On the last night of camp, it’s tradition for everyone to gather and share meaningful experiences from the week. Usually, it starts with this question: what happened to you this week? What follows are the funny stories, goof-ups, and silly things done in the cabins or dining hall.
However, during all the thousands of last night events I’ve attended during my career as a camp director, the things that are shared never cease to amaze and inspire me.
These are the other stories beyond the humorous mishaps and entertaining events. These are the stories of redemption, of repentance, of change. I’m convinced there is nothing in a kid’s experience more powerful, moving, or life-impacting than a summer camp experience.
Camp has a way of impacting a kid’s life like nothing else. I’ve seen kids, who never gave a single thought about the bigger things in life, crumble into a heap when discovering the awe and wonder of nature. Likewise, I’ve seen hard-shelled loners melt when exposed to open friendships.
During almost every final night camp meeting, there is one person who stands to speak but can’t find the words. The silence extends as they fumble to explain the unexplainable. But what happened to them is too big, too powerful, and too intimate to capture in words. For those kids, camp will always be a life-changing, miraculous experience.
It’s been an honor to spend the majority of my life in this little corner of God’s vineyard doing this wonderful and worthwhile work. Day camps, sleepover camps, athletic camps, wilderness camps, STEM camps, they’re all powerful in their own unique way.
If you want to change a child’s life, send them to camp.
Michael Staires is a writer and longtime summer camp director. He’s the author of A Long Ride Home, a young adult classic.