FEYC Director Message
- Written by Nick Miller
As I write this, the sun is rising over the trees, its light filtering through the last wisps of mist on the lake. The humidity on the weather gauge reads 95%, and condensation rolls off the roof in steady drops. On the other side of the lake, four tired chaperones are completing their nightly reports and quietly driving to their cabins to sleep. In 48 cabins, 336 campers and their staff are rolling out of bunks, preparing for their first full day of camp.
In Cabins 2, 3 and 4 (otherwise known as the Deep Divers), the nine-year-old boys are fully awake and moving at speed. The two staff members in each cabin are groggy, but with several weeks of this under their belt, they’re catching up quickly. Eventually, the kids are dressed, their teeth are brushed and their beds are made. The staff then corral the boys onto the front porch to put on their shoes and do a final water bottle check. From there, they’ll head to the flagpole at the front of the Oaks cabin area. Cabin 2 will be raising the flag this morning. They were spotted picking up trash that others left behind last night, and as a reward, they will receive the honor of conducting the first flag ceremony.
With the final words of the Pledge of Allegiance hanging in the air, the campers will make their way to the pavilion for breakfast. Cabin 4 will be selected to ring the old-fashioned “Come and Get It!” triangle, and after the breakfast chant, a camper and a staff member from each table will hustle up to the kitchen window to retrieve a serving tray with food for the whole cabin. The campers will pass scrambled eggs, bacon, fruit and yogurt around the table family style until everyone gets a full plate.
Breakfast finished, the boy cabins from the Deep Divers will group up with the girl cabins from their track – cabins 27, 28 and 52 – and they’ll all head to the pool for their first activity session of the day. It’ll be 90+ degrees on the pool deck today, but the sail shades will keep the water temperature closer to 85. Swim tests are always a double-edged sword. They keep the campers safe, but they can also cause distress in campers who are not able to complete the task. So, our staff and lifeguards are available all week long to work with any camper who needs practice, and the tests are available for retakes every day.
The campers will head back to their cabins to change into dry clothes after the pool and move on to the nature trail. Our trail has been gently cut into the existing hardwood hammock along one of the camp’s more secluded lakes. The sandy trail is a perfect canvas for the prints made by our raccoons, turkeys, foxes and bobcats. And while shady, several openings along the trail provide a perfect window toward the lake and are perfect for quietly watching for our new friend this year, the otter! He or she has made appearances for most groups this summer and seems to enjoy being the center of attention.
After the trail, the Deep Divers will get back to the pavilion for lunch and then to the ropes course for their afternoon activity. Ropes begins with each cabin being tasked to solve small challenges. As the campers work together to complete these tasks, the foundation for their confidence in themselves and their trust in each other is laid. They will then be ready to take on the more daunting challenge of our high courses. Whether the tower, the swing or the rock wall, campers will benefit from the “challenge by choice” mentality that guides each activity. Campers are always encouraged to challenge themselves, but in the end, they choose their own limits and are never pushed beyond their readiness.
With a whirlwind of a day winding down, campers will retire to their cabins to freshen up and get ready for dinner. After another family-style meal, the campers will gather around the flagpole again. As Cabin 2 raised it this morning, so another cabin will take on the responsibility of lowering and folding it tonight. We always remind our campers that this is a time to take stock and be thankful for what we have. Further, it is a time to look toward what we can do to make future Americans thankful for us.
After the flag, it’s the premier event of the day – food chain. I won’t begin to explain the rules of this game, as only Elliott, program director, and the kids understand them. The important thing to note is that this game includes over 100 campers and staff, and it encompasses over 75 acres of camp. I highly recommend it for all parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts if you’re looking to get kids ready for bed.
With food chain done around 8:15 p.m., campers return to their cabins. After showers, snacks and nighttime meds, each track breaks into groups of three cabins within their cabin area. It’s a tight fit to get 21 campers and six staff members into a cabin, but we make it work. The results are worth it. We call this “debrief.” One of our trained trackers or assistant trackers leads the entire group through a recap of their day and encourages campers to revisit what they’ve learned. Each camper is asked questions such as, “What was hard? What was good? Who made you laugh?” Through this, our campers evaluate their choices – both good and bad – and make deliberate connections with those who helped them achieve success or who helped them grow.
Finally, campers and staff return to their cabins for lights out, and although both campers and staff may scoff at a 10 p.m. bedtime, by the end of day 2, they come around.
Nick Miller, Director
Florida Elks Youth Camp