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"Stay at Camp Forever"

by Collin Reimer

Although most alums look back on their time at camp as something special from their childhood, I’m still living the “stay at camp forever” dream. I started this dream as an Ottawa in the summer of 2008 and continued to return for Pioneer, Explorer, Outback, and now I’m about to begin my third summer on staff as the Teen Camp Health Officer. There was only one summer in 9 years that I didn’t come back to camp. This was the year after my forever fifth year in Outback where I would have been a CIT, but for whatever reason, I didn’t see myself as counselor material (which I hope my past campers would disagree with). That summer I worked in a less than functional restaurant wishing I was jumping off the high dive or hanging out with the donkey Petey, whom at this point I’m pretty sure will also be staying at camp forever. Even at the end of that summer I wasn’t fully convinced I’d be returning to work for camp until EcoCorps started back up in September, which I now credit for being the reason I continue to work with camp.

For those who may not know, EcoCorps is a teen leadership program at camp that meets one weekend per month during the school year and performs a service project ranging from removing invasive plant species to picking up litter on the side of the road, which in my opinion is and forever will be the most interesting service project. I started EcoCorps during eighth grade as a way to see my camp friends and to also get service hours, but as Storer Camps does so well, it turned into something much more. One of the first service projects I remember is cutting down buckthorn, which is an invasive plant I now recognize anywhere I go. We were off camp working with the Michigan Nature Association dedicating five cold hours to cutting down the buckthorn, putting herbicide on the stems left in the ground, and making burn piles of the stems we cut off. Now to most teenagers, this doesn’t sound like how they’d want to spend their weekends, but you have to remember it is camp. Nathan, Iz, and I spent those five hours attacking the buckthorn with ninja-like skills never seen before, tracking down patches of it like buckthorn bloodhounds, and piling them higher than the tops of our heads all the while reminiscing about the wild stories from the summer and singing camp songs as loud as possible (or at least I was while they were blessed with my performance). It was summer all over again, even if we were wearing three layers of clothing.

Throughout those first few years of EcoCorps, it became apparent to me that a healthy dose of camp was necessary each month, especially when I was starting high school. I always had EcoCorps to rely on to let me stay in touch with my wild and silly side when life outside of camp started to become overwhelming. You might not be able to break out into song about a great big moose or purple soup in the hallways at school, but it’s always welcome at camp. It’s also when I began to notice where counselors stand in a camper’s life. They’re not like a parent or a big brother or sister, but more of just someone willing to listen and give outside advice, which was extremely helpful during the school year. Lastly, I was able to start putting in physical work towards something I cherished. Camp had done so much to shape me, and it was gratifying to know I’m able to help keep camp in shape also.

After the summer of working at a restaurant and finally hopping on the short bus to head to camp that September for my last school year of EcoCorps, I remember looking around at the other campers and thinking about how old I was. I spent most of that ride to camp thinking of stacking firewood, watching movies, playing Apples to Apples, and all the time I was able to spend with summer camp friends that turned into best friends. Shortly after we arrived at camp, I began to notice something that almost scared me at that moment. The new, younger campers were following my lead when we were unpacking and walking around. This came at such a shock because I had always thought of myself more as a hard-working follower more so than a leader and to see campers following my lead was absolutely wild to me. Initially, I didn’t know if I was ready for it because you have to remember, I didn’t see myself as a counselor yet. In my head, I was just another camper. I knew I had put on all of my college applications that I attended a youth leadership program for almost five years, but it wasn’t until those first couple of EcoCorps weekends that year that I realized it had actually begun to shape me into a leader. Not only had it done this, but it made me realize how much more enjoyable life is when you’re able to lead by example, even if that means being the one to start running around Malachi field to pick up as much litter as possible to collect the most points. The restaurant job made me realize I wanted to work at camp, but that year made me realize I had it in me to make it as a counselor. I wanted to be the one to be there for other kids like my counselors had been there for me.

Flash forward a year after my first summer on staff, which was a wild ride to say the very least, I received an email asking if I’d want to come back and help run EcoCorps. I was more than excited to do so, and I loved every single minute of it. Life really became one full circle as I listened to my campers talk about the same things I did and endlessly complain about school. Then to go out and help motivate the campers to stack as much firewood as possible or help out in any way and watch as they’d make the most out of any service project just like Saretta, Nathan, Ally, Iz, Janie, and I had. And then to finally just be there for them as they trudged through the school year. It gave the “stay at camp forever” a new meaning because when I was a camper,  it meant having fun and silly times forever, but now that I’ve seen almost all that camp can do, it means to keep that same camp spirit all alums have experienced alive in the lucky campers that have the opportunity to go to such a beautiful place. Knowing that I get to keep that spirit alive is incredible to me and the reason I continue to return.

To finish off the story of my years at EcoCorps and all it has done for me, there’s one last part I’d like to share. During this past season of EcoCorps, which was my second year on staff for it, we were doing roadside clean up and the kids I was with happened to find a tire on the side of the road. I just told the kids to leave it for now so that we could pick it up later instead of rolling it around for an hour or two, but before I knew it, they had already named the tire Bruce and were determined to make it the “official EcoCorps tire.” At first, I had no clue why they were so obsessed with this tire that continued to show up for the rest of the year, but it really threw me in for a loop. About five years ago doing roadside cleanup on the same road and with the same mentality as my campers, my friend and I found a small family photo lying in the grass and we decided to name the mom Denise and the dad Garret, and we were the son and daughter with an entire backstory to how our family portrait ended up lying on the side of the road. Who knows why we thought it was so funny and continue to bring up our parents, Denise and Garett, to this day, but it’s just one of those camp moments where the smallest things make some of the best memories. I know that moments like the ones creating Bruce, Denise, and Garret will continue to live on in any camper that decides to stay at camp forever.

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