For the last 10 years I’ve had the opportunity to spend the majority of my summertime at Camp Jeremiah Johnson. Being a mom of 6, I naturally took my kids along with me. At one point we had 6 Shumways in camp (my oldest daughter Rachel also worked at Camp Jeremiah Johnson, but before the rest of us). There were definitely downsides to this: growing a garden became almost impossible, my husband Matt got quite lonely (or at least I’d like to think he did) and we found ourselves missing out on simple things like flushing toilets, AC, warm water, being clean and other things along this line. Despite these things it’s all been worth it. Quite often when we’re together one of the kids will say “Remember when…” and bring up any number of crazy stories from camp. In addition to great memories and tons of laughter we’ve been blessed in many other areas. Here are just a few:
My kids have made life-long good friends that I’ve never had to worry about. I’m not sure what it is but for the most part kids that are willing to work at camp seem to be a step above the norm. Years after working at camp they still stay in contact with friends they met through camp. I have also had the opportunity to work with wonderful leaders who’ve taught me and helped me be not only a better leader but a better person. For this I’ll be forever grateful.
My kids along with other youth in camp have gained a ton of self-confidence. It’s neat for me as the Camp Director to sit back and watch a staff member who can barely speak to me get up and teach a lesson and not think twice about it by the end of the summer. I see this over and over each summer and am continually appreciative that my kids have had this opportunity.
Another life skill my kids have learned is how to speak with adults. In any position the youth work in at camp they interact with adults. There’s no getting around it. Having to do this on a daily basis has made it easy for them and now they’re to the point that it comes naturally. They’ve also had to learn how to get along with all kinds of people. Believe it or not there are some leaders and even occasionally a staff member who aren’t happy to come to camp. My kids along with the other staff have had to learn to interact, work with and get along with these leaders and youth.
My kids along with all the other staff members have learned how to teach. Each spring the staff gets handed a Staff Guide. They are required to read it and learn it (to the point they can pass a test which is given later to see if they learned the material). Once they have the basics of the program down they practice teaching, first with their peers and then for real with the campers. As they teach, again you see their confidence grow. Throughout the summer and over the years they’ve worked at camp they’ve become more and more comfortable and are willing to take on bigger and bigger challenges which has been very rewarding to see.
One of the things my kids have learned that I’ve appreciated more than almost any other is learning to be responsible. Each summer my kids have been given a schedule of when they worked. Some days they really didn’t want to go to work or things came up and they couldn’t work. Just like any other staff member they had to go to work or find someone to work for them. Not showing up was not an option. When they got to work they were responsible to fulfill their assignment, take care of equipment and supplies all while making sure the campers were having the time of their lives. Many days this wasn’t easy, especially as the temperature reached over 100 degrees and you didn’t think you could possibly get any hotter, or on the flip side when it’s raining so hard you think the camp may flood. No matter what the day brought whether good or bad my kids learned to plug ahead and make the best of the situation which is a life skill they will use for the rest of their lives.
It may sound simplistic but my kids have learned a ton of camping skills. It’s one thing to be taught skills as my boys have as they’ve gone through the Scouting program or as Hannah did in Girl Scouts. Having the opportunity to teach these skills to younger Scouts as allowed these skills to become engrained.
Spending summers at camp has allowed me as the Mom to never hear “I’m bored” or “what can I do today”? I’ve never had to pull them away from video games or hours in front of the television. This is not to say they don’t these things in the other seasons of the year; they simply don’t have time in the summer. Getting up at 5:45 to leave the house by 6:15 to make it to camp by 7:00, working all day and getting home at 9:00 at night makes you appreciate the little free time you have. Even on their days off they were always busy with friends, laundry and just resting up.
For me, it’s sad as I see these days coming to an end. If only kids didn’t grow up! By next summer it’ll be just Hannah and I. Hannah being the youngest child has spent the most time at camp. She’s been coming to Jeremiah Johnson since she was 6. Many of the staff tease her saying Hannah has been here so long she can run the place. While I don’t think she’s quite there, she along with the rest of the kids have learned important lessons along the way. At the end of the summer a few years ago I had a Mom tell me thank you for letting her sons work at camp. She said, “Instead of paying my kids to be here I should be paying you for the things they learn.” That’s exactly how I’ve felt about having my kids grow up in camp. They’ve learned many valuable life lessons that I’ll be forever grateful for.
Author: Ann Shumway | Camp Director, Camp Jeremiah Johnson | Learning for Life Director, Utah National Parks Council