Coming to camp for the first time can be scary. You might only know 1 other person at first. You might not know anyone. But the power of leaving the rest of the world behind for a short period of time is that we’re all in this thing together. That’s what Jill found when she came here for the first time 5 years ago. Her story is an inspiration to us, and we hope you enjoy it, too. And hey – if you find yourself feeling the way Jill did – please know that you could find a home here, too.
Jill’s teen camp story
Picture a 15-year-old version of me, eyes fixed upon a sleek apple computer. Sprawled across the screen was a form, asking me for my personal information. Hesitantly, I filled out the application for a summer camp that described itself as “a great place to be exactly who you are”. Like any other nervous, awkward teenager, my first thought was “Am I being shipped off to a summer camp for freaks?” The description alone made me want to run for the hills but that was not an option with my mother peering over my shoulder urging me with all that she had to sign up for a two-week session in mid-July. I would be relocating to Holmes, New York for a fortnight. The wary, introverted, 15-year-old version of myself would embark on a 570 mile and not to mention 11 hour journey by car across the state of New York for a potentially disastrous summer of what I could only assume would be bad meals, hard beds, and being treated like children by camp counselors a mere 3 or 4 years older than myself.
When school had finally come to an end and the sweet summer heat had begun to take over, so had my nerves. My thoughts were, for the most part, consumed by worries concerning what the season had in store for me. Every inch of me shook the night before I had planned to leave on my venture. An inconsequential portion of this stemmed from excitement of what I had then thought was the small chance I might actually have a good time, but as a self-diagnosed sufferer of chronic shyness, I felt sure that this was inconceivable for someone with such a social disadvantage.
The morning of July the 14th 2010 is kind of a haze. I was forced to arise with the sun and part with the comfort of my miniscule lifestyle at 5:30 in the morning. If you know much about teenagers, 5:30 is essentially considered to be an ungodly hour for anyone to be awake. My only memory before climbing into my Dad’s Ford truck and heading out on our way was sporting my favorite red sweater. Despite the 25-degree heat, it was the only source of comfort I could latch onto for the duration of my travels. One might assume that having my father’s presence for an 11-hour drive might help absolve some of my nerves but unfortunately due to the recent divorce of my parents that was most certainly not the case. We parted with an awkward hug followed by a “have a good time kid” and that was it. I was alone and the last to arrive at camp. To make matters worse, unbeknownst to me, I would be forced to endure a teenager’s worst nightmare… giving up my cell phone. I can recollect the lump in my throat beginning to form as my only connection to home was snatched from my possession but as the night progressed and I met the girls with whom I would be living for the next two weeks, it had to be repressed.
It was not until lights out on the first night that I finally let my anxiety take over. I had never experienced an anxiety attack at that point in my life but after a mere 2 or 3 hours of having graced the camp with my presence, I was convinced I would not be staying there another night.
The next day when all of the semi-rested campers reconvened in the dining hall, I did my absolute best to maintain a brave face and conceal the terror I so desperately wanted to stifle. I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin, like a zombie, limbs hanging uninhibited by my sides, mind frozen in time. Simply watching the experience of camp unfold from a spectator’s point of view. I watched as second and third-year campers got up to speak about their previous involvement at camp. One boy, who I would later become better acquainted with, stands out in my memory. He was friendly, eccentric, and wore Ed Hardy clothing which clashed ironically with his suburban disposition. The brief dialogue between him and the rest of the camp was one of the first memorable moments when I decided that I just might, if things played out the way he said they would, be okay.
“The first three days are the worst.”
A sudden burst of optimism shot through me as his words sunk it. If I could last 3 days here, then perhaps things would turn around and I would be one of those campers who would have one of the most influential experiences of their lives here. In that moment, I chose to be okay. I chose to allow myself to have a good time and let go of the fear that was holding me from a life-shaping understanding.
The next step was signing up for activities. I chose dance, as it was the path of least resistance after having studied it for years. Once I had been designated a counselor and a group of teenagers ranging from 14-17, we proceeded to a white event tent that held an abundance of electronics. It was called, for reason still unknown, “The Mother Ship”. As the hour progressed and our small group of 9 dancers became more acquainted, it felt as if the blood was rushing back to my limbs and my zombie-esque perspective had begun to recede.
“This – was easily the best hour here so far,” I thought to myself.
Suddenly the bells rang signaling the end of the first activity. It was time for lunch and for us campers it meant that we would line up outside of the dining hall until the lunch staff was ready for 200 heat stricken teens to pour inside. In desperate need of shade and food. I walked alone to the dining hall, wondering who I would sit with as I really did not know any of my cabin mates at that point. When I reached the clearing where no more than 20 kids were already lined up, I recognized a group of girls. Two of which were in my cabin and one I did not know. I was unsure whether or not I should go and say hi to them, for someone as shy as myself, it was a little outside of my comfort zone. When I was around 30 steps away from reaching the end of the line and had decided not to risk reaching out to them, I heard someone yell my name.
“Jill!” – Somebody here knew my name?
I looked up the line and saw that one of the girls in my cabin was waving dramatically at me. I waved back and smiled at her. She was curvy and very pretty. She had tan skin and dark hair to match.
I remember trying to think of her name.
“Hey Steph,” I smiled, and walked towards her and her friends. The other two girls introduced themselves to me as well. Their names were Lily and Emma. These are three girls who I can easily say will always have a place in my heart. They showed me that I wasn’t alone as I thought I was. I had walked through life for the past two years of high school thinking that I stuck out like a sore thumb but what I had learned at camp, was that these girls, were in the exact same position as I was. They didn’t know anyone just as much as I didn’t and the three of them were at camp for the same reasons as I was. I lived an average lifestyle, besides the crippling shyness I then suffered from but the only person who had singled myself out as awkward, and insecure was me. I had always felt like everyone I encountered judged me and had it a lot better than I did but that day a reality check came along and said, “You’re not that damn special. Everyone has insecurities.”
As the next two weeks took their course, Steph, Lily and Emma, and I became closer and formed a friendship so benevolent we continue to keep in contact today. We signed up for the same activities, including, baking, tie-dying, modern dance, and possibly one of the most amazing was fire walking.
One of the most memorable and transformative experiences I have of going to camp was the fire walk. When evening fell one night on the second week of camp, everyone gathered in a forested area of the camp. The fire was ablaze, the coals resembled molten lava. They were spread over an area of the grass that spanned about 6 feet. We, the campers and counselors, were given the opportunity to walk across it. – I won’t lie, it was extremely hot and I won’t deny having gotten a burn on my foot but it was certainly worth having such a cool experience along with many others as well as dozens of friends and acquaintances that have left a lasting impact on me to this day. I will never forget the impact camp left on me and will always be grateful to the people I met and the lessons learned during my short time there. I am glad that I am able to say that I would not be the person I am today without the experience of camp.
Will you experience a story like Jill’s?
Spots are filling up fast for Teen Camp this summer. Teens from NYC, Boston, and all over the world will be joining us to form authentic community and have their lives changed for the better.
If you’re ready, head over and register right now. We hope to see you soon!
Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp
A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity.
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I’m Adam Simon. I started teen camp eighteen years ago with the vision of creating a space where teenagers would know they are safe from bullying or negative judgments and would feel free to show who they really are and to become their best selves. Let’s connect, discuss, engage…