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Summer Camp through the Eyes of Parents

Summer Camp through the Eyes of Parents
By Alissa Hollmann, Camping Services Director

Summer Camp through the Eyes of ParentsIt is springtime, and as soon as the calendar turns to April and the veggies go into the garden, I start to think about Summer Camp almost exclusively.  I assume that our campers and their families are the same way; thinking of the summer to come and its new adventures, reuniting with friends, and future Golden Arrowhead victories.  To help prepare those less familiar with Camp Ondessonk, I asked five parents of veteran campers to share their experiences and wisdom.

What do you remember about the 1st time you dropped your child(ren) off at camp?  How were you feeling? How were they feeling? 

Suzy (Munn) Mahoney- Parent of Male Traditional Camper and Female Horse Camper; Camper (1982 – 1985); CIT (1986); Staff (1987 – 1992); Family Camper (2013); Volunteer (2014 – 2018):
I vividly remember the anticipation of getting through the gate on the Camp road to find out what units our then mini campers would be assigned.  (They attended Mini Camp before donors and volunteers built the Monsignor Fournie Mini Camp Village.)  The experience brought back many memories from when I was a camper waiting in line and as a staff member returning to Camp on Sunday mornings.  The long lines were always worth the wait, but we’re grateful for the Saturday Night Special now!

Cindy Emmett- Parent of 2 Female Campers; Summer Volunteer; Mother-Daughter Camp Participant:
The thing I remember most about dropping my kids off at Summer Camp was the overwhelming excitement I felt for them knowing what they were about to experience.  I had not been to Camp since I was 15 years old.  The moment I pulled into the parking lot and walked across the covered bridge I felt like a kid again.   I was so excited to be back and a bit jealous that I wasn’t getting to stay myself.  I may have been slightly more excited than they were…LOL.  When it was time for me to leave we said our goodbyes and they headed off to join their unit and staff for what would be the start of a yearly summer tradition.

Bill and Suzanne Selby- Parents of male Adventure and Traditional Campers:
Neither of us had ever attended Camp Ondessonk.  Our oldest came home excited one day in the 4th grade about summer camp.  We signed him up to be a mini camper.  He opted to go for the whole week.  Waiting in line at the gate the excitement and joy of the returning campers was contagious.  We were way back in the line because we did not know people came early.  However, that only added to the fun of walking around and meeting people.  Once we worked our way through the check-in process, we got to his unit.  We remember being worried and scared.  As we started to walk away, we turned around to watch him.  He was darting down the road and went into the unit without turning around.  We waited but alas he did not come out.  The drive home was long.  We worried if he would be ok.  Would he enjoy himself?   It was the first time in his life we were not near him to protect him.  We could not help him learn how to navigate his way.  Finally, after several days mail arrived.  Our son who is always verbose wrote, ”Dear M and D, I am loving Camp and staying up late, love W. “  That is it! No details.  At least we knew he was safe.   For the rest of the week, we no longer worried.

Cathie Morgan- Parent of Female Camper; Summer Volunteer:
I had never been to Ondessonk before, and I was in awe. It was breathtaking. The enthusiasm of the staff and volunteers was infectious. The health-center staff and volunteers put my mind at ease, as I am the parent of a child with a medical condition, and I was reassured she was in excellent and knowledgeable hands.

What did you hear about from your camper(s) when they got home?

Cathie Morgan:
CAMP SONGS!! The first song she and her two friends sang us was the Tekakwitha unit cheer followed by many more. Still, to this day her favorite unit is Tek! We heard about Gaga, snog, eat with your face Friday, campfires, hiking, swimming and new friends for months!

Cindy Emmett:
When my kids returned home, they had had such a great week.  I heard all about their favorite activities, campfires, and the songs they learned.   Most of all they loved the staff.   Camp Ondessonk is full of staff members who love Camp as much as the kids do.

Suzy (Munn) Mahoney:
There was a lot of chatter in the back of the car as we headed out of Camp, but it didn’t take long for both of them to fall asleep.  I think that was a good sign that they thoroughly enjoyed their time.  My stepson especially appreciated hiking and woodsmanship, whereas our daughter thoroughly enjoyed handicrafts.  It was obvious they were eager to graduate to regular campers the next summer!

Bill and Suzanne Selby:
He was full of stories of how much fun he had.  The best part of picking him up was listening to all the happy sounds coming from the old dining hall.  We would highly encourage anybody to come early for pickup to listen to the unit songs and hear the laughter.

What outcomes do you see from camp?  Why do your children continue to attend? 

Suzy (Munn) Mahoney:
Our children have gained independence and accepted more responsibility from their Camp experiences.  They have equally enhanced their relationship building skills.  They’ve learned at Camp that no one is a stranger – everyone is family! During our weekly family meetings, it’s no surprise when they express they are looking forward to going to Summer Camp.  I think they appreciate the break from the routine of daily life . . . Being unplugged and in touch with nature is something they’ve grown to appreciate and value.

Eric Schauster- Parent of Male and Female Campers/CIT; Past Camp Staff; Committee and past Board of Directors Member:
The first thing we noticed was the boost to their self-confidence.  They seemed happier and more independent than they were before going to Camp Ondessonk.   They also said that is was nice to be “disconnected” for a week with no phones, computers, etc.

Cindy Emmett:
Outstanding staff members are a big part of what makes camp so great and also what keeps the kids going back year after year.  The staff members help the campers to have fun but they also help when kids might be feeling a little homesick.  Staff members have greatly influenced my kids by having so much fun but also teaching them great responsibility, not only for themselves but also for caring for such a beautiful place.   Summer Camp is a place to grow, learn independence, as well as responsibility.

Cathie Morgan:
Confidence.  Camaraderie.  Integrity.  Teamwork. Leadership. Empathy. Extended Family.

What advice do you have for 1st-time camper families? 

Suzy (Munn) Mahoney:
Be prepared by doing your homework!  Review the suggested packing lists – bug netting and insect repellent are a must, as are comfortable and supportive shoes.  Talk to other parents of current or former campers.  And if feasible, visit camp during the annual Open House to make sure it’s a good fit for your children, especially for younger campers who may be a bit reluctant to be on their own.  And most importantly, trust that your children are in good hands with the wonderful staff and volunteers at Camp Ondessonk.  Make those “goodbyes” swift and leave your camper with words of confidence and encouragement – even if you shed a few tears in your car as you drive away from camp.

Eric Schauster:

  • Be prepared to meet a more confident, more independent, happier, more outgoing child when they return.
  • It can be a bit nerve-wracking sending your child away from home for the first time.  My best advice is to RELAX.  Kids sometimes don’t get enough credit for being problem solvers.  Besides, Camp staff are professionals.  After nearly 60 years in business, they know what they are doing.
  • When they return home, you will hear almost everything about their week at Camp, especially the songs.  You will listen to Camp songs all the time for the next few months.
  • Your child may try to change your routines at home by adding a song to mealtime, or by suggesting you make foil burgers for dinner, or teaching you a new game that you can play as a family.
  • Be prepared for the “post Camp blues.” It can set in a few days after they return home, once they start missing the fun of Summer Camp and the friends they made.  This even happens to adults who spend time at Ondessonk.  The best cure for Camp blues is MORE CAMP!

Bill and Suzanne Selby:

  • Tell your kid to smile for the camera. It is fun to look for them in pictures each day.
  • Send them with pre-stamped and prewritten postcards. All they have to do is put it in the mailbox at the trading post.  Even with this, you may not get mail.
  • Come wearing your swim gear. It makes it easier, so you can just drop your bag at your unit and then go take your swim test.
  • Each child approaches life in their own way. The staff is excellent and will help each kid find the experience they need from Camp.
  • Come early and pack a lunch. Sitting in line waiting for the gate to open is a great way to get to meet other campers.
  • Pack a little bag with your medications, bug netting, change of clothes for after the swim test and water. This way everything else can go in the trunk that Camp will haul to the unit for you.
  • Start mailing letters and packages several days before Summer Camp so they will get mail everyday.  Funny cards and jokes printed out from the internet are fun for them to receive.
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