Sunday, June 5, 2011

Where the Magic Never Ends

Last night I was given the opportunity to return to a summer camp where I had worked for five years (2000-2005) and was a camper for six years (1994-1999). As soon as I entered the main gate, I was flooded with old memories. Not only memories of when I worked on staff, but my camper days as well. The smell... the fresh smell...the nature smell... the smell of camp... it's still the same... it hasn't changed.

As a camper, I remember waiting in the long car line...waiting for the gates to open...waiting for my first camp experience...waiting for my life to change forever...and it did!

In Elementary school, I really didn't have a ton of friends, in fact, most of the friends I did have were on the lower end of the "popularity totem pole". I was always the nice one... bringing in candy to give to the popular kids, so maybe just once I could sit at the popular table...always reaching out to help, etc. Well, doing that always made me an easy target to get picked on. I yearned for a place where I could "start over", be myself without being judged, and be able to express myself in a way that wouldn't be a target for bullies. That place was YMCA Camp Kitaki.

I can remember my first week as a camper like it was yesterday... I remember my cabinmates, my counselor (she broke me out of my shell and made a huge impact on my life), my cabin (Potawatomi), the clubs I was involved in (Great Lakes and Silver Spurs), and even my very first vespers... the story and the song (Return to Innocence by Enigma). That week gave me a chance to meet new friends, friends who had no idea of my popularity rank at school, friends who worked together as a team, and friends who never once judged one another. Camp was my home away from home, and called it home during the summer for the next 10 years!

Knowing what a huge impact some of my counselors (Jill, Meggo, Kel, Zog, Heather, and Mike) made in my life, I knew I wanted to "pay it forward" and start making a difference in the lives of children just like the many counselors before had made a difference in my life. I joined the YMCA Camp Kitaki Super Staff in the summer of 2000 and continued for the next five summers. I was a cabin counselor, lifeguard, wrangler, and unit director). I watched many campers come and go, many of them returning summer after summer, campers who were once quiet at the beginning of camp to being rowdy and enthusiastic by the end, and campers who made a difference in my life. Having the opportunity to work with such variety of kids has really shaped me into the mother I am today!

Last night I was given the opportunity to share what I just shared with you all to this year's YMCA Camp Kitaki Super Staff. Some of them returning, but many of them getting ready to experience their first summer. As I looked up into the crowed of staff, I recognized quite a few faces... some of them were my campers. They joined staff for the exact same reasons I did.

As I was getting ready to leave, a few of my "campers" came up to me to give me a hug. One of them looked extremely familiar, but I just couldn't remember her name (I really feel bad about that). She told me, "I'm not sure if you remember me or not, but I was one of your campers. I want to thank you for making a difference in my life. I have never forgotten you". Those words meant so much to me. I achieved something I set out to do during those years on staff, which was to make a difference and an impact on the lives of my campers. It's such a wonderful feeling knowing they will have the opportunity this summer to "pay it forward"...just like I did.
YMCA Camp Kitaki Super Staff 2011


  1. Very nice post Leyna. You do such a beautifuljob of writing it and all posts on your blog.

  2. I love this entry Leyna!! Made me miss camp even more! (I so wanted to go the other night, but we got into town too late. I guess I'll have to wait for Family Days at the end of summer, but it's not the same as alumni days.)

    It was fun to see the photos too :) Geez, I miss camp!