By Lauren Menjivar, V Form
Brantwood Camp: The Toughest Yet Most Rewarding Summer Challenge
Have you ever imagined being a teenager and escaping from the world for sixteen days to take care of ten girls (or boys), live in a shack with them, and have your devices taken away in order to better connect with the people around you? The situation may seem unfathomable for some, if not, most millennials, but I decided to stow away my laptop and phone in exchange for books and a flashlight at the Brantwood Camp.
In the mid-July of this summer, I volunteered to serve as a “shackie,” one of the two camp counselors who spends the most time with the campers by taking them to their activities and cabins, for the second term of the Brantwood Camp. Prior to this year, I never went to a summer camp, so you can imagine how nervous I was with my job. How can I make sure that I will be both a fun and a serious counselor at the same time? Will I have rough days or will they be easy? These thoughts swirled around my head as I drove the five hours from New Jersey to Greenfield, New Hampshire.
Once I arrived, the counselors and directors, including Lindsay Nielsen ‘17, Payton Nugent ‘16, and Jasmine Williams ‘16, received me with open arms and encouraging comments. Shortly after, girls between the ages of eleven to fifteen arrived at the camp. Most of the girls were new to Brantwood Camp; therefore, my job was to make sure that they settled down and felt comfortable making new friends in a new environment. In the evening, the program director, Miss Armstrong, assigned the girls to their camps. I lived in a cabin called Saskatchewan, a senior camp. I received ten girls between thirteen to fifteen years old and took them to the cabin – their new home for the next two weeks. As the girls sorted out their belongings, my permanent counselor who overlooked the entire shack told me that I had to keep an eye on the girls and make sure that they were not sneaking on their phones or secretly putting on makeup. I did as I was told, and, as I watched the girls set up their sleeping bags and place their clothes in the bins, it struck me that I did not receive any training for the camp. I was completely overwhelmed by the instructions thrown at me in that moment by my counselor.
The first few days are difficult for anyone in a new place. However, I toughed through them by learning something new as a shackie every day. Every morning, I had to get up at 6:20 a.m. and wake five groggy campers up for the showers. While they showered, I had to keep track of time and inform each camper to get out after her five minutes were up. Whenever the girls had activities to attend, I was in charge of making sure that everyone arrived on time or else the spirit coordinators took away our spirit points. If the girls did not want to participate in the activities, I had to motivate them. Although I did not successfully inspire them every time, I did get them to play rounds of soccer or basketball. My top priority was the safety of the girls and that meant sacrificing all of my time and dedicating it and my attention completely to them.
There were times when I did not want to wake up for the next day. I was overwhelmed by the amount of time I spent with the girls and the constant need to avoid even the smallest mistakes. One time, I left a camper with the nurse while I went to brush my teeth during my fifteen minute break. I was unaware that I had to stay with her for the entire duration, and it resulted in a scolding by my counselor. There was another day when the girls were not listening to my instructions. They did not get in line by the cabins, and they were constantly talking to other campers. I felt incredibly disrespected, so I took some time to cool off by separating myself from them while they participated in an activity that afternoon. In the evening, I came up with an idea. Before they went to bed, I told the girls how I felt being ignored and disrespected. Their punishment was a period of silent hour, and if they did not change, I would extend the period. Fortunately, the girls took me seriously and respected me for the rest of the term. The mistakes I made brought me down sometimes, but I learned that I should not brush them off but communicate instead.
Brantwood Camp taught me how to stay strong and face difficult challenges. No one is perfect at anything, and things will not always turn out perfect for me. I had to step out of my comfort zone to help others situate at camp. I was the go-to leader when the girls had questions or doubts. I had to accept the criticisms and in turn improve. I was expected to speak up when it was needed. Although it was uncomfortable to have the responsibility of watching over ten girls, I gradually gained more confidence in leading the group. In those sixteen days, I saw incredible girls from different cities come together and overcome challenges as a team and as individuals. There were girls who have never done rope courses before, but succeeded at them in the camp. The girls also hiked a steep mountain, and even though some of them struggled and fell behind, they did not stop until they reached the peak. Brantwood Camp helps the girls, the boys, and the counselors to grow as leaders and teammates. I urge adolescents to take part in the Brantwood Camp experience. Put down your phones and experience a challenge that will aid you to accept your mistakes and to keep improving as an individual and a team.