I can’t really share my personal stories or memories of Camp Friendship MN. I have far, FAR too many and they are populated by so very many people I would miss someone / something out and my story would be incomplete. But I can’t not say a little about it when I write about inspiration.
Camp Friendship is in Minnesota and is part of Friendship Ventures. Friendship Ventures offer unique opportunities for people with disabilities to enjoy summer and winter resident camp, respite care and guided travel. The camp is set around a big lake in the heart of the land of 10.000 lakes. It is simply beautiful.
I spent 5 long summers of my young adult life working at Camp Friendship from ages 18 to 23, in between my UK university summer breaks. This was almost 20 years ago, half a lifetime away, but the people and the memories of time there never leave and remain very clear.
On the camp alumni website it says:
Those who have either worked or volunteered at Friendship Ventures share a unique bond: the experience of a lifetime. You consistently speak of the special privilege of getting to know and encourage children and adults with disabilities while also sharing in the joy of discovery, friendships and accomplishments. You speak of how your Friendship Ventures experience changed you for the better in ways large and small. You speak of the immeasurable reward of contributing to a better world.
This is so true.
Camp Friendship was not your typical American summer camp. Yes it was a place full of songs and camp outs, boat rides and s’mores, plays, dances, art and hayrides just like every other camp. But the people who came to Camp Friendship had many challenges in life and often many support needs. Camp was a place for them to face their challenges, to be more independent, to relax, to have fun. to make new friends and to grow.
I think for the staff and certainly for me camp bought this too in bucket loads!
I have never laughed (or cried) or worked so hard in my life than during those summers. Far away from home, bitten up by mosquitoes, often tired, I have never ever learnt so much about myself, other people and life in such a short period of time.
Kate and Becky (1992)
I learnt to be robust and resilient and endlessly positive, I was inspired by so many people and in awe of the hard work and compassion of which people are capable. I learnt a lot about friendship.
I just looked at the camp website and saw familiar faces of campers I remember who still go to camp. I still write to the mom of a little boy who attended with whom I had a very special bond. He is grown now but I still care deeply.
To all the children and adult participants at camp that I worked with over those 5 year I want to say what a privilege and honour it was to camp with you. To go out to the Island, into Uncle Fogeys, to spin art, sing, dance, campout round the fire and boat ride was a joy. For the weekend respite, the holidays to Duluth and Canada we went on from camp and for all the many giggles we had I salute you all. It’s almost thanksgiving and I really wanted to say a big thank you to everyone at camp for teaching me that patience and partnership and that courage and a positive attitude make lives immeasurably better.
When I worked at camp to start with there were just a smattering of international staff working there but by the time I’d finished we were quite a presence. I don’t think the Pickle knew what had hit it. I made lifetime friends amongst the staff and volunteers at camp. We worked so hard together, shared so much, we loved, we laughed and under that lovely sky and by that beautiful lake we go to know each other so well.
Friends I made at camp have a truly special place in my heart. I thank God for Facebook so I know most are safe and well and occasionally we say hi and check in and cheer eachother on as we always did. Many of us have kept in closer touch and rejoiced at each others children, shared our losses and life challenges and changes together. We have reminisced many times, even met up once or twice. A few of you I still consider up there with my most important friends, and I know you’ll always be there for me. I’ll be there for you too. We don’t live next door to each other but a little piece of our hearts do.
Memories of Camp Friendship make me cry, and make me laugh. No-one but my camp friends will ever understand how I feel about Camp Friendship and that’s okay because that’s what creates our special bond.
The very last night I was there I sat on a bench looking out over Clearwater lake and knew without doubt my time was done there. I was off to get married. My life was changing. I cried silent tears as I looked out at the lake and I whispered a thank you that came absolutely from my love filled heart.
I know my words haven’t captured camp and I want to name everyone who touched my life there and share every story. For many reasons I can’t do that here,( including privacy and time and space ) But actually that’s okay because it’s this I want to share. It was written on the Camp Friendship newsletter we would read each week and it has stayed with me ever since. It sums up what camp taught me and I really want to pass it on.
“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”
Camp taught me what mattered in life was not stuff but people; being and doing our best so that others could and would too. It taught me about valuing people and particularly children above all else.
I send each of you that touched my life at camp a kiss a huge hug and a hope that life has turned out fine and that your memories still keep you warm like mine do. Thank you for those years I hope you know what you mean to me.
Camp Friendship bought me many wonderful friends and experiences and each one was a blessing.
Again I’m whispering thank you Camp Friendship with a heart full of love,