Lauren’s Letter | How They Grow

Dear Kawaga Family,

This is my last “Lauren’s Letter” of the 2020 camping season. Even as I type these words, I’m amazed that we’re two days away from saying goodbye to your boys. I doubt there’s ever been a camping season more anticipated or one that’s flown by so quickly. And, there likely hasn’t been one during which we’ve seen so much personal growth.

As you might know, similar to a graduating class, Kawaga alumni and staff identify themselves in terms of the year that they were CITs. Notably, that’s a year marked by the transition from camper to counselor and often of remarkable growth.

I was particularly struck by this rapid growth as I listened to one of the “2016s” give a particularly moving sermon. This counselor’s JC year, his first year on staff, coincided with Ty and my first year as directors. Now, in his group’s fourth year as counselors, he and his peers are among our senior staff. To some extent, the growth we’ve seen is expected. Seventeen-year-olds typically mature quite a bit by the time they’re 20. We believe Kawaga plays a role in accelerating that growth in healthy, meaningful ways. The responsibilities and opportunities camp affords these young men, paired with Kawaga’s values, helps to shape them into the adults they’ll be. And, the unique challenges of 2020 have added to this growth in ways I don’t think we can yet understand.

When we became directors, our current JCs were Mohawk As, and our current Mohawk As were Chips, who this year are approaching their Oneida years. Time moves quickly during one’s Kawaga experience.

I’ve been doing a lot thinking about the cycle of growing up at Kawaga. There’s that comfortable consistency of camp: typical days with Inspection, Clubs, Open Areas, and EPs. Every summer we have specials, like the Spectacular and Blue/Gold Cup. Campers transition through their roles as they grow up on The Shores and emerge as leaders.

This year’s CITs, at the start of the summer when they were staying in their pods, didn’t have the opportunity to shine as leaders. They enjoyed the fellowship of being with their guys, but they missed out on 14 days of being leaders among all the campers. On the very first day of our all being together, as I looked around camp, every group of campers hanging out together included a CIT, who just naturally gravitated there. And, then CITs’ role formally changed: during Rest Hour they were assigned to a cabin; they sometimes ate meals with “their” cabins; after breakfast, they headed to that cabin to help these campers prepare for Inspection; and, this last week, they assisted in Clubs. They quickly went from simply being a group who happened to be the oldest campers to being true leaders at camp. Amazing.

And, now we’re seeing the Group Ones — those who will be 2021 CITs – stepping up. The other night I found myself in the Rec Hall essentially with 140 campers, as the CITs joined all of the counselors in getting ready for Kawaga’s Counselor Hunt. The 140 kids were so excited and were becoming a bit rambunctious. Then, all of a sudden, The Group Ones took it upon themselves and did a cheer to have everybody sit down. I held back and saw these 15-year-olds step in and organize the situation.

Last Sunday, I went to the final Oneida small powwow of the summer. Their chief asked the boys to think about who they were five years ago and even just five weeks ago. The chief then asked, “What does camp mean to you, and why do you keep coming back?” Parents, I wish you could’ve been a fly on the wall to hear what your boys said. There were some expected responses, such as lots of close friendships and activities that they can’t do at home. But many of them talked about how they grow at Kawaga — that they have the freedom here to discover and be the best version of themselves. They talked about how they’ve learned by making mistakes and growing from those mistakes, Kawaga gives them an opportunity to fail and to get right back up. These are 14- and 15-year-old boys sharing their feelings!

What a summer this has been. There really are no words. Parents, let me just thank you again for your trust in us and for being such amazing partners. I also want to applaud you on giving your boys the gift of this summer, and only doing so once you were confident in our “playbook” and our ability to execute it. Your sons will always have the summer of 2020 to remember. A summer of fellowship, enthusiasm, sportsmanship, and spirit. And a summer of unmatched growth.

Be Kawaga. Always.