I decided today that I was going to spend time this week talking to campers, finding out some of their favorite camp moments to write about and to use as a springboard to discuss the larger themes emerging from those moments. It took me all of maybe two minutes of interacting with staff after coming to that decision to realize, why not staff too? Their experiences are important to highlight as well; they may be different than the campers’, but not only are they just as valuable, they amount to the same ends: Love, peace, friendship, and connections. I’ll be exploring this project much further as campers arrive and begin to experience Ultimate Peace, but I asked myself why wait?
What struck me most as I talked to staff members about the memorable moments they’ve encountered at camp (well, orientation) so far, I saw that my question about a memorable or meaningful moment caught them off-guard, but they always had an answer. When asked about a memorable or meaningful moment from the past two days – not a particularly long time – each one of them spoke thoughtfully and from the heart, and they became visibly more…I’m not sure exactly what. Each and every person seemed to light up as they reflected on a moment that meant something to them, as they remembered something someone had said that stuck with them. And I realized that just as important as the stories they were telling was the way they told them. One Middle Eastern LIT told me she was feeling anxious, even lonely, as some of her Ultimate Peace peers from her community weren’t able to come to camp this year. She told me that the first night, she found some of the other LITs – people she has learned, grown, and become close with – that she was feeling alone and she needed their support. Their response, even told second- (and now third-) hand, brought a smile up from my heart. She told me that they reassured her, with enthusiasm and empathy, that they had her back. That they were there for her. That they were in this together and she was a part of their family.
The words they told her were full of unconditional love, support, and acceptance. And just as beautiful as their words were, so was her retelling of the story. When she began, giving me the background, I could tell it was beginning to weigh heavy on her. But when she described what her peers – friends – family – had said, I could see a weight visibly lift off her shoulders. She smiled her glowing, beautiful grin and that told me even more than her words how much their support had meant to her. And every side – the asking, the giving, and the receiving of support is exactly what we hope to accomplish with Ultimate Peace, and, with proof, exactly what we are accomplishing.
I also talked with a returning staff member, a seasoned Ultimate player and father. He described his “moment” to me as one of both protectiveness and letting go. He had met an Ultimate player several years ago and talked with her about Ultimate Peace. They hadn’t talked much since, but she arrived at camp this year and he immediately felt a sense of protectiveness over her, because of the friendship they had formed several years ago, however brief it had been. He used the term, “paternal” to describe how he felt, which to me spoke to his kind nature as well as the nature of Ultimate Peace itself. We take in those who are new to coaching, the region, the game, other cultures, and everything in between. This staff is a protective one; we look out for each other and we protect each other. We work for each others’ successes and pick each other up when we need encouragement.
During an orientation session, some staff members were simulating a conversation we will have with our campers later on in the week. He told me that this particular staff member volunteered to be a part of the conversation, and from her first step onto the stage he knew she had found her place; he knew that she was comfortable and he trusted the other staff members enough to let go. That moment, taken into a bigger picture, speaks to the values that we as a staff stand for. The pride in his eyes as he reflected on her participation and on the staff’s open arms shone brilliantly.
I talked with a new staff member next, who hadn’t experienced camp or this particular region before. One moment that struck her was during a conversation about what the Middle Eastern members of our little oasis of peace face outside of this oasis. Earlier in the day, one Middle Eastern member of our staff talked about how his involvement put a strain on an important relationship in his life. Someone he is very close to is not supportive of his participation in Ultimate Peace, and that’s a reality he has to face every day. His honesty about it struck this new staff member, and made her think about what it would be like to be in his shoes: to be a part of something so meaningful to you, and have someone close to you question your involvement in it. Outsiders to the region, myself included, cannot understand what these campers and LITs go through in their daily lives if family members or friends are not supportive of Ultimate Peace or their commitment to it. That moment gave her, and us all, an insight into how important this organization is to the youth we work with, which gives us all a feeling of responsibility to them and respect for them. That moment helped us to see, concretely, how important this experience is, and how much love goes around to keep us working together, to keep us successful, to keep us moving forward.
What comes from these stories is not three separate instances; what comes from these stories is all part of the same narrative: one of support, trust, respect, connection, love – the list could go on. These moments may be vastly different in context, but the qualities they show all add into one unified mentality. And the passion and pride with which our staff members speak about these moments only adds to the purity of the qualities they themselves possess.
Camp Ultimate Peace 2016 is off and running, and we’ve got a heck of a group to lead it.