt as a camper.
I've been privileged to have late-night conversations with girls in my cabins within my three years counseling. Kids will tell me about difficult circumstances at home and other things they struggle with. Being able to listen and love on these campers as they share their burdens is an honor, especially as many have done the same for me.
You may be wondering, why does this matter?
What is the significance in remembering the joy of summers past, and my love for the work there?
I think it's important to revel in activities that have helped to shape our lives. Camp has been transformative for me, in helping to further my relationship with Jesus and others. Being with the same people 24/7 for a week, I've made some of my closest friends here. Camp became the family I never knew at home.
My experience at university has felt a lot like camp. It feels like I basically live with my best friends, seeing them most of the time and growing with them through the beginning of adulthood and the challenges this and college life brings, not to mention living in the midst of a radically changing country.
We become each other's family away from home.
Besides being at camp, my adopted family at FGCU is wonderful, and I truly feel welcome. This is a place where I'm invited to grow and where I have the ability to help others grow through the transformative period of life that university helps to facilitate.
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