I WAS HERE
On a recent Sunday afternoon, I had the opportunity to hang out with some girls to do a little crafting. We discovered tie dye, clay, and lanyard keychains. We also did a little writing. We centered ourselves at the craft building which we lovingly refer to as Handicrafts, aka. Handies. Not just the building though. We also have Handies Hill and Handies Trail. It’s been this way since I was a camper. Handie’s itself is sits atop the hill, open air, only half-walks with picnic tables, cement floors, cabinets, and a sink. In my experience, some of the most love filled crafts have been made here.
What is most notable about this space though is the rafters, beams, and ledges that are painted with the names of those who have worked at camp. A tradition that dates to the 1960’s carries on at the end of each summer. Staff members choose their perfect spot, colors, design, and paint brushes and then paint their name and the date of the summer worked. Those who are working a second, third or even tenth summer add the date on this night and sometimes a little embellishment.
This name painting is a tangible way to say, “I was here.”
Truth? It really means “I WAS HERE” in an amplified voice with feelings of accomplishment and sighs of relief. They were here and they sweat, laughed, cried, joked, survived homesickness (theirs and the kiddos), stretched their comfort zones, broke a few rules, danced, sang, gazed at stars, played in the rain, and so, so much more.
The girls I was with on that Sunday afternoon had not yet had the opportunity to really take in these names before and were quite enamored. They laughed at “TED” and noticed painted sun shines, hand drawn flowers, dates that are older than they are, and shoes. Yes, someone added a real pair of shoes to their rafter name painting.
One of our writing prompts (created by my co-facilitator, Mary Beth O’Brien) for the afternoon turned out to be to choose a name or two and create a story. This was a favorite prompt of the day and gave a creative spark as they imagined the people who these names belong to.
For me, these names evoke memories of real people who I knew for a short time in their role of summer camp counselor. Many I have kept in touch with, many have been lost to me due to time and busy lives. All have gone on to build lives of their own that draw from the foundational experience of summer camp counselor. They have become parents, social workers, teachers, priests, nuns, engineers, coaches, guidance counselors… I could go on, but I will stop there.
Recently I noticed this on my Facebook feed:
“I really underestimate how formative, challenging, and unbelievably helpful my summers being a counselor at CYO camp truly were.
As a mom and as a teacher, I pull from that well of experience so often. I LOVE building culture in my classroom and on teams I coach. I feel comfortable doing it, and I somehow just now made this connection. At camp, we were handed a group of kids for a week and just.... created a positive group dynamic out of thin air. Every week.
I noticed camp again when my lesson before spring break wasn’t going well, and I not only noticed, but I also felt completely comfortable abandoning the plan for a better one I was creating in real time. I learned how to do that when we were supposed to be at an activity that was cancelled by weather. This rain not only ruined that original plan, but it also gave me an hour, 10 kids, no warning, and no plan at all. You learn to make magic out of... time, togetherness, and pure energy. Turns out...This is so, SO helpful in life.
And yesterday, with my sweet, rambunctious 3.5 (the half matters, guys!) year old, we were in an astoundingly slow checkout line. And I made up an everlasting game to entertain him. The rules, as many camp games do, slightly shifted over time to ensure he could never quite “win” and end the game. I learned to do this while singing songs and dancing while we waited to eat. It doesn’t feel like waiting when there’s entertainment, and again, you learn to think this way by doing it.
Just like in life, at camp most things are good, and some things are hard. Some weeks, you’ve got kids waking you up every night, and you have legitimately no idea how you’re going to summon the energy to deliver on the promise of camp magic the next day.
Today I’m finding myself in a similar place...so blessed by the calling in my life to wear so many hats, so tired from a teething baby, and so sure that by God’s grace and lessons from camp, I can deliver on that magic I learned to make those summers in Nashville.” Allison Tabaska (also known at camp as Ali Sobecki)”
I could not make this up if I tried. Camp is the ultimate teacher, and we are all her students.
I am looking forward to yet another summer and although the names added at the end will be smaller in number, I know they will leave their mark as all those before saying “I WAS HERE” and walk away with that same sense of accomplishment and sighs of relief as they move forward taking bits and pieces of camp out into the “real world.”
CYO Camp Co-Director
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