Catoctin’s Bathhouses and Finding Spirituality in Unexpected Places
Dyresha Harris, Catoctin Director
UPDATED: This article was originally posted in 2015. The Catoctin Bathhouses will be celebrating their 4th season.
One of the things I have always loved most about Quakerism is the commitment to living our values in everyday life. Throughout my life I have seen this simple concept turn even the most mundane moments into opportunities for spiritual engagement. But I must admit, even I was surprised–back when David Hunter and the Camp Property Committee brought me into conversation around replacing the 56-year-old bathhouses at Catoctin a couple years ago—to discover that this process could even apply to toilets.
There are lots of things I could say about our practical need for a new bathhouse. I could talk about them being troublesome, outdated, or hard to clean. But what I actually want to speak to is so much bigger than that. Because what has excited me and other community members most about the proposed new bathhouses are the myriad ways that they are a concrete expression of what we value.
Collaborative Process: It is not uncommon when reading feedback forms from Catoctin to see something like: “Camp was an amazing and growthful experience that changed my child’s life…but is there any way we could do something about the bathhouses?” So the impetus for this change came as a way of honoring the requests of our community. Staff and camper families have been very excited about it, donating over $300 across registrations and visiting days, including a gift to which all staff contributed. And from the beginning, David invited directors, staff, committee members and numerous other community members into conversation with contractors and architects about our vision for the new design. As such, the planning and fundraising for this project has already been infused with so many different voices and hands.
Supporting Community: Directors do everything we can to try to ensure that the camps are inclusive and supportive places for all of our community members. As such, we know that guarding against bullying and harassment takes ongoing thought and vigilance. Group bathrooms are a common site of bullying in the wider world, with over 50% of students reporting that they are afraid to go to the bathroom at school. Studies show that physical environment can have a big impact on statistics like these. The architects we have been working with have kept these links at the forefront of their minds working with us to design a beautiful and open space that can truly be an extension of the community we try to create at all the camps.
Environmental Responsibility: The bathhouses would be created with a number of eco-friendly features that will have an impact on our environmental footprint, such as composting toilets, waterless urinals, locally sourced building materials, and being built to last a century rather than needing to be replaced after 30 of 40 years. This is a bold way of living our values as a community that believes in responsible stewardship of the earth. It would also serve as an important teaching tool for our next generation, giving every camper and visitor who comes there experiential knowledge of a system that can save 50 gallons of water per person per day in a community of over 100.
Inclusion: A number of features planned for the new bathhouse would allow the Catoctin site to be more accessible to people with a variety of needs. These additions more fully recognize and affirm the experiences of people who are already an integral part of our community, while at the same time, sending an important message to people who might be considering joining us.
- The plans include ramps, ADA compliant stalls, and other features that would make the location more accessible to people with disabilities.
- The plans include two non-gendered – family stalls, which serve to make camp more accessible to people with young families, and to people who are transgender or gender non-conforming.
- The plan includes open and closed changing spaces so there are options for people with different comfort levels around privacy. This is particularly significant when we consider that norms and comfort around privacy can often be linked to different cultural and life-experiences.
For many years there was an image in the kitchen at Catoctin that says “Food is love made visible.” This sentiment is definitely born out in the heaping helpings of wholesome food that come through the pass-through into the dining hall and I think it is born out in a great many other places too. It’s born out anywhere we live our values not just in the lofty things, but in the everyday actions and items that make up the majority of our life experience, even ones as mundane as our bathrooms.
I am a person who loves dialogue. But so often when we have dialogue about big ideals–like actively listening to constituents, like youth safety and empowerment, like environmentalism, like inclusion–we can feel stuck around how to put these into practice. But right now, in building this bathhouse, we have an amazing opportunity to make our love, our inclusion, our responsibility and our values really visible and really tangible. I hope that each of you join us in letting our light shine in this way.