Why be a 17-year-old camper?

A few thoughts from Anna Hopkins, camp director

Friends Camp is the only camp I know about where you can be seventeen and attend a traditional session as a camper. Many camps “age out” their campers around age 14, sometimes offering counselor-in-training programs as a substitute. I believe in the value of being a seventeen-year-old camper; There is a special privilege inherent in summer camp that gets better each year—the privilege of just being a kid in a special camp world filled with joy, adventure, and belonging.

Teenagers (and many adults, if we are honest with ourselves) are rarely offered an opportunity to slow down, to step back, and to ask themselves “who do I want to be?” Two weeks at Friends Camp offers teenage campers an opportunity, away from their cell phones and computers, to spend some quiet time in reflection. Teenagers crave our morning worship and evening vespers, as well as the moments of calm listening to frogs as you fall asleep, sitting in silence around a campfire, or reading a book under a tree.

Our oldest campers, those who are sixteen or seventeen, often share reflective messages during our Quaker Meetings for Worship and our closing fire circle. They are thinking about building community, about equality and openness, about their place in the world, and about their values. Meeting for worship allows our campers a venue to be authentic and thoughtful, an experience that can be difficult to achieve elsewhere in a world full of social media & over-scheduling.

Some of my favorite moments at camp this last summer were seeing mentorship between a young adult counselor and an older camper. The age gap of 2-5 years allows older campers and counselors an opportunity to connect in a meaningful way. Campers and counselors talk about college choices, challenges in school, identity, favorite books and music, and so much more. So often when I interview a counselor hopeful, they reference the impact their camp counselors had on them; they want to provide the same non-judgmental listening and affirmations that’s it’s okay to just be yourself (and to be a little silly, sometimes.)

While Friends Camp does not offer a counselor-in-training program, I have seen the most remarkable leadership from our campers who are sixteen and seventeen years old. These campers set the tone for what we do at camp; they model camp values for younger peers and cabin-mates. In fact, many of our counseling staff for the 2018 summer were responsible 17-year-old campers.

It can be challenging for older teens to return to camp when they are sixteen and seventeen. Teens face the pull of jobs, academic work, internships, and competitive sports programs. Consider this an invitation to think about what you can learn from another summer at camp, one year older and one year sillier.