As I sit and reflect on the first three weeks of camp, it is almost impossible to articulate everything that I experienced during my time in camp. On many levels, my blogs are analogous to the hurried letters that you receive from your boys. It’s a reflection, a snippet, a moment in time that stays with me, similar to what you might receive in your letters and occasional phone calls. But, there’s so much more happening that I wish we could share.
I’ve watched boys afraid to try water skiing with our water ski counselors, who jump into the lake to support the child, help him compose himself, and encourage him to take the risk. I’ve seen little boys struggle to find something to eat and our chef step away from the production line to fix a grilled cheese sandwich, just like mom would do at home. I’ve seen our nurses provide love and comfort to a child who doesn’t experience any symptoms and just needs a hug and a brief time out. I’ve seen baseball counselors squatting behind home plate until their thighs ache, allowing every boy the opportunity to perfect their pitching motion on our baseball fields. I’ve seen the counselors of our youngest campers, sitting on the floor each night, playing LEGOs, card games, reading stories at bedtime, and making our little ones feel safe and secure, just like they do at home.
When I addressed our staff during the pre-season orientation, I explained that in order to be successful at what you do, you can’t just do the expected. Rather, you must do the unexpected.
When I look out my office window each day, I see our waterski boats constantly on the move. In our newest boat is a Takajo legend by the name of Don Matthews. Don Matthews started his Takajo career forty-four years ago, originally working in our Warrior basketball program. A few years later, he transitioned down to our waterfront, teaching our youngest campers how to water ski.
A retired librarian, Don has a calm, soothing manner along with incredible patience. Every day, he looks out over the stern of the boat and talks calmly to our youngest children. With his words of encouragement, he gives them the will and skill to rise up out of the water and capture that euphoric experience on skis.
The art of learning how to waterski in camp is about more than the thrill. It teaches you about overcoming fear and surmounting obstacles that might be in your way. It gives campers the confidence and license to take on new challenges and often sets the tone for our youngest children’s first experience away from home. What makes this experience even more meaningful is that Don often captures this moment with his trusty camera, recognizing that this once-in-a-lifetime moment is missed by parents. Don often takes the time to snap a picture that he sends home with a handwritten note. This is not the expected but rather the unexpected. Parents assume that their children will have the opportunity to learn how to waterski at camp, which is expected. But what is unexpected is to have a staff member take such a personal interest in this iconic moment that he takes the time to share it with you.
Over the years, when our alumni come back to visit, they will often credit Don as the one who helped give them the confidence to thrive in camp. Using Don as an example, we challenge our counselors every day to find their moments when they can positively impact a child, give him the confidence to reach for greater heights, and explore his potential.