Summer camp offers a lot to young people that classrooms don’t — canoeing, crafts, campfires, and no homework.
However, what sticks out the most for kids are the relationships formed with the people at camp.
A five-day summer camp can lead to a new level of friendship and community. After eating every meal together, sleeping in the same cabin each night, and singing songs around a campfire, you may know more about a camp buddy in a week than your school friend of a few years.
The Braeburn Lake Summer Camp has been providing the camp experience for Yukon youth since the late 1950s. It was originally formed by four churches: Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, and United. Today they continue to work together, producing a new camp each July.
Jacob Fitzsimmons worked as a councilor at Braeburn Camp last year, and plans to do so again this summer. He first encountered Braeburn as a camper years before.
“As a camper I looked up to the councilors who were taking care of me,” he says. “Even though we’re not together long, in the week with these kids you get to know each other very well. At Braeburn we’re all sort of a family, which isn’t the case at school. At school you’re sort of divided up. You don’t talk to certain people and don’t hang out with others.”
While camp does consist of a lot of fun, games, and new friendships, it does have challenges. As a councilor, one of Fitzsimmons’ daily struggles is getting his campers up in the morning.
“First thing in the morning is the polar dip,” he says. “Everyone heads down to the lake and puts on a life jacket, and we all jump in when the lifeguard gets there. It’s a competition — whichever cabin can jump into the lake, get out, and then form a straight line on shore first gets breakfast first.”
“It’s fun, but it’s tiring to get the kids out of bed early. Their eyes are still half-shut when they jump in the water. It does wake them up pretty fast though.”
This year, Braeburn is introducing a new camp into the lineup called Leaders in Training. It’s for teens that would like to be a camp councilor like Fitzsimmons one day, or any youth who would like to develop some leadership ability.
They have always trained those interested in being councilors, giving select campers the title of Councilor in Training (CIT), and having them assist the staff during the week. They will still include CIT’s in the other camps, but now they will also have a camp of their own.
“This year we thought we would start with a camp that was itself focused on those kids who want to be councilors eventually, and give them some actual leadership skills,” says Jennifer Moorlag, current camp treasurer and 21-year veteran of Braeburn Lake Summer Camp. “We will examine what communication and conflict resolution look like, as well as what-do-you-do-if type situations.”
The leadership camp will also provide an emergency first aid and bear-aware course, along with paddling lessons and opportunities to learn other necessary camp skills.
Braeburn Lake Summer Camp is a Christian camp, and along with a core set of values that represents all four churches behind the camp, campers will also sing songs and learn bible stories.
“We promote respect for God’s creation, and we like to help kids grow in faith in a way that’s non-threatening and really inclusive,” says Moorlag. “It’s about allowing them to explore their natural curiosity, ask questions, and find out who they are and how they hold people close.”
If your own family isn’t religious, or belongs to a different religious group, don’t worry; Braeburn Camp keeps its cabin doors open.
“We’ll never turn away a child because they have questions, or if their family doesn’t go to one of our churches,” says Moorlag. “We’ll also never turn a child away based on the fact that their family can’t afford it.
“Some kids really connect with the experience at camp. You never know when something’s going to happen that will change somebody’s life. Whether it’s a song, a connection with someone, or a love of camp.”
Delaney Paul has been going to Braeburn for years, and after two years as a CIT, she’s finally old enough to be a councilor this year.
“I’m hoping I can go back this year,” she says. “I have another job and I’m hoping my boss can give me the time off because I love it. The camp really makes my summer.
“I love sitting around the campfire and singing all the songs,” says Paul. “For me though, the best part of camp is not just hanging out with kids my age, but making friends with the younger kids. They really look up to you. Knowing the kids enjoyed themselves there with you, and knowing you made the camp special for them feels really good.”
The other part of camp that shouldn’t be overlooked is the special bond with nature that can develop after five days without the influence of television, cell phones, or the Internet. Though sometimes nature can prove to be just as intrusive.
“One year I woke up in the middle of the night to find a moth crawling up my leg. I could definitely do without the bugs and mosquitoes,” says Paul.
Despite the bugs, Paul is still gung-ho.
“Some of the kids my age don’t see what the point is in coming out to camp; but once you get out to Braeburn, or any summer camp, your horizons will quickly broaden, and you’ll see how different a summer can be, beyond just chilling at home or playing with your group of friends. Camp is definitely one of the best experiences for me.”
For specific camp information, dates, and registration forms go to www.braeburncamp.ca or visit the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, or United churches in Whitehorse.