My second summer working at Camp Ocean Pines I met a young girl who was having a tough time adapting to camp. I don’t want to give her name away so we’ll call her Ashley. On arrival day, Ashley was hiding behind what I assumed to be her grandparents. With a smile I walked over to Ashley and introduced myself. “Hi there I’m Racecar Driver, what’s your name?” Ashley gave no response and looked to be extremely angry.
“Ashley! Tell the nice man your name. Do we need to have a talk?” the lady Ashley was hiding behind barked orders until Ashley murmured, “I’m Ashley”.
“Nice to meet you Ashley. We are really excited that you came to camp, and I wanted to let you into a little secret. Everyone today feels a little nervous, so if you happen to ever feel nervous today, just know that everyone else is nervous….even me”. Ashley rolled her eyes dramatically at me. “Is that a Minecraft t-shirt? I love that game, I love how it let’s you build whatever you want”. I asked trying to have even a little breakthrough. No response. “Well Ashley it was nice to meet you, and I want you to know that I am here if you need anything. Have a great first week of camp”. Ashley watched as I went and “high-fived” other kids welcoming them to camp.
At the time I was a program coordinator, so I didn’t have really information on the background of kids, so I asked Scott(my boss) about Ashley. He told me that she had been in the foster care system for her entire life, being passed from home to home. Camp Ocean Pines had used money donated to camp to send Ashley to camp, in hopes of giving her some support she was not getting at home.
Ashley was not getting along in her cabin. While the rest of her cabin was making friends and having a blast, Ashley would sit in the corner murmuring to herself. Her counselor really tried hard to get her involved and help her make friends, but Ashley didn’t want camp(or at least she thought she didn’t). The other girls in her cabin were also trying to include her. “Ashley come play with us. We really want you to.” Ashley just looked away with an angry look on her face.
At Camp Ocean Pines, we ensure campers make friends and have a “magical” experience and I wanted Ashley to have that experience. I tried everything. At snack, I would go to Ashley and try and talk to her. I told her jokes, I told her funny stories, I told her about my first year at camp but nothing seemed to work. Then I asked her about video games. I asked if she liked to play them, what did she liked about them, what was her favorite game. “The people I live with say video games are bad for me” responded Ashley.
She talked to me! I was so happy I tried to hide my smile. “What’s your favorite video game?” I asked Ashley hoping that she would talk more. She whispered Minecraft under her breath but stopped talking to me for the day. It wasn’t until dinner the next day where I was able to see the real Ashley.
Most of the kids were eating sloppy joes, Ashley was just staring at her food. I told Ashley I had something to show her outside and she followed me. Right when she walked outside she was hit with the most enormous giant airplane I have ever made. She said, “Hey!” and threw the plane right back at me. It hit me right in the stomach. “Hey!” I said back to her and I grabbed the plane and threw it back to her. We ended up throwing the plane back and forth until she finally asked me how I made it. I showed her how I made the plane and she learned really fast. It wasn’t long after that her cabin was outside asking if they could play with us. I told them that was up to Ashley. Ashley said, “Sure!” This was the beginning of Ashley making friends at camp, and she ended up having an amazing time. She made lifelong friends that she told me she still talks to today.
Camp played an instrumental part of her being able to open up and make friends. I know that camp has had an impact on many kids at camp. I’ve seen the shyest of kids blossom at camp. Camp is the place where the shy, awkward, and the over obsessed with caterpillars kid get to be accepted. Camp is the place where campers, counselors, and staff meet kids where they are at, and help them connect to our Camp Ocean Pines family.
Summer Camp Director