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The Campfire that Captured my Heart

by Katie Goodman M.Ed., Camp Chewonki Director

First, I’ll state the obvious. I’m a camp person. I loved my childhood sleepaway camp so much that I decided to make camp my career. Now, I’ll tell you a secret. Camp people like me don’t always find a workplace that captures their heart as their childhood camp did. We care about our camps and the people involved. We love our careers. But it’s exceedingly rare to find that special feeling of “I’m home” a second time.

Still, we’re optimistic-to-the-core camp people. We never give up hope.

Katie Goodman M.Ed., Camp Chewonki Director.

I had an inkling Camp Chewonki was unique when I began the interview process for Camp Director. This feeling was affirmed after Chewonki hired me, and I started connecting with my new coworkers and learning more about Camp Chewonki’s history and traditions. Something felt inexplicably right. Could this be the camp I’d been searching for?

I kept this spark of hope in my heart as I worked through the months of hiring, logistics, and program development that keeps camp professionals busy during the off-season. Finally, summer arrived, and, against all odds, a shift occurred.

Fittingly, my magic moment occurred on the first Chewonki Day of Summer 2022. Formerly called “Sunday Service,” Chewonki Day is a once-weekly day for rest and reflection. It begins with a sleep-in, followed by a special cabin meeting where campers and counselors share appreciation for each other. The day ends with the classic Chewonki game “rocks.” In between is my favorite part: community reflection. This is when our Eastside and Westside campus communities each gather in a special, designated spot to sing songs and reflect on Camp Chewonki’s core principles of collaboration, compassion, and curiosity. Towards the end, campers and staff reflect on how these values have shown in their camp experience.

Katie Goodman holds a songbook during a community reflection campfire.

On this particular Chewonki Day, Nancy Kennedy and I snuck through the trees to join our Westside campus’ community reflection (the Westside campus houses male and nonbinary campers). When it came time to share, counselors took the lead, stepping up one by one to share their experience of feeling welcomed at Camp Chewonki and their pride in the compassionate community they’d witnessed campers building. After eight counselors had shared, one brave camper finally rose, cleared his throat, and spoke. He shared that he loved Camp Chewonki because everyone was nice, which made him feel at home. His words opened a floodgate. Empowered by their friend and counselors, camper after camper stepped up to share their feelings about camp, community, and the compassion they’d experienced at Camp Chewonki.

And, suddenly, I was crying. These are the gifts of Camp: to feel welcomed and appreciated; to be celebrated by peers and adults for showing emotion and vulnerability; and to have caring mentors to show you the way through fear and uncertainty. I felt exhilarated and overjoyed. We’d created a rare space where campers and staff felt accepted, emboldened, vulnerable, and encouraged. 

A camper plays a violin piece during community reflection.

As Nancy and I walked back toward the camp office, she asked me what I thought of my first community reflection. I said, “I’m home.” 

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