I will admit – I came late to the game when it comes to summer camp. As a Brit growing up in Europe, summer camp was always a very American concept. I went to activity camps – usually week-long, single activity places. But it wasn’t until I was watching a show called, ‘Bug Juice’ (IYKYK) that I figured summer camp would be a pretty fun way to spend my gap year.
My first summer working at camp, I was placed at a YMCA Camp in Connecticut and even at 19, it was a life-changing experience. My future dreams at that point were wanting to work for the Foreign Office (State Department) and traveling the world as an ambassador. Camp changed me.
When I look back at those summers, what really strikes me is how much I learned about relationships and how to form them. My time in High School was pretty typical – full of teenage angst, trying to fit in, and the social pressures of liking the right things and trying not to be labeled a dork. When I went to camp, I went by myself. I knew no one and no one knew me. I could show up that first day and be whoever I wanted to be. I decided to be myself, my true self, and make friends as the person I was without any added pressure of having to live up to a certain standard.
When I returned to the UK, I started University and once again, found myself in a situation where I was starting out on my own and building new relationships. Camp taught me how to enter new spaces and thrive in those new environments. It was at camp that I found myself and I forged new dreams and life went in a new direction.
In 2007, I went and worked at an all-girls camp in Northern Wisconsin. Working in a single-gendered environment was inspiring. These campers spent all year long aiming for the highest grades, working towards being great athletes, trying to get ahead of everyone else because they felt their success would be measured on what colleges they went to, type of job they had, and what monetary success they would have in life. These campers didn’t have time during the year to just be kids and camp provided that for them. Food fights, chants and cheers, staying up late with friends, playing sports that had little to zero competitive edge to it. This was kids being kids again and being in a single-gendered environment allowed our campers to find their true self.
So here we are at Netop and the same pressures exist for our campers. Unfortunately, there is still a pervasive toxic masculinity present in our society. Boys are still being told that they need to be tough and strong and alpha to succeed. At Netop, our campers join us and are able to take some time away from trying to be someone they’re not, away from the peer pressure to act in a certain way, away from the pressures of home to be successful academically and with extracurriculars.
Instead of “boys can be boys,” we like to think that “our campers can be kids.” They can have a kick-about on the soccer field and not keep score, they can dress any way they want, they’re not in competition with anyone for anything. Being outdoors and unplugged – their friendships thrive, people’s true selves can shine through. These connections and experiences are shared through a summer camp lens and I guarantee, when they look back at their childhood, their most outstanding memories are going to be from Netop.
My great hope is when our campers leave Netop they bring their camp traits home with them. I know this can happen and I’ve sene it first hand! I hope our campers live by our Netop values year-round and feel less-inclined to spend their time ‘conforming’ to the social, mental, and emotional pressures around them. It takes a lot less energy to be yourself than to try and be someone you’re not.
Owner/Director of Netop Summer Camp