The Baggage of Summer Camp: "Packing Light" When It Comes to Change

The Baggage of Summer Camp: "Packing Light" When It Comes to Change

As the days lengthen and we gear up for another summer camp season, it's clear that this transformation extends beyond filling the pool and mowing the grass. For those who bring these seasonal sanctuaries to life, the journey is as much about internal growth as it is about external changes. This story delves into the heart of Camp Jamison’s 2023 staff training, revealing a tale of reflection, unity, and the power of letting go.

The Echoes of Past Seasons

Allison Krabill's "When Change Fails" struck a chord with me, particularly her depiction of the divide between year-round and seasonal camp staff. Her insights into this gap mirrored my observations at my camp, especially how change is experienced by year-round staff vs. seasonal staff.

Allison said, “For year-round staff, so much time has passed since campers and staff have been there. We have worked so hard, planned so much, had ups and downs, and we are SO ready for them to be back. For seasonal staff, they pick camp up where they left it. The coffee is still in the same spot. The one shower still has low pressure. It feels like returning home.” 

Reading these words, I realized everything would be different. In 2023 my camp moved to a new location. I chuckled to myself and hoped that would be one issue I wouldn't have in 2023 because, after 2022, my team was coming in with a lot of emotional baggage. 

In 2022, Camp Jamison held our first-ever staff training week with 16 primarily BIPOC staff who were former campers. We were missing some leadership members that we had before, and I was now leading the camp as the only Director overseeing the new staff program and the camper week.

And with so much change by the last night of camp in 2022, structures we had followed for years - like staff staying in our cabins after hours went out the window. We ended the week on a fractured note. Some of my staff thought I had mishandled situations, and I was disappointed by campers knowing about the drama. That summer, we all left when the campers did, so I didn't have a chance to do a last team meeting. We had given the campers a good, fun, and safe time, but the future of our team was uncertain.

A Night of Reflection and a Day of Revelation

The amazing thing was that even with a weird off-camp season, most of our staff returned for summer 2023. But as soon as they walked off the bus, I could tell they were sheepish, and just like Allison said, even though we were at a different location, it felt like they were coming home. And our home at that moment, we had unresolved conversations we needed to have regarding 2022. But how to have them? The song Bag Lady ran through my head as I remembered an activity a boss led our staff through. But I was scared they would think it was corny, and I debated naming the issue or seeing what happened as the week went on.

Fortune then presented an unexpected opportunity—an unplanned hour of free time with my counselors. I seized this moment to introduce the soulful tones of Erykah Badu's "Bag Lady", a song that had helped me navigate releasing my emotional baggage at another job.

A Symphony of Souls: The Healing Power of "Bag Lady"

As the song filled the room, its lyrics mirrored our collective struggles and emotional burdens. The ensuing discussion turned the metaphorical "bags" from mere words into tangible representations of broken trust and hurt from the previous summer.

When we moved on to what we needed to do, "packing light" from the lyrics became a powerful mantra for our next steps. Letting go of the past summer because if we didn't, it would only hurt us in the present and bring us down this summer. 

The session's conclusion—a simple yet profound act of writing down our "bags" on index cards and collectively throwing them out —marked a significant turning point for our team. 

When I entered the room again for our following session, people were chatting and laughing and having small talk. A staff member came up and asked me something directly. Our vibe was back.

A Legacy of Transformation and Anticipation for Future Summers

The impact of that session reverberated throughout our session, infusing it with a sense of lightness and camaraderie for staff and campers. What started as a tentative team-building exercise evolved into creating a stronger camp culture, showcasing the transformative power of music, vulnerability, and collective support. Our staff came together to be friends and help each other be better staff members. They did a much better job of handling conflict between themselves instead of expecting me to always act as the camp's peacekeeper. 

The summer of 2023 was a testament to the profound change that awaits when we bravely face, release, and rise above our baggage and work together as a team. A team will always face conflict and challenges, but how they respond makes a remarkable team. I’m proud to share that the same group from 2022 will mostly still be joining us again in 2024, and the number one compliment in our loved one surveys was our counselors. 

As we anticipate the summer of 2024, the memory of that transformative session remains a guiding light and treasured legacy. For camps looking for a similar but different musical experience, "Shake It Out" by Florence + The Machine provides an equally compelling theme of release and renewal.

As we look ahead, I invite fellow camp directors and staff from various camps to join us in this transformative journey. Embrace the potential within your camp community to confront and release the emotional burdens of the past. Whether through music, open dialogues, or creative activities, find the method that resonates with your team and embark on your path of healing and growth. Let’s collectively foster environments where every camper and staff member can experience the liberating joy of packing light and soaring high. Share your stories, learn from each other, and together, let's bring the camping experience to new heights of personal and communal transformation.

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Jacqueline McDonoughJacqueline McDonough

Executive Director, Camp Jamison
TSCS Member

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