How to Save a Life: Why summer camp isn’t just for kids

Nineteen and scared to death. Literally.

My car loaded down with a trunk full of costumes, heart racing with fear, and gas tank near empty I could see the red gates where my next adventure would start. I could see them clearly. They were getting closer with every second, and then they were gone…right behind me in that shaky rear view mirror.

That’s right. I drove straight past those red gates. My foot wouldn’t let go of the gas and my hands were glued to the wheel and before I knew it I was 10 miles past my destination.

I pulled over and gave myself a stern talking to. “You are nineteen years old. You just finished your first year of college. You are an adult. Quit being scared. You have been scared your entire life, it’s time to give fear the boot.”

I whipped that car around and readily drove through those gates; I would continue to do so for the next four summers. 

Summer camp is a magical, overwhelming yet calm, and wondrous place. From the ripples that run across the cold river or the laughter that bounces through the air. The people and love they radiate never seems to cease. It is a safe place. A place to grow, conquer, and evolve.

Most people probably think that summer camps are just for the kids and while that is mainly true it isn’t the whole truth. Summer camp is also for the counselors.

When your campers become HeartLITes

While the kids are out and about developing new skills and friendships, so are their counselors. They are walking into an unknown atmosphere and culture hoping to make a difference in a child’s life. Little do they know, it’s usually the kid that changes theirs.

When I started my camping journey in 2013 I had no idea who I was or the person I wanted to become. I was a timid, sheltered, and awkward girl who didn’t really have a place in the world. I was nineteen before I ever truly ventured away from home and timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

Summer camp saved me.

The love that poured from each soul as I entered the office for the first time. The warmth that surrounded the cabin walls. The kindness that seeped from each child’s heart. All of it changed me, all of it saved me.

Fallon loves Spot

Each day is a different challenge and adventure. The kids look up to you for guidance and lessons. They want to be your best friend and little sister. They want to know all about you and the world. Hair braiding and friendship bracelets fill the cabins each night and stories always go beyond Taps.  The excitement in their faces when they’ve won a race or made something in an arts and crafts class is impeccable.

The way they run to you with problems or struggles they might be facing because they trust you and want to cry on your shoulder. Nobody else’s advice will suffice, they always come to you. Those little moments when they know you might be having a rough go of it and slip you a little note to let you know that you are their favorite counselor. They refuse to trust anyone else to belay them up the climbing wall. All of those things impact you little by little.

The way a child can transform a life is nothing that can be compared to. They are the best bonds and hardest goodbyes. They look up to you and even when you don’t know yourself, they know that they want to be just like you. Even when you are struggling to find that love for yourself, they have more than you could ever need.

It’s funny how people always say that camp is for the kids. While that is mostly accurate, it isn’t the whole truth. Camp is for the counselor who hasn’t found her way. It is for the young person that needs to feel a connection with something or someone. It is for the counselor that simply needs to escape from the real world.

Summer camp is a saving grace. It is a place of unfailing love and ever-lasting friendships. Camp isn’t just for the kids. It’s for the nineteen year old who needed that extra push.

Summer camp saves lives, and it’s safe to say that the world inside those red gates truly saved mine.

–Fallon Parnell


About the Author

Fallon Parnell

Always stay humble and kind

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