Written By: Maija Mattson, 2016 Summer Camp Counselor. There is a unique feeling you get the moment you drive down that camp lane at YMCA Camp Benson. Past campers, SDPs, and staffers reading this know exactly what I mean. You feel safe. You feel confident. You feel excited. You feel content. But why? It’s not the cave. It’s not the high ropes course. It’s not the twilight zone or the fort. It’s not the potential kangaroo sighting. It’s not the cabins or the dining hall. It’s the people. It’s the people you know are waiting for you at the end of the drive. It’s the people you see maybe once a year and the new people you’re excited to meet. It’s the community we have built at YMCA Camp Benson. It’s home.
I have been coming to camp for 8 years: 2 years as a camper, 4 in the staff development program, and 2 on summer camp counselor.
Over the years, I have spent approximately 38 weeks at summer camp. However, when you think about it, 38 weeks isn’t very much time. I have been on this earth for 19 years and I haven’t even spent a full year at Camp Benson. How could I possibly feel this overwhelming attachment to the people that I see only a few times a year? This is due to the amazing community YMCA Camp Benson has built. It is unlike any other I’ve been a part of.
Even though we see each other only a few times a year, “camp people” share a special bond. That bond grows stronger with every interaction we have inside and outside of camp. They may seem insignificant but every interaction I have with “camp people” outside of summer camp, whether it’s a text message, an Instagram post, or a like on Facebook, makes that connection and/or friendship greater.
You can go without seeing a camp friend for a day, a week, a month, a year, or even a few years, and it makes no difference. You know that no matter what, you are there for each other and no distance or amount of time can change that.
It has been 8 years and I STILL count down the days until I am back at summer camp. How many communities are you a part of that make you feel this way? For me, this is the only one.
I’ve been a part of many communities in my 19 years. Thirteen years of my life were spent with my high school class – participating in athletics and spending countless hours in club meetings and volunteer activities. I’ve played club volleyball for 5 seasons, traveling to numerous tournaments with my teams and spending hours at late night practices. I’m involved within my “house” in the dorms at Northern Michigan University and we study, go out to social events, and volunteer together. I have been a part of many more communities as well but none of them have made me feel as safe, confident, and accepted as YMCA Camp Benson has.
I can be completely myself at YMCA Camp Benson and because of this, I have grown as a person more than I could ever have imagined. If anyone reading this post knew me when I was in junior high and early in my high school career, you know that I was very quiet, shy, and not nearly as involved as I am now. I lacked self-confidence. Now a sophomore in college, I am more outgoing and confident than ever before. I attend Northern Michigan University, my dream school, 8 hours away from where I grew up. I am involved in 10 extra-curriculars on campus and I hold leadership positions in quite a few of them. I have pushed myself to exit my comfort zone on many occasions and participate in activities that I would never have even allowed myself to dream of in years past. I have never been happier and more content with the way my life is going and I owe YMCA Camp Benson for that.
The people we interact with at summer camp, create a community in which campers, SDPs (members of the Staff Development Program), and staff can thrive. I have witnessed similar transformations in others who have come to YCB even for a short time: a week, a summer, a SDP retreat.
Our motto at Camp is this: build stronger campers and help them become the best version of themselves. YCB does just that not only for their campers, but for their Staff and SDPs.
Camp has given me the opportunity to find myself and grow as a person. I can honestly and whole-heartedly say that without my camp community, I would not be the person I am today.
Coming to Camp Benson 8 years ago was the best decision I’ve ever made. I will be eternally grateful for the friendships that I’ve made here throughout the years. These people are my best friends; people who have impacted my life in monumental ways; people with whom I can be completely myself; people I cannot imagine my life without.
There is no doubt in my mind that when my time at camp has come to an end, I will always be welcomed back with open arms. In fact, once you join our camp community, you never actually leave. You are forever a part of our family.
There’s a reason we all come back to Camp Benson; it’s the community. There was a great compass point done by Braids a few years back in which she said, “even if camp burned down, we would all still come back.” This couldn’t be truer. Camp isn’t the property; it’s the community. That’s what makes YMCA Camp Benson great.