The Gospel Truth: From Campers to Counselors
by Nicci Brown, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Monroe, NC
Occupying some 1,400 acres of beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain woodlands, Kanuga has been drawing campers to the Hendersonville area since the early 1930s.
In recent years, those Camp Kanuga campers – who come from across the country – included St. Paul’s own Georgia and Juliet Plue and Isabelle Brown. Georgia remembers coming to the Kanuga Conference Center with her family when she was just four years old. Overnight campers can start their Kanuga summer camp experience from the age of seven and keep coming until they are 17 years old. Oftentimes, they will meet up with the same girls over many years, forming life-long friendships. Although Georgia, Juliet, and Isabelle are now college students, who says you can’t go back?
Well, now the campers have become the counselors! Some things stay the same: “The crazy experiences, uncontrollable laughter, and ridiculous inside jokes will live in my memory forever,” says Juliet. “I am working with several staff members who were campers with me growing up, and many of these memories and jokes are still often referenced. When I see my campers having these same moments, I can’t help but smile as I watch their own memories like these form.” Georgia cherishes the friends she made as a camper, but “staff friendships . . . they have been Golden.”
However, with the green staff tee-shirt comes A LOT of responsibility. Georgia says she has been getting up at 7 a.m. each morning and going to sleep between 11 a.m. and midnight every night. As a cabin counselor, you need to stay with your campers pretty much 24/7: “I have had a bunch of nights this summer where a camper needs me in some capacity in the middle of the night.” And the days are packed with activity – campers stay busy – which means so do their counselors!
Along with being a cabin counselor, Georgia is the Waterfront Director, which means she makes the lifeguard schedule, runs and plans the waterfront activities, and makes sure free swim goes smoothly. Then, there is the bracelet-making, painting, pottery glazing, hiking . . . and that’s just the beginning of what they do. Isabelle is proud to have earned Waterfront, Lifeguard, and CPR certification as part of her training. Juliet leads Forest Frolics, where one of her favorite things to do is to introduce campers to fresh herbs; she also loves taking them to the Naturalist Hut, where campers meet Bad Larry, the resident snake, the toads Boofus and Beans, and Beverly the turtle.
A typical day starts with breakfast, camp clean-up, and Morning Jam to get everyone going. This is Georgia’s favorite part of the day. A huge speaker blasts songs while everyone sings and dances. “We do energizers, which are specific dances to songs like “Firework,” “Istanbul (not Constantinople),” or “Wavin’ Flag,” we do a couple of worship songs, and then our Chaplain comes to talk to us,” Georgia says. After reflection time in their cabins on the Chaplain’s word of the day, campers and counselors go to the next activity of the morning, which could be going on a woodland adventure, scaling a climbing wall, Blacksmithing, or fishing, among other options. After lunch, the campers get a rest hour. How do the counselors stay charged up over the 9- to 13-day camps? For Juliet, rest hour is decision-making time: “I love alone time to recharge. Rest hour is always a good time, and at night when our girls are cycling through showers. But I have found that sleeping during these times is also a necessity, so you have to pick and choose!” Following rest hour, it’s pretty much full-blast from there. Swimming, followed by dinner, followed by a camp-wide activity which could include Capture the Flag, Fire Team vs. Ice Team, Hogwarts Houses sorting, Bedsheet Mansion (Isabelle explains that each cabin uses bedsheets to create a set; they then have two minutes to re-enact a movie.) Or, perhaps there is karaoke, or the ever-popular variety show: “A lot of card tricks,” says Isabelle. On to the showers, and, if everything is otherwise going well, perhaps a full night’s sleep.
Along with the day-to-day schedule, each camp session has days set aside for special camp-wide activities. Everyone participates in one overnight campout in the wilderness – no cabins or amenities! Georgia, Juliet, and Isabelle have an opportunity to practice all the camping skills they learned over their years as campers. Now they are the ones teaching “camp-out school,” including tying up “bear bags” (keep your food and trash off the ground!), setting up tarps, starting a fire, and cooking over a fire. Some campout conditions are definitely better than than others. Isabelle’s first outdoor overnight as a counselor was memorable, but not for the best reasons. “We froze from when we got to the campsite ‘till we were picked up at the end of the trail. The firewood was wet. No fire. No s’mores. We all got in our sleeping bags at 7 p.m. and waited it out, teeth chattering.” On another occasion, Juliet and Isabelle realized they needed to bone up on their tarp-staking during a heavy night of rain. A growing pool of water made the now-leaking tarp droop lower and lower. “Needless to say, we had to reevaluate and move our sleeping quarters, which is not easy to do in the pouring rain in the middle of the woods. We survived, albeit in wet sleeping bags, muddy shoes, and a blow to our confidence in tarp building,” recalls Juliet. “This story was not funny in the moment but is now that it’s over!”
While overnight camping can be a mixed bag depending on the weather, “One of the BEST activities we do is Color Games,” says Georgia. “Color Games is all over the Insta [Instagram] because we go ALL OUT.” Campers, counselors and support staff are divided into red, yellow, blue, or red teams. The first part of the day is devoted to field games like crab soccer, Canadian baseball, tic-tac-toe, and tug-of-war. Water games take place in the afternoon, including “best jumps (cannonball, pencil, buddy jumps, funniest, and breadstick jump, which is one of those rubber log things you can try to run across when you’re in the water), and a relay which is SUPER intricate so I will spare the details!” explains Georgia.
While Camp Kanuga offers all the hi-jinks (one night Georgia’s cabin got “totally tortilla’ed” by their brother cabin), swimming, games, silly songs, etc. that form the memories of many summer camps, there is also a deeply-felt spiritual element attached to the place, to one another, and to God. They are exploring the concept of “Thin Places” this summer. “’Thin places’ are places where the distance between Heaven and Earth feels a little bit smaller. Camp is supposed to be one of those places, and we encourage campers to find and create thin places in their own lives when we send them home,” explains Juliet. Counselors end each night with a devotional before lights-out, and Sunday mornings are devoted to Sunday Shine, a camp-wide praise-and-worship celebration. Juliet says there is a lot of spirituality woven into camp activities, and that it’s easy to appreciate the Creation amid the nature that surrounds them at camp.