Written by: Martin Brennan – Cast Manager for Camp UWP
February 15, 2013
We Do More that S’mores
As you all know…the UWP experience is life changing. It is also hard to explain and quantify. So too, Camp UWP is proving life changing for the campers who attend and they also experience the familiar frustration in explaining and quantifying their experience.
“Oh, Come on,” you say to yourself in disbelief, “don’t exaggerate. You are only together for three week and you’re a summer camp for crying out load. Give me a break on the life changing comparison to UWP.”
Yes, we are a summer camp, a very specific and deliberate summer camp inspired by the mission of UWP and built on the pillars of UWP; performing arts, community service, leadership, and cultural diversity. And, yes, the time we are together, three weeks, may at first appear to pale in comparison to a five-month or full year tour with UWP. However, one must remember this is three weeks at camp.
A unique quality of Camp UWP is that we are each other’s “host family.” We do not leave in the evening and return to a host family. Camp staff and campers live, eat, and work together for three weeks. If you have a challenge with a fellow cast member, there is no going home to a host family to get away from it. It can be intense and it also provides an incredible container to see others for who they are and to be seen by others.
Except for two days when the campers have an UWP traditional host family experience on a trip to Washington, D.C., campers and staff are living together for the entire three weeks of camp.
Imagine, instead of eight hours with the cast and the evenings with a host family, at CUWP from the moment you wake, breakfast is 7:45 am, to when you fall asleep, lights out is 11:00 pm, your experience is of your cast. (Yes, I am fully aware that lights out does not equate with falling asleep.) That is sixteen hours a day of learning about one another, rehearsing, singing around a camp fires, delivering a culture presentations, swimming, singing at vocals, catching fire-flies, eating, rock-climbing, talking, practicing speaking parts, and hanging out together.
On our final night of camp, after the cast has performed two shows for the community and has performed strike, we all gather to celebrate the fun, friendships, and accomplishments of camp. In true UWP fashion, is always a great time. We close the evening with gathering the entire cast into our final closing circle. Each day at camp we officially close the day with a closing circle where we take a moment to reflect on the day. When we gather for our final closing circle we explain that not only will this circle close the day out, it will also close camp for it will be the last time we are all together as a cast. Early in the morning campers will begin to depart.
In the circle each person has the opportunity to share what camp has meant to them. As you can imagine, the final closing circle is often emotional and hysterically funny, sometimes in the same moment. The comment we hear more than any other from the campers is gratitude to the cast for allowing them to be themselves and to the cast for accepting them. One camper from Sweden this past summer who was attending for his second summer expressed how he felt CUWP was a second home, he could be more himself camp than he felt he could be with many back at home and also shared he had a good life back home.
In our attempt to have better answers to what so the campers take from their experience of camp we asked parents to answer whether they felt their child benefited from her/his participation in Camp UWP and if so, how. As you read some of their many positive responses, reflect back on your time with UWP and see if you can resonate with a few of the parents observations about their children;
- He got a chance to explore and find himself through his talent and that made him more confident and more accepting of himself.
- The experience truly changed her life! She had low self-esteem and had difficulty loving herself and life. The camp, the acceptance, the love of the “family” that she created, the bonds she made, have given her a new love of life and most importantly of love for herself.
- She could be herself
- She opened her mind, got to learn better English
- Gained confidence, independence, he became more active.
- Realized there are plenty of people like her.
- Met a lot people from different countries and learned firsthand that we all share the same vision.
A part of me believes that for those traveling with UWP and those attending Camp UWP many will always struggle with how to explain and quantify the experience. How do you quantify an experience that dramatically alters how you experience the world? How do you quantify an experience that brings you to know yourself better? How do you quantify an experience that allows for the deep bonds of friendship?
Over twenty years ago I wrote in my journal a quote from Antoine De Saint-Exupéry, the French writer, poet, and aviation pioneer, “Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself.” I think the power and genius of UWP and Camp UWP is both programs create a container for young people to experience love while interacting with the world…to lead others back to themselves and in doing so, allow others to lead oneself gently back as well.
I understand, we don’t talk about love. Love is not in our promotional materials for camp and we do not discuss it at our strategic planning sessions. It is just not done. It is too messy, too soft, too New Age, and people have too much baggage when it comes to love. Yet, when I stand in that final closing circle at the end of each camp session and both hear and feel the campers and staff struggle to articulate what they are taking away from camp, I firmly believe they struggle because they are attempting to describe the experience of love…the love for the unique person they are, a love of friendship where you want the best for the other and know they want to best for you, and a love for life.
How do you quantify an experience that is primarily of the heart? In this most basic of undertakings, Camp UWP proudly follows in the footsteps of UWP, in opening the hearts of our campers to the world around them. For many of our campers, this experience indeed is life changing.
At Camp UWP, we do more than just s’mores
If you know a young student between the ages of 13 and 17 and would like more information, please check out our web site at www.CampUpwithPeople.org , or call Tim Lane, Camp Director at +1 540-742-4093.
My parents were a host-family a long time ago, before I was born J. In 2003 my parents and I visited one of their host daughters in North Carolina and that’s how I first heard the stories about UWP.
April 2007 was the first time I saw an UWP show … loved it from the start and said “hope I get to travel with UWP one day”
Beginning of this year (2011) my Mom told me she heard about a Camp UWP in the summer, for young boys and girls like me. I was interested from the start!
We have been to the show of Cast A 2011 in Belgium last March and we even had the chance to go behind the scenes during the show rehearsal and they were all very nice to us.
I really had some doubts about going to Camp UWP so my mum did everything she could to convince me for going, she searched for people from Belgium who were going too and got in touch with Tim Lane who helped us a lot with that.
My biggest fear was going so far without family or friends but then I was getting to know 2 other girls from Belgium, Angelique and Audrey, which made the flight not so scary.
When we arrived at Washington Dulles the first people of Camp I saw was Martin and Lotte. They were so happy to see us. We started to chat with Lotte when Martin was going to pick up other campers at another gate. At the start I didn’t know that Lotte was also from Belgium but even when we knew that we just kept on speaking English J then another girl from Belgium, Liora, arrived she was on another flight. She was so nice. Then 2 girls from Colorado arrived, Hannah and Lindsey. They were really nice. We all started to chat with each other I immediately had a click with them, then at last the last girl arrived from Mexico, Rebecca.
We started to drive and drive and drive finally we arrived at Wendy’s (local time: 6:00 pm, Belgium time: 01:00 am) we were all very hungry from the long flight and the food on the plane was really terrible. So we enjoyed the meal. Then after Wendy’s we drove to the Camp, it was like forever before we got there but that didn’t bother us because we just keep on laughing and singing.
At Camp we did all the administration and medication stuff. Then we could go to our rooms and see the other Campers. They were all so used to each other (some of them arrived the day before), and we were like outsiders, but that changed when we had to go to bed it was all so nice and cozy!
The Staff really made us feel at home. Martin, Tim, Lotte, Emma, Kyle, Sam, Chiara and Chris … I love you guys forever!
Camp UWP was an amazing experience. I’m really glad I did it. I learned so much in those 3 weeks. Of course it was exhausting, all the dancing and the vocals,…but the result was fantastic. The very first Camp UWP Cast A 2011 show was awesome. We also had the honor that Lynne Morris guided us through the rehearsals, dance routines and vocals.
Besides learning the show routines there was some time left for outside activities. Like the Camp Horizons Talent shows, the horseback riding, the canopy tour, the Via Ferrata. The last two were exciting and full of adventure. Those made us stronger and we had to step out of our comfort zone and into our challenge zone but most important of all created a bound between all of us.
We also did camp fires and we celebrated the 4th of July and all the fun stuff that the staff had made up. Very important was the community service we did: we planted pepper plants, we helped out at Salvation Army, we worked together with the teacher from the school where we did our show,… they were all very nice people.
We did sightseeing and saw a lot of the important memorials with top of the bill… a visit to the White House!
The experience with the host family was new for me but it was wonderful. My host Mum’s did everything for us! They try to make it as comfortable as possible for us. We had a very nice evening with lots of food and fun games.
I am going back this year to Camp UWP Cast A 2012 and hope to meet up with “old” friends and make some new ones! For the new staff it’s going to be hard to follow into the footsteps of the previous staff.
Sally Verschueren, 12/28/2011