Our Core Stories
A few weeks ago I took part in “Camp Director’s Camp”- a gathering of 35 camp directors from the US and Canada- in beautiful Cape Cod, MA. The weekend was designed to re-create the camper experience for us directors by having us sleep in rustic cabins, turn off all devices, share primitive bathroom facilities and connect with our peers and nature. It would be a stretch to say it was life changing, but it was affirming and challenging at the same time.
You might think that, as a lot, camp directors love all those ice-breaker activities that seem de rigueur on these retreats. We don’t all feel that way! I sort of dread them, but at the same time recognize their usefulness. I met directors from day camp programs, music camps, camps that serve children with all sorts of challenges, and one particularly foul-mouthed young director whose passion for her mission was matched only by her creative cursing. Geographically, ethnically, and physically we made for a diverse lot, but for all our differences the magic of camp worked, and by the end of the retreat we were exchanging contact information with promises to keep in touch- not at all unlike what happens at the close of a Mishawaka session.
One of the particularly memorable activities required that we tell others a few of our “Core Stories”- stories we tell ourselves that define who we are, often triggered by events or patterns in our own lives. After each member of our group told his or her story, the others in the group shared what values those stories illustrated. Courage, honor, persistence, empathy, altruism, kindness were just a few of the recurring themes. This was the affirming part, and though it was an intentional exercise, I think it mirrors what plays out over the course of a session at Camp Mishawaka.
It dawned on me as we were doing this that we as adults tell ourselves stories every day, but seldom do we get to tell those stories to each other. Whether we are just too busy, or the idea of putting ourselves out there in such a position of vulnerability is too daunting, we don’t often get the opportunity. Campers at Mishawaka get the chance to tell their stories every day. Not in “story” class or as a part of any intentional activity but against the broader backdrop of group living, shared experience, bed-time chats, or as part of any number of the activities or trips that make up a typical day at Camp. All of this happens free from the judgements that get dispensed all-too-often and all-too-quickly in the digital realm. Collectively, these stories reaffirm a culture at Mishawaka that is caring, creative and kid- focused. Individually these stories give campers a chance to put their successes and failures, victories and defeats into a context that builds value, and values, from the inside out.
In no small way, it changes the stories campers tell themselves.
It may just be that the process that plays out each summer at Mishawaka is a “Core Story” itself. I tend to believe it is- and not just from my own Camp Mishawaka experience- but from the hundreds of kids who return each summer, and each generation, to write their own “next chapter” all the while contributing to the stories of so many others.