If the swim dock could speak, what would she say? If Pioneer had ears, what things would she have heard? If Cabin 4 were living, imagine the secrets she could keep.
Perhaps the swim dock would tell you tales of triumph. She would tell you about young girls learning to swim, often for the first time. She would tell you of lifeguard trainings and water relays, treading water and buddy tags. She would tell you of laughter and games of Marco Polo, and of silly dogs who run circles around the dock, of KK Olympics and the most beautiful sunsets you have ever seen.
If Pioneer could hear, perhaps she would have heard the laughter of young children away from home for the first time, learning brand new things about life. She would hear the soothing voices of caring counselors, comforting the young children who are feeling homesick. She would hear the crackling of embers on a Wednesday night campfire and the sounds of cicadas luring everyone to sleep.
If cabin 4 were living, she would tell you of incessant laughter and shed tears. She would tell you of best friends and campers who count a cabin as so much more because it really is their home. She would tell you of late night talks of shared secrets, cabin raves, and a view from the back door that will forever be etched into the minds of all those lucky enough to call her home.
I spent fourteen summers at Kamp Kiwanis. I grew up there. A piece of my heart is still there and will always be there. The experiences I was fortunate to have and the resulting love for Kamp are not things that can be explained to those who never experienced it firsthand. The stories will never hold meaning to those who did not live them, and the song lyrics will not touch the souls of those who never sat around a glowing campfire with tears in their eyes, wishing they could stay forever.
Kamp Kiwanis taught me about life. I was eight years old the first time I attended summer camp. I was in a level one swim class, unable to even float, and the thought of swamping a canoe completely mortified me. I remember the excitement of passing the swim class and the feeling of victory upon swamping my first canoe. Things that may seem so simple were actually big things to an innocent eight year old who was just learning about the world. The feelings of pride and accomplishment at overcoming fear would stay with me and Kamp would continue to provide so many opportunities for growth and learning that I would carry with me forever.
Kamp Kiwanis taught me many practical things. I learned how to swim and canoe, how to build a fire, how to pitch a tent, perform CPR and provide first aid. I learned teamwork skills and leadership skills. I can navigate with a map and a compass and I can spot poison ivy from a mile away. All of these things have been beneficial to my life, but perhaps even more important than those practicalities are the life lessons that have completely shaped my entire being.
No place has taught me more about friendship than Kamp Kiwanis. Kamp is magical when it comes to friendship. Even without seeing each other for an entire year, you completely pick up exactly where you ended the year before. A Kamp friend once told me that family isn’t necessarily blood related. In my life, this has been exponentially true, and the love that I have for my Kamp friends runs deeper than blood. When I graduated high school, my own sister did not show up to my graduation ceremony. But two of my Kamp friends each drove two hours and completely surprised me at my graduation. My own sister did not attend my wedding. But I was showered with love and attendance from campers and counselors, nurses and camp directors, who have become such an integral part of my life. My Kamp friends have encouraged and cheered for me, laughed with me, and cried with me. Their friendship is unparalleled and so much more than I deserve.
Kamp Kiwanis has taught me a spirit of resilience and tenacity. Her traditions are in my heart and soul, and though some do not understand and wish to diminish them, still her spirit does not fade.
For several years of my life, I was a frequent visitor of hospitals and surgical centers. During this time, my years at Kamp had to be suspended. Against all odds, and after having a total hysterectomy at the age of 22, I recovered enough to be able to return to the Kamp that I called home. My first year at Kamp after my long and arduous medical endeavors, I painted a rock. While painting a rock would seem so trivial to most people, it was, to me, a silent victory. It was a tradition that began during a terrible time in my life and one that I was sure I would never be a part of. But to paint my name on a rock, at a place so loved, that I thought I would never be well enough to return to, and to place it in the Earth where others would see, symbolized something so much greater to me than just a rock. It was a sign that I had overcome something that I was told was impossible, and that I, like that rock, would never waver.
But not long after, that rock was broken, along with many others. And my soul ached as I watched them be destroyed.
Thinking back on Kamp, her traditions were a major factor in why I continued to return year after year. Without her traditions and the people who keep them, what is she? She is just a plot of earth with some tents and water, much like other places on earth.
I remember being in awe, as a Pioneer and as a Ranger, seeing the Mariners who had been to Kamp for eight, nine, ten years…and I wanted to be just like them. I couldn’t wait to have the “awesome cabins,” to have stripes and feathers, to be able to camp on Mariner Island, and to be able to attend the two week session. The silly antics of “King Neptune” kept me guessing and wishing that I could join them, and when I was finally old enough, I was definitely not disappointed. And when I became a Mariner, I found that the stability of Kamp would do more good for me than anything else in my life. No matter what tumultuous issues were being faced at home, I knew that I had Kamp, that my friends would always be there, and that I could always count on her to enrich my soul.
My most favorite part of Kamp Kiwanis, hands down, was her Thursday night campfires. As a kid, I loved walking through the woods, thinking that I knew the statues and then changing my mind. I was proud of the fact that I could sing all the lyrics to the songs that the “Indians” knew. As I got older, I loved the singing and the reading of quotes and poems. I loved the burning of candles and the placing of wax. I loved getting new stripes and being completely ecstatic when I obtained a full set.
I feel like I can still hear the voices of my fellow Council Scouts lifted up in song, amidst the sights of burning embers and the sounds of cicadas and the wind as it rustles through the trees. The melodies of “500 Miles” and “Barges” often echo through my mind when I think about Kamp. And the words and music of “Wisdom” hold a special place within me, as they were a favorite of our dear friend Katie who left us far too soon.
My wax-filled rock holds a prominent place in my home. It holds wax that was dripped from candles over many years by countless people who have changed my life. Some of those people are my best friends. Some of those people were acquaintances who touched my life for a season. Some of those people are sadly no longer with us on this Earth and I will never have the opportunity to see them again. But when I look at my rock, covered in wax, I remember them. I remember standing in a circle with them, candles burning and making wishes together. I’m sure many of those wishes were like mine…wishing it didn’t have to end.
I believe I have laughed more at Kamp Kiwanis than at any other place on Earth. From King Neptune to pudding drops, watching Sport and Keebler go beaver shark hunting, our disastrous yet hysterical prank that left us stranded in the lake, game nights, skit nights and ridiculous antics that are not acceptable at any other place, I have often laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks.
I have yelled lyrics to unit songs with more passion and fervor than most people have for life itself. I have battled freak tsunamis and terrifying storms that sent metal canoes flying through the air. I have pranked and been pranked and have proudly shown my beaver shark scars. I have paddled canoes with broken broom handles and played games of Spoons and ERS for hours on end (with battle scars to prove it). I have laid my sleeping bag on the ground of an island, with no tent or shelter around me, and stared above at the vast expanse of stars, while being surrounded by people that I love.
None of these memories would exist without the incredible counselors and camp directors that put their heart and soul, not only into Kamp, but also into teaching us and caring for us. I was very blessed to be under the guidance of counselors who were long-time attendees of Kamp Kiwanis. Their love for her was unmistakable and their knowledge of all activities and procedures was unmatched. It was obvious that they loved their jobs and that they loved us. We loved Kamp because they loved Kamp and instilled that love in us. And we loved them because they loved being with us and consequently demonstrated that love by teaching and caring for us without hesitation.
Every summer, they greeted me by name at the front gate, before I even entered the campgrounds. They sang their hearts out after every meal, not because it was required, but because they wanted to. And even after being at Kamp for five and six weeks, with little to no sleep, they kept high spirits and a sense of humor when I am very certain they must have been completely exhausted. The year I became a counselor and finally decorated my counselor mug, it was more rewarding than any medal or accolade.
Those outside of Kamp Kiwanis will never understand what we do.
From our overzealous counselor hunts…
To our unique ways of fishing…
And this amazing siesta….
When I talk about loving how Kamp used to be, people accuse me of not liking change. In fact, I do like change. But I happen to believe that every girl deserves the experience of a Kamp that enriches, enlightens, encourages and empowers her. Every girl deserves the counselors that greet her at the front gate by name, every year, without fail. Every girl deserves to have the kind of Kamp friends and counselors that return year after year, not just because of the Kamp but because of each other. Every girl deserves a place that emboldens her by teaching her skills that can literally save her life. Every girl deserves to have such an amazing experience at Kamp that she stands in a circle with her friends on the last day and cries because she has to leave.
If I were to write about all the reasons I love Kamp Kiwanis, I suppose this blog would be exponentially too long. So I leave you with this, my favorite portion of The Legend of Kamp Kiwanis. I cannot read it without picturing a Thursday night campfire and perhaps the greatest group of people I have ever known.
“We here tonight share in the beliefs of the spirit of Kamp Kiwanis – a love of this camp, of each other, and of the whole exciting world around us. So we offer this, our prayer to the whispering winds. – ‘Oh may our hearts meet to sing again on this guardian hill in a year’s turning, and may we never forget how the Great Spirit has taught us to always see and live with hearts and minds that are open to others.'”