By: Dylan Kornberg
I’d like to take you back, if you’ll join me, to around mid-July of 2009, on Lake Sebago in Southern Maine. I was sixteen years old, and was about halfway through my third summer at Camp O-AT-KA, working as a Counselor-in-Training (CIT). CIT’s are something in between campers and counselors; to clarify, they are in every way campers, they are not on staff and cannot look after campers on their own, but they take on some of the responsibilities of staff and learn the ropes as it were when it comes to what it takes to be a summer camp counselor. It is also, unlike my first two years at camp, an 8-week long experience, whereas previously I had only stayed for a month or so. This can be a somewhat jarring experience for young teenagers, but I had begun to get used to being away from home for a long stretch of time.
It had been a rough few years. The transition from middle school to high school is often difficult, and to be honest, middle school had been no better. I was overweight, near-sighted, and not athletic (correction: I am overweight, near-sighted, and not athletic), growing up in a town that prized its sports teams practically above all else. I was lonely, largely friendless, and adrift in a town that should have felt like home to me but never had. I was, in a word, miserable.
O-AT-KA had become something of a refuge for me. I was still painfully shy, but camp had become a place where I could come out of my shell a bit, if for only moments at a time. I was still clumsy on the ball field and still often preferred being alone reading than running around and playing, but I felt much less ashamed about these personal attributes. Nevertheless, I was still relatively new at camp and so had not yet formed strong bonds with any of the people there.
This summer was different. Famously in the world of O-AT-KA, CITs often become incredibly close with each other, and my summer as a CIT could serve as the benchmark for this famous closeness. This is because of the perfect balance of togetherness and apartness that O-AT-KA builds among its CITs. They are kept somewhat separate from the other campers and also from most of the staff as well (save of course for the CIT Program Directors), and thus they spend nearly all of their time with one another. My CIT class spent all of our time together playing, doing work projects, and preparing evening activities for the rest of camp; even in our downtime we were inseparable. I am an only child, and so have never known the bond that can be formed with siblings, yet I have never felt so close with a group of people my age, nor do I feel I will ever be that close again, than I did with my fellow CITs.
Yet this bond of brotherhood I kindled, important though it is, is not the story I want to tell you today. I want to tell you about a specific evening about halfway through the summer that changed my life. It was our mid-summer review, a time where we could both evaluate our own progress in the CIT program and also reflect on how well the program was working for us. We were given the night off so we could fill out a review sheet and be interviewed individually by the Program Directors. Being sixteen-year-olds, most of us filled out our little sheets in just a few minutes so we could enjoy the rest of our precious night off, but I spent nearly forty-five minutes carefully considering each category presented and rating myself on a scale of one to five.
Finally, it was my turn to be interviewed. I was a bit nervous, but believed I had been as honest with myself as I could have been and did not feel I really had anything to worry about. I went in and gave my sheet to the Director of the Program, who sat next to the Assistant Director. The Assistant Director was only eighteen himself, so pretty close to myself in age, while the Program Director was in his early thirties. I had known the Director for the entire time I had been at camp; he not only ran the rifle program that was the one real sport I did at camp, but moreover he was a quiet and introverted person very similar to myself. I looked up to him more so than anyone else at camp, and naturally I hoped that he would approve of my evaluation.
He spent a few seconds glancing over the sheet I had given him, then set it aside and looked me in the eye. He said, and I’m quoting from memory here, “Dylan, you should have given yourself a five out of five in all categories. You are great with the staff, the campers, and the other CITs. You are a model for everyone else to look up to, and I believe you are going to make a fantastic counselor.” With that, the meeting was over.
I feel no shame in telling you that after that meeting I went into the nearest bathroom and wept for a good five or ten minutes. Never in my life had I ever felt such a sense of validation. My entire life I had viewed myself as a weak, purposeless, useless person, without friends and without meaning in life. Now, for the first time in my life I felt strong, I felt I had a purpose, I felt useful; in short, I felt self-worth. This is such a powerful feeling for a young person to have, that I truly believe it can make someone capable of anything. And indeed, I believe that every accomplishment I have achieved after that meeting is directly attributable to that moment of self-worth I felt then.
I often tell people that the best decision I ever made in my life was going to camp as a Counselor-in-Training in 2009, but in truth had I not gone to camp in the first place as a lonely, scared, friendless fourteen-year-old two years earlier in 2007, I probably never would have become a CIT. So really, it was that first decision, in many ways that much braver decision to go away to a place I had never been before where I did not know anyone, that was the more important one. Whichever way you look at it though, that summer was the most life-changing experience I ever had. I am still an introvert, still quiet and prone to solitude from time to time, but that lonely, self-hating boy who went into that summer returned as a self-confident young man. The effects of that transformation on me are too numerous to calculate.
I am not here to tell you that summer camp is a panacea for all the problems a young boy might have; much as I’d like to believe it is, it is not. Camp is not a place where all life’s problems are solved, nor even where one is given the tools to conquer all that life throws at you. What camp is, and what O-AT-KA is, is a place where children can learn what it means to grow up. It’s a place where you can learn responsibility, independence, and above all self-worth, all while having the time of your life. O-AT-KA has a motto, a quote from its founder the Reverend E.J. Dennen: “it is better to build boys than to mend men.” Perhaps the first thing I learned after that moment of self-worth I achieved as a CIT was the true meaning of that phrase. I shudder to think at the years of therapy it would have taken me as an adult to learn that simple lesson I learned as a sixteen-year-old: that I am important and that I matter. To learn such a lesson as a young person opens up so many opportunities for you as an adult; to learn so while having fun at the same time is something that is only possible at summer camp. And for me, it was something that was only possible at Camp O-AT-KA.
If you are thinking of sending your son to camp, or if you are thinking you yourself would like to go to camp, I would like to recommend to you Camp O-AT-KA. I can tell you, from personal experience, that it is a place where dreams can come true.
Dylan Kornberg is a former counselor and CIT Program Director of Camp O-AT-KA. He went to camp for nine summers, three summers as a camper and six summers as a staff member. He now lives in New York City with his girlfriend and their dog.
Why should I send my child away to an overnight camp? Whether you have asked this question or not, it’s certainly a natural thought that may cross your mind as you begin to explore all of the different options for your children throughout the summer.
Sending your children away to camp is a big (and sometimes scary) decision, but it’s also a very exciting one too! The idea requires a lot of thought and discussion amongst the entire family. Whether or not everyone is on board with the idea, it’s a question that we hope families are asking and continue to ask for generations to come.
With another summer season just around the corner and many new families getting ready to join the O-AT-KA family, we wanted to share some of our biggest reasons why families should consider this big decision. While some reasons are more obvious than others, it never hurts to remind ourselves of the importance and value that an overnight camp experience can offer our youth.
Our biggest and probably most obvious reason why is to gain independence. Many of our new (and even returning) campers deal with feelings of homesickness in their first couple of days at camp. It is a natural reaction that we recognize and acknowledge amongst our campers. We specifically at O-AT-KA are proud to say that our staff is highly trained and prepared to deal with homesickness even before it hits. The experience of going away to camp is invaluable in terms of gaining independence from home and also building confidence in oneself.
Subsequent to becoming more independent, overnight camps offer kids the chance to take risks, try new things, and learn new skills all within a safe space. Most traditional, overnight camps offer a long list of activities for campers to choose from (from land sports to water sports, the arts, and wilderness trips etc.). Staff members are trained in their program areas, and they are excited and eager to teach and share those skills with their campers!
Overnight camp offers the chance to build relationships and make new friends. This is another obvious reason but a good reminder that camp is a place where kids form strong, lasting relationships and even make life-long friends from all over the world. These bonds can be formed at any camp but may be even stronger when kids are living together at camp.
Lastly, overnight camp offers a change in pace from the busy academic year and — perhaps even more obvious than that — a change of scenery. There is something to be said for time spent not only away from home, but also within nature where a new perspective can hopefully be found.
“May the lake, the trees, the wide spaces of the fields and all the nature sights and sounds of earth and air be unto us as gates whereby we may enter – and think quiet compelling thoughts.”
-Excerpts of the O-AT-KA Prayer[Top]
Soon our campers will be arriving for our 113th Season at O-AT-KA. We couldn’t be more excited! As our families plan and prepare to send their boys away for the summer, we want to remind everyone of our policy concerning technology. Our policy at O-AT-KA places a high priority on safety and the importance of our boys learning independence, self-reliance and building community with those around us. There is so much value in face-to-face interactions, being present in the moment, taking time to focus on what is here rather than what is elsewhere. As we have found from extensive experience, we are best able to achieve these goals in an unplugged environment. For this reason, campers are not allowed to bring cellular phones to camp nor do they have access to the camp telephone during their stay.
Boys are encouraged to write home on a weekly basis. Who doesn’t love receiving a letter in the mail? This is a tradition that is appreciated and shouldn’t be lost! Members of the camp staff are always available to assist our families with urgent matters that require communication with our campers. We ask that our families and friends please help support our policy and refrain from sending campers to camp with cell phones or other devices that connect to the internet.
Families should also refer to our 2018 Parent Guidebook that is located on our website under the Parents > Resources tab. This is a very helpful resource that includes a lot of information pertaining to all things camp and how to best prepare for the upcoming summer.
June 24th will be here before we know it! It’s always smart to handle the pre-camp to do’s now to get ahead of the crunch of spring sports playoffs, school graduations, pool parties, etc. Below is a checklist we have prepared to hopefully help our families stay on track and be ready for opening day at O-AT-KA!
☐ Schedule your son’s physical exam to ensure you’ll have time to secure any forms or prescriptions in time for camp
☐ Make any travel reservations if needed.
☐ Check your son’s trunk for camp gear needs
☐ Talk with your son about his goals for the summer and communication expectations while he is at camp
☐ Sign your son/family up to be Camp Ambassadors! This is an exciting new outreach program to empower current campers to help recruit new campers and raise awareness about camp within our communities. This is a wonderful leadership opportunity that includes other perks. For more information, please contact Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
☐ Begin filling out all necessary forms in our camp software Campminder (please see instructions below).
☐ Register for CampMeds if needed (please see instructions below).
☐ Begin packing camp gear
☐ Confirm transportation to/from Camp
☐ May 15 – all forms, camp meds registration and final tuition payments are due!
☐ Final packing items packed and ship trunk if necessary
☐ June 23 – All international campers are picked up at Boston Logan Airport
☐ June 24 – OPENING DAY!
O-AT-KA uses the CampMeds pre-packaged medication program. Every camper who will be taking medication while at camp, with the exception of short-term antibiotics, dissolving tablets (e.g. Reditabs), or injectable medications must register with CampMeds at www.campmeds.com or by calling (954) 577-0025. CampMeds will send pre-packaged doses of your son’s medication directly to the camp infirmary for administration. Families will pay a $40 processing fee for the program if registered by May 15. An additional $25 charge will be incurred for families who register after May 15. Families arriving on-site with a camper requiring daily or long-term medication and who have not pre-registered with CampMeds will be charged a $65 packaging fee. The only exception will be families whose insurance is not accepted by CampMeds or those for whom CampMeds was unable to provide a particular product. Any camper needing daily vitamins or over the counter (OTC) medications will incur a fee of $40 if not packaged through CampMeds.
For access to all necessary forms, please follow these instructions:
- Go to the camp website: www.campoatka.org
- Go to About, click on the Resources tab to log in to your account. Enter your email address and click to retrieve your password. CampMinder will reply immediately with a temporary password. Use that password to log in. You can then change your password in “login details.”
- If the system does not recognize your email address, either we have an outdated or incorrect one in our records. If this occurs, send an email to email@example.com from your preferred address, and we will update your records. We can’t promise we will beat the automated system, but we will do our best!
- Once you are logged in, you will see the Parent Dashboard, which will guide you through the rest of the process.
As always, please feel free to call or e-mail us with any questions. You can call the office at (207) 787-3401, or you can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck with the remainder of the school year, and we look forward to seeing you all this summer![Top]
May 1, 2018
Greetings from O-AT-KA on Sebago Lake, and Happy Spring! We can’t believe we have already reached the month of May. Thank goodness that the snow has finally melted, and we can now dust off our equipment, begin spring cleaning, put the docks in, and prepare to open our doors to welcome our campers for our 113th summer.
We are in the final stages with staffing, cabins, and other programs. Our counselors, staff, and leadership team at O-AT-KA have spent months planning exciting events, organizing activity schedules, and ensuring that our upcoming summer will be amazing. Their hard work and preparation is a testament to how passionate they are about O-AT-KA and how excited they are to welcome our returning and new campers on Opening Day (June 24).
We are so excited to be kicking off our blog as a way to share our love and stories of camp while also keeping everyone updated on our latest news/updates/events. There is so much to look forward to, and we can’t wait to share it with you.
Stay tuned for more posts leading up to Opening Day and throughout the summer season!