By Michael K. Hall
When I turned 8 my parents sent me to summer camp for a week. I had never been away so I initially had some reluctance.
It was comforting that several kids from my church were also attending. The camp originated in 1950 and is located in western New Jersey on 110 acres of what had been a working farm.
At that time the cost to attend camp for a week was $25. However, because our family had five children, our church covered this cost. This fact, along with my parents' desire to keep me out of trouble during the summer, was surely a motivating factor in my attendance.
When a person is young, estimates of time and distance are much different than when they become adults. After my mother finished sewing name tags in every piece of clothing I was taking and carefully packing, my father and I began our journey to the camp. The farther we traveled from suburbia the more rural it became.
Upon arrival I registered in an old barn and headed for my assigned tent. I made friends quickly and for a week we learned to swim, participated in outdoor activities like archery, enjoyed a wonderful craft program, went hiking and exploring and formed a tight bond with one another. It was a fantastic experience for a young boy. I was lucky enough to attend for seven more years.
While I was attending camp in 1955, a major hurricane named Diane roared through New Jersey. I was technically prepared because my mother made sure I had packed a sturdy oilskin raincoat. It didn’t work. Everything and everyone remained wet.
When I returned the following year the tents were gone. They had been ruined by Diane. In their place were wooden cabins. I was excited about this major change and really enjoyed these new accommodations. I stopped attending camp when I turned 16 and our family moved to upstate New York.
Since 2005, we have been traveling from Orchard Park to New Jersey to volunteer at this camp. We spend a month in the spring and a month in the fall. Volunteering has proved to be very hard work but at the same time very rewarding.
With the exception of two additional buildings and the fact that the trees were now 60-plus years older, the camp is like stepping back in time to 1955. It is not exactly rural anymore but rather a hidden oasis surrounded by many expensive homes. Over the years we have also formed a close relationship with the site manager and his family.
It is disappointing that many camps today have gone out of business or are barely hanging on. Many have been slow to update their programs to attract campers, and facilities in many ways have not been upgraded to standards that would allow parents to feel comfortable leaving their children there.
Another reason is after Sept. 11, 2001, parents became reluctant to have their children away from home and thus attendance dropped a great deal. There is also the fact that kids today are fully entrenched in the “electronic age” in which cellphones rule and camp no longer seems like a fun activity.
Can camps survive in the 21st century? I hope so. I realize our world is changing rapidly but it would truly be a shame to see this wonderful resource for children lost.
Michael K. Hall, of Orchard Park, volunteers at the camp he attended as a boy.