“Quaker camp changed my life” is more than just a bumper sticker. It is a central truth in my life as a BYM Quaker. My best friend in second and third grade, Linda Garrettson, introduced me to a new way of living as part of a Quaker family. The Garrettsons taught me to make pizza from scratch, sang silly songs together as they worked and asked me to participate in moment of silence before each meal at their home. Almost the second I began to visit their home, Linda and her parents talked to me about the fun they had at Camp Catoctin each summer, and they began to work on my parents to send me there. Finally, in 1979, my parents agreed to send me for two weeks. I was hooked immediately! Never before had I felt such acceptance and unconditional love. As an awkward 12 year old, I felt challenged spiritually and physically to do unfamiliar and sometimes scary things like hiking 10 miles with a full pack, rock climbing and sitting in silence daily at the fire circle.
The decision to attend camp that summer influenced the rest of my life. I came back the next summer for Unit 1 and signed up for the inaugural year for Teen Adventure the following year. Later, I worked as a counselor at Catoctin. Each of the 7 summers I had at camp helped me to define my values and become a stronger person. My family was vaguely Christian and was not active in a church when I first came to camp, and the gentle spiritual teachings of Barry Morley had a profound impact on me. I became an active attender of Richmond Friends Meeting as an 8th grader and participated in BYM Young Friends Conferences for most of high school and college. My love of nature, camping and nurturing children sprang from my experiences as a BYM camper, counselor and Young Friend. Not surprisingly, I chose to become an educator for my career and I became an active member of Richmond Friends Meeting. Thanks to Linda Garrettson and her fantastic family, I was given a glimpse of what Quakerism is all about. Camp gave me a place to see Quakerism in action in the world. I learned to see that of God in everyone, to work together with others to get chores done and to try things that may seem hard with the encouragement of Friends. Many years later, when I became a parent, I sent my sons to camp as soon as they were old enough to attend. Being a good Quaker mother, I let them decide which of the residential camps they wanted to attend and both chose Shiloh Quaker Camp, like many of their friends from Richmond Meeting. Alex loved camp immediately and not only attended Shiloh for 6 summers and did Teen Adventure. Then he applied to become a counselor. Last summer he completed his second summer at Shiloh as a Unit 5 counselor. My younger son Andrew attended as a “staff brat” for a week each summer as I cooked and then, he too was a camper for 6 summers. After 10 years at Shiloh, Andrew plans to attend Teen Adventure next summer.
What I had not counted on when I sent my boys to Shiloh was the importance that camp would again take in my life. I began doing work grants in the kitchen mostly at Shiloh, but also at Opequon and Catoctin as needed. Camp came back in to my life after 20 years on the “long overnight,” just as my first marriage ended and I was faced with single parenthood. The time living in community helped me to heal and refocus on my life goals. The silence, the songs and the marvelous food helped me to return home stronger each summer. My memory was jogged about how much young children can do to be helpful, after seeing the campers in work crews. So, I learned to have my children help with dishes, cleaning bathrooms and other chores I saw them do at camp.
Later, when my boyfriend Nick joined me to cook in the kitchen to help defer my boys’ tuition, I knew that he was a keeper. I also got a chance to see how he functioned in the offbeat realm of camp. Making pancakes for 100 was a pretty good test to see if he was ready for a Quaker family. He passed with flying colors and has come back each year since as my husband.
Much to my delight, camp also gave me a chance to see the next generation of my family and Linda Garrettson’s family interact. This summer Linda’s son, Terran, was a counselor at Shiloh with my son Alex. Terran was also my son Andrew’s counselor for Unit 1. It felt like the whole universe was aligned the evening that Linda came to help out in the kitchen at Shiloh, and we got to see our sons in action together playing games at evening activity. Linda and I even got to share a stolen evening of “girl talk” and catching up like we might have had 30 years ago when we were counselors together.
Most importantly, camp began the process of teaching Alex and Andrew to become independent young men. At camp their counselors taught Alex and Andrew life skills like how to work as a team, how to overcome obstacles and to become more self-reliant. When I dropped Alex off at college for the first time this year, I had no doubt that he was ready to live away from home and had the self-confidence to face challenging decisions on his own.
Who knows how camp will impact all of our children’s lives in the long run? I know that my life and my family members’ lives have been greatly enriched by our participation in BYM camps. I am hopeful that one day my sons will see the life changing impact camp has had on their lives. I know already that they can see value of the fun, friendships and time in the woods they get each summer. I can see how two generations of my family have grown dramatically thanks to BYM camps. Perhaps in another 20 years my grand-children will be playing jugs and hiking in Shenandoah National Park with their counselors.