My love for The Heart started when I became a counselor there at nineteen. I spent eight more summers sharing my talents; encouraging young girls to set and reach their goals; planting seeds of confidence in those young hearts; leading girls down a path of thoughtfulness and kindness; teaching girls how to fail with pride and succeed with grace; but never fully understanding the impact that I made on those campers, until I had a daughter of my own.
Twenty summers later, we were able to send our oldest daughter at age six. Like many girls her age, she had a sincere love for the outdoors, furry animals, and little critters. However, she also sometimes struggled with making new friends, feeling connected to a group, controlling her emotions when something wasn’t “perfect” in her mind, and even being the oldest child in a large family. I prepped her tepee counselor for many possible scenarios and then left the rest up to our daughter. I knew that she needed to start her own path of discovery and find ways to problem-solve on her own because that would be the framework for building her character.
I remember that first Closing so clearly. All of the parents walked down the road toward the Big Tree and were greeted by their campers. When I saw our daughter sprinting our way with barrettes in her hair (a first) and an art project in-hand, I couldn’t believe what I saw. What had her tepee counselor and the rest of the staff done to the daughter we dropped off a month ago? She immediately gave her brother a hug and then the rapid-fire update began. She now had a “big sis” who was sixteen, in war canoe, and loved the Shawnees as much as she did. She tackled the climbing wall without fear; became one of the fastest Midgets to claim her snack after siesta; discovered a newfound love for s’mores; wanted to take pottery next year; finished the fun noodle race in the swim meet; never caught a fish but loved playing with the bait; and on and on. Our little girl had grown up two years in just a month at camp!
I never realized a six year old could undergo a character makeover, but I liked the results. We noticed changes in our home life as well. When dealing with her siblings, she had a better level of patience and usually had a plan to fix the problem. Now when she started a project, she seemed more determined to complete the task. When someone wasn’t feeling well, she started making homemade cards or pictures to cheer them up. She could now look a waiter in the eye and order her own food at a restaurant. To some, these examples might seem trivial, but as her parents, we saw them as huge steps in maturity and empathy.
As a parent, you want to provide the best for your children and give them as many tools as possible to survive, adapt, and thrive in today’s fast-paced world. So how can parents instill traits like independence, confidence, passion, and empathy in their kids? What we have discovered is by giving kids an opportunity to go to camp, then they will find their own path and experience character growth each day in the safe, supportive arms of camp. There’s no doubt that camp is an investment. However, any investment that shapes and enriches young girls’ lives in such a positive, fulfilling way is one to which we are fully committed. For in the end, the lasting value of giving camp to a child is priceless.
Editor’s Note: Meredith Hill is a former Heart O’ the Hills counselor and Head O’ Field Sports. Two of her children are old enough to attend The Heart and Camp Stewart.
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