I Believe in Summer Camp

a brief memoir of my first Troy Camp

By: Sierra “Piggy Bank” Lai

Hold up two fingers and you will have the number of times I cried during camp this year, my first year as a Troy Camp counselor (a cabin counselor, nonetheless). You would think that having the best first camp experience and crying couldn’t happen in the same time frame, but for all the right reasons, tears were shed.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not a crier. Yes, I cry during most romantic comedies and at graduations, but I would say that I keep it pretty cool.

The first time: At our nightly counselor meeting, the Co-Executives read a message we received from a former camper. He left a short, yet poignant, positive, and honest message about the impact Troy Camp has had on him and his hopes that his sister would share his experiences. When I discovered his sister was a camper in my cabin (my camper!), the effect we could and do have on the kids we work with became very tangible for me. My tears surprised me, but that was the moment I really felt the weight of my role in this organization and how important it was not only for my campers, but also for me to give it my all and not take any moment for granted. 

The second time: At the very last campfire, every cabin chooses someone to dedicate a pinecone to. Between the warmth of the fire, 190 other campers facing us, and my cabin’s eagerness to reveal their dedication, only a heartless-monster-robot-animal wouldn’t have cried! I never could have imagined how a week would turn complete strangers into family, yet here we are… writing about my new favorite place, new favorite people, and new favorite week of the year.

As a new member of the organization, being a cabin counselor was intimidating. Between literallybeing responsible for 10 small children and being a new college student pretty insufficient at taking care of herself, I felt overwhelmed. While I did have an entire year of working with our kids during programming and learning from other members, camp is different. It’s the week everyone waits for. It’s the week everyone talks about. It’s the week where we learn more about our campers, each other, and ourselves. All of the returning members told me it was going to be the most magical week of my life and while I fully believed it could be…they were not exaggerating.

After being an active member and counselor in Troy Camp for a full year, I believe in summer camp. I believe in letting kids be kids. I believe in the joy that a good story and s’mores can bring. Summer camp is a place far different from the real world. It’s a place where we remember that life can be really simple. It’s a place where everyone becomes the best version of himself or herself. It’s a place for many firsts, but certainly not lasts.

For the first time, I was excited by the ordinary. The smallest things amazed my cabin. From finding a really big walking stick on our hikes to talking for hours about seeing the ape-man, I knew these small magical things were only magical because we were at camp.

Our location in Idyllwild Pines, two hours away from Los Angeles, is the furthest away from home many of our campers have been. Its distance and seclusion from the “real world” comes with distance from technology, problems, and worries. Summer camp lets our kids, who often can’t be kids like most of us were allowed to be, be kids. And for the first time, they look at things with the curiosity, intensity, and playfulness they should have. 

I laughed at everything that made my campers happy because they were things that were so ordinary that I remembered how unnecessarily complex we make life. Sometimes just a good moment (or in many cases, the promise of s’mores at campfire or dessert at dinner) could solve any problem.

For the first time, I went by “Piggy Bank” and called all of my friends similarly strange names for an entire week. She is someone I want to be all the time. She is enthusiastic about everything, not afraid to be silly, not glued to her phone, and incredibly selfless.

Summer camp brings out the best in people. Everyone in Troy Camp takes on the best version of himself or herself the moment their camp name becomes the only thing they are called. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but something inside of you comes out when you’re charged with ensuring the well being of nearly 200 campers. It’s an environment where there is no judgment, and everyone is on the same page.

We put our campers first. There are very few other places I know where there’s as much dedication to one goal from so many people. Being “Piggy Bank” for a week showed me parts of myself that I want to bring to my everyday life, even when I’m away from camp.

So, yes, I believe in summer camp, but more than that, I believe in Troy Camp. Summer camp is a place where everyone is happy, everyone is filled with wonder, and everyone revels in the simplicity of our world.  What we do for our community is so important and that became very apparent at my first year in Idyllwild Pines. Every single smile, laugh, tear, or sigh was the result of the work of some of the best people I know (co-counselors I’m lucky to call my friends), a dedication to the work we do, and the belief that a summer camp can help shape someone’s life. While this was my first camp and our kids experienced many firsts, this certainly isn’t the last time any of us will be touched by the experiences we shared this year. 

As a returning member to Troy Camp this upcoming fall, I can sing TC songs in my sleep, chant color team cheers for hours, and describe fire camp rituals in unnecessary and lengthy detail. Yet, I’ve still got a lot to learn and am looking forward to another great year with my closest friends, current and future. I hope you’ll join us on the wildest and most rewarding ride of your life. I can’t promise you won’t cry.