I’ve had many milestones in my life, but summers spent at camp have provided many of the milestones and memories that I cherish most. Years before I was married with children, my life was changed by the magic of summer camp. My camping adventure began the summer after my freshman year at Texas A&M when I spent a month working at a summer camp just outside of Branson, Missouri. My eyes were instantly opened to the wonder that is the bubble of a summer camp. Magic…Joy…Celebration…Fellowship…Quality time…Life change…Service …Deep friendships…Shenanigans…Tomfoolery…Others before self…These are all words and phrases that describe the 10 summers I spent working at summer camps as a college student and after college (as a teacher, I was able to spend my summers off still working at camp). I just couldn’t get enough. There were five different camps in three different states. I lived each school year waiting for camp. I saw first-hand how kids came alive as they entered each magical place where I spent my summer, and walked out of the gates with lives changed for the better. I vowed that my kids would one day be given the gift of a summer camp experience.
Our daughter Marin’s first summer at Sierra Vista was memorable. You see, just 1 year earlier she was attacked by a bull shark while swimming in relatively shallow water in Galveston, TX. After a 2-week stay in the PICU at UTMB Galveston, 4 or 5 surgeries (including a 14.5 hour surgery where 7 snapped tendons were re-attached and a free flap muscle graft was completed), her road to recovery seemed daunting. However, by the spring, with God’s grace, great medical care, and the kindness of friends, family, and even strangers, our brave 1st grader was thriving! So, you can imagine the thought and prayer and care that went into our decision to choose Sierra Vista as her first summer camp experience. We’d been “exposed” to Vista Camps when we attended a mother-daughter retreat. We saw the care that went into creating a safe and fun environment. We listened and watched the staff of Vista Camps as Beth and Nate and Justin and Diane and Miss Becky loved on their guests and really sought to care for others. We knew that Vista would be a safe place for Marin. So, with a year of healing under her belt, our girl spent one fun-filled week at SV. She’s not what one would refer to as a “sporty kid.” She eschews activities such as archery, horseback, or team sports, instead choosing to spend her time drawing, and acting, and creating. She thrived. She fell in love with all that is in the Vista Bubble (especially journalism, fencing, ropes, “Just for Fun”, and being a Chickasaw). It’s even been said that she’s a “camp kid!” Like me, she spends the school year waiting and waiting for camp. That’s the beauty of Sierra Vista; there really is something for everyone.
So, why camp? Because every kid deserves to have his or her own uniqueness celebrated and poured into. Every kid deserves a week (or four) of just being a kid, without the outside pressures and challenges of the real world, where she can spend time being silly, “shooting the breeze” with a new (or old) friend, challenging herself, learning new things, gaining new skills, and having her life poured into by a trusted adult other than a parent. Camp is a non-threatening environment where my kids can gain more confidence apart from my husband and me.
To be sure, all camps are not created equal. The location doesn’t necessarily matter. Although, bright green lawns bordering the Guadalupe, the shadow of 14,000 foot Long’s Peak, or the breathtaking canyon at the headwaters of the Frio River are nothing to sneeze at. Do your research. Check out the mission and vision of different camps. Consider your child’s temperament. Talk to friends and neighbors who send their kids to camp. Keep your own worldview in mind when choosing a camp. But, choose one! Your kids will thank you for it.
-Jenni Melton is a wife and mom who works at an elementary school during the school year, and can be seen helping out from time to time at Vista Camps during the summers. Her 16 year-old will spend his 10th summer at camp in 2021, and her 11 year-old will spend her 4th.