Mail Time!

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Okay, we’re about halfway through Session B. It’s time to write your camper a letter. We’re talking about a paper and pen, stamped and addressed through the postal service letter. There’s few things as exciting at camp as receiving a letter from the world outside of the valley. But what to write about? Of course it’s good to tell a little about your summer, Grandma’s visit, the family dog trying to lie down in the kiddie pool, and a full report on the back yard garden are always good. But every good correspondent knows that a letter isn’t complete unless you ask some good questions too. Here are a few questions you can include in your epistolary work::


Have you tried anything new?

For some campers, several weeks in a cabin with their peers is an entirely new way of life. Everything can feel foreign, from sleeping in a bunk bed to using a flashlight. But even for returning campers, Merrowvista promises to be a place of new experiences and challenges. Staff members encourage campers to step out of their comfort zone and in to their growth zone. For some campers this means climbing a little higher up on the climbing tower, for others it means introducing their village to the community before they lead a song during opening or low council. Merrowvista is, by design, a safe place to test yourself and discover your personal best.


And maybe your camper will say that the new thing they tried was sunbutter (everyone’s favorite peanut alternative), but even that’s something to celebrate. Trying a new food isn’t easy, and may feel especially daunting when you’re with new people and in a new place. Even if your camper tried climbing, or sailing, or corn chowder, or improv, and didn’t LIKE it–it’s important to see that they can work up the chutzpah to try something new and form their own opinion about it.


Has your group led Flag Raising or Evening Reflection?

Insider tip: either they did or they will. Every group leads the entire camp community in reflection at least once a summer. Each village gets to decide on the topic they want to focus on and then brainstorms what they will share about that topic. Some villages talk about respect, or making friends, or staying positive. At Flag Raising, the community gathers in a circle around the flag poles and listens as each member of the village takes a turn holding the mic and sharing some insight, story, or reflection on their chosen topic. Then the village will also decide on an object to raise that symbolizes their topic: a shoe, a helmet, some token that is significant and special to that village. There’s hardly ever a group that raises a flag.


Typically older groups lead Evening Reflection, with a similar process and outcome. This time, the community gathers in the chapel and each member of the village shares out, but there’s no symbolic object or token to be raised.


Groups are encouraged to take this responsibility seriously. It can be difficult to speak publicly about something important and it’s intimidating to share into a microphone in front of staff and campers of all ages. The entire process, from choosing a topic as a village to leading the community, and even listening to others–young and old–with respect is a learning experience. Ask your camper what topic their group chose, what object they raised (if they led Flag Raising) and maybe even what they shared with the community.


Have you slept in a tent? How did you like it?

I’m here to set you up for success with these questions! With few exceptions, every two, three, and four week camper will have spent at least one night in a tent during camp. In fact, the Trailblazers left today for one of their two camping trips. They will either be hiking in the Ossipee mountains or canoeing on Newfound Lake. Four trails villages spend almost all of camp away on outdoor journeys. The pioneers stay closer to home, canoeing on Dan Hole Pond and hiking to our very own ledge, for example, but once the village is out with their sleeping bags, water bottles, and camp stoves, it feels like a true adventure.


These trips can be among the village’s most special times together. They get to make their time, cook their food, see the stars, and spend a night away as a group. There’s some resilience to be built in the moments when camping is tough (the bugs! When you need to go to the bathroom! That time you left your backpack out in the open and it rained overnight!) but you slap on some bug spray, you find a good place to squat, you pack up your gear in a garbage bag and triumphantly make the journey home.


What has been your favorite activity you did as a group with your village?

In addition to Flag Raising, and camping, each village spends a lot of time together.           They complete team challenge, go to the waterfront and other fun activities during village time, plan songs for council, and end each day together as a group. Some groups build an identity around a certain activity or theme.


In addition to having fun together, villages also work together. At least once a session they take a turn cleaning the community’s dishes together during “arlos.” The dish room can also double as a karaoke room as the village gets to listen to music queued up on a community iPod while they scrub and dry fiestaware plates. Villages also clean their own cabins daily and help the community by tidying up a community space, like a bathroom or meeting space. Contributing to the care of our space is an important piece of living together, but it can also be fun when you’re completing the task with your built in set of friends, your village!


Is there anything you want to try before the session ends?


Camp is a learning experience and part of learning is reflection and forming a new plan. Campers should be used to thinking about what they’ve done and the different choices they could have made. We ask them to reflect this way all the time–at the end of team challenge, after they climb the climbing tower, at the end of the day for village insight, and as a way to close out activities throughout their time at camp.


Unless we identify areas of change, we’re bound to forget and miss the opportunities still available to us. There’s still a week (or two!) left for campers to take advantage of every possibility available to them! Will they swim that distant swim? Be the leader of the day for their trip on trail? Learn how to light a camp stove? Share a moment of gratitude with the community at a meal? The choice is theirs to make, and we’re here to help them achieve those goals.


Is there anything you’ll try to bring back from camp and do at home?


The great hope of this program, summer camp, is that campers are able to take those fresh ideas and pieces of new growth and transfer that learning to their lives at home, in school, and with their community. Will your camper think differently about food because of how mindful we asked them to be about “ort” and compost? Will they try to write every day in their journal, like they did during Easy Time at camp? During the summer we talk daily about striving for our best and living a balanced life, and those are goals that we’re constantly building towards, no matter if we’re at camp or not.


We have time yet to build this summer together, and though the days are long the weeks are short. It’s time to make the post—I mean the most of it!

Tovah Burstein