Camp Woodland Blog

How One Summer at Woodland Can Change a Life Forever

Posted by on July 26, 2011

Over 25 years ago, a guidance counselor I had in college asked me what I was going to do that summer in order to be a better teacher upon graduation. Since I didn’t have a good answer to his question (I said that I was going to work at a fast food restaurant), I asked Dr. Galloway what he had in mind, and he told me that I should consider working as a counselor at a summer camp. I took some time thinking about the idea (I was never a camper myself and really had no concept of the camp experience), and came back to his office two weeks later saying that I would do it. Dr. Galloway asked me what my favorite state was, and I chose Wisconsin since I have relatives living in Stevens Point. I proceeded to type letters (this was obviously before the days of email!) to ten camps inquiring about positions available for the upcoming summer. Anne Jordan was kind enough to call shortly after receiving my letter, and following several phone conversations with her, I signed on the dotted line to pack my bags and head north for the summer.

I did not really have any expectations for what I was about to experience that first summer, nor did I have any idea that I was about to embark on a journey that would change my life forever. Because I naively thought that in order to be a better teacher, I would need to find a camp program that offered tutoring, I spent my day tutoring the campers from Mexico who wanted to learn English and a handful of others who needed to work on reading or math in order to be on track at school in the fall. I had no idea that teaching archery or swimming was just as valuable an experience for obtaining skills that would be useful in the classroom setting down the road.

I was a typical first year counselor and learned a great deal from the many mistakes I made in addition to the coaching that Mrs. Jordan so graciously took the time to give me so that I could handle the challenges of living with ten 13-14 year old girls for seven and a half weeks. In many ways, I was more homesick than most of the campers, and I couldn’t wait to go home and put the experience behind me. It wasn’t until the very last week that I totally “got it” and realized the value of spending a summer away from home in the camp environment. I observed girls learn to live and work as a group, show respect to others, gain confidence as they progressed with skill development in their activities, try new things, be independent, make choices and take risks in an environment where it is safe to do so, overcome challenges and fears, navigate the complexities of social relationships, seek guidance from those both older and younger, and appreciate the many gifts of nature,…, just to name a few!

I was so overwhelmed by the power of the camp experience that I was the first staff member to sign a contract for the following summer! I also got my lifeguard and WSI certification to satisfy my PE requirements at school that year, and the next thing I knew was that I was asked to be the co-director of the waterfront my second summer. I guess the rest is history as I ended up spending twelve consecutive camp seasons at Woodland and was sure to explain to various school principals the importance of me leaving for camp the day after school officially ended (even if it meant missing the ever important end-of-the-year meetings). I eventually moved to Chicago to work on my Master’s Degree so that I could be near camp’s “winter office” and only 6 hours from my summer home on County D Road. It is often met with surprise when I tell people that I was never a camper at Woodland, but rather, over the years I progressed from counselor, to program director, and eventually assistant director.

Fast forward to the summer of 2011, I found myself once again in the Northwoods of Wisconsin following a fourteen-year hiatus. This time I chose to return to Woodland to lend a hand and give back to a place that gave so much to me in my formative years as an educator. After finally having the opportunity to have a classroom of my own, I found that I was always trying to make school more like camp and NEVER trying to make camp more like school. As it turns out, spending that first summer at Woodland over 25 years ago did change the course of my life, and I am fortunate now to be able to work professionally as a consultant to summer camps around the country. I especially enjoy working with camp staff for orientation or mid-summer training and developing innovative camp program ideas.

In many ways, returning to Woodland after so many years was like coming “home”; while so much was just as I remembered it, there were many new faces and names to learn of campers and staff who had been there for just about as many years as I had been away. I was amazed at the number of current campers who through the process of fitting the pieces of a puzzle together discovered that I was counselor to their mother, aunt, or sister, or that I knew a cousin, uncle, or brother from Towering Pines. I was very touched by the warm welcome I received from the newest generation of the Camp Woodland family.

If you have a daughter who is spending her first summer or her tenth summer at Camp Woodland, I am happy to report that while so many things in our complex world have changed over the course of the last two decades (including the hairstyle I had when the camp video was made!), the mission of camp has changed only in ways that make it even better for the development of the young women who grow up there. Thank you for giving this wonderful gift to your camper – who knows, it may be a life-changing event for her as well!

Kim (Wenzl) Aycock
Camp Woodland Staff (1986-1997, 2011)