How One Teen Went From Selective Mute to Confident Teen: Finding His Voice (and joy) at Teen Camp

Nate at sunset

You may have read summer camp testimonials before, but my guess is that you haven’t read one like this. Nate came to us as a camper and not one who most people would guess would turn into one of our most well-known counselors.

If the world ever feels hard, or if you feel misunderstood or even aimless – please read Nate’s story below. Thank you.

Nate’s story

When I was fourteen, I didn’t want to be in this world. I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to say anything. When I close my eyes and remember what it was like back then, the most iconic image is of me curled up in the dark, mouthing one word from Nirvana’s ‘You Know You’re Right’: “PAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIINNNNNNN!” I spent every moment I could in my head, far, far away from anything real. The world terrified me, and it was cruel and unjust, and, most of all, unfair. I would plunge deep into books, immersing myself in these other characters. Any character. Anyone but me. When I ran out of words to read, I would imagine other places as distant from reality as I could.

Before camp, I had been a selective mute for two years, doing my damndest never to make a sound – never to do anything that would make others notice me or give me cause to notice them. To this same effect, I would only wear black – for black helped me to be unseen, and anything else was uncomfortable. But despite this, people would goad me into doing this or saying that and try to get me to conform to who they felt I should be. The constant pulling and pushing drove me deeper into this need to shrink away.

My parents bribed me with a stack of Nirvana CDs to get me to go to camp. Even then, they had to drag me to the car, for I hadn’t had the will to either protest or accept what they wanted for me. I remember sitting in that car when we finally arrived, waiting until my bladder was nearly bursting before I mustered the resolve to slunk my way toward other people.

OTC allowed me to be this dark unseen escapist that I so needed to be. They seemed to instinctively know what it was that I needed and didn’t force me to do this activity or to talk to that individual. They let me be myself. They let me go through what I was going through and offered encouraging, reinforcing gestures of understanding and acceptance at times when I needed it most. It was this unquestioning acceptance of who I am, was and needed to be that allowed me to explore what life was like beyond my lonely world.

I remember stepping outside of my OTC cabin after days of shutting everything out to see if the world outside my books and Nirvana could catch any glimmer of interest for me. And there was Adam Simon, standing before me as if he had been waiting all along, and he looked at me and smiled and threw a frisbee to me. Before I had time to think, my body reacted in an eagerness that my mind hadn’t yet realized it was ready for – and caught the disc with a solid grip.

Adam motioned to a fellow camper who was walking by, and again my body knew what needed to be done. Before I could process the implications, the disc launched from my hands and into this camper’s – a camper who would soon become a lifelong friend.

It is this power of choice over one’s own actions, this acceptance of the other and the self, this understanding of our own individual paths and the need to be ourselves, this unconditional love for the struggle and greatness in each and every one of us that best represents the OTC experience.

It wasn’t long after this that I began to speak; I began to feel comfortable expressing myself and allowing myself to take in the world and for the world to take in me. My ability to feel comfortable wearing other colors soon followed.

Adam Simon threw me the frisbee, and I ran with it and have been running with it and tossing it ever since as I continue to work on myself, to discover myself, to be who I want to be, and more importantly: to be who I am.

After five years as a camper, each year better and more enriching than the next – I became a counselor, ready and willing to continue my growth of self while gladly giving back the great gift of the experience that is Teen Camp. This summer will be my 11th, if I have my numbers right.

Now I am twenty-six, and I cherish every moment that I am in this world. I want to do things. I want to say things. When I close my eyes and think of what Teen Camp meant to me when I was in high school, the most iconic thing I can say is that each year, those five weeks during the hottest days of the summer – I grew and learned ten times more about myself than I did during the entirety of the forty-seven weeks that make up the rest of the year. If I had never attended Teen Camp, it is a viscerally real possibility that I would have never found the fortitude or the willpower to come out of my shell.

Come out of your shell at camp this summer

No words, Nate. Thank you for sharing your incredible story with us. And thank you for turning around and sharing the same gift you received at camp with the teens who have joined us these last few summers now.

Have you ever been where Nate was – wondering what the point of this whole thing was? We want you at summer camp. We want you to be a part of our community – our family – and see what the world can look like when everyone is focused on becoming their best selves and not all of the other things the world would have you believe are important. Check out our dates and rates for the upcoming season.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

Adam Simon, Odyssey Teen Camp Director

Adam Simon

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, and engage...
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Find Out About Odyssey Teen Camp

A Non-Profit Overnight Summer Camp For Teens Ages 13-18
Located in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts.