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Rock Street, San Francisco

“Hey guyth!” high-fiving 2 campers, twins, Gavin and Galen, as we met in the Church parking lot and walked towards the building together. They started 6th grade in August and were new to our summer Day Camp. We were in week 4 of camp already. When the twins first started, they were rowdy, disruptive, and always picked fights with other kids. They did not fall in my categories of favorites. There were not cute kids with chubby cheeks, there were not the quiet and obedient kids, and they were not the smart ones who always participated. Nope, the only attention I gave them was when they made others cry or scream. The warm and friendly greeting were genuine and represented the journey that I took to realize many things about myself during the first few weeks of Camp. Let me back-up before I explain.
I was barely older than the kids in my church’s summer Day Camp when I started volunteering as a camp counselor after 7th grade. In my adolescent mind, I thought that I was very mature since I taught lessons, led songs and games, and did garbage duty. I did not have any big aspirations to be a mentor as I just wanted to hang out with friends. This past summer, I stepped into the role as a co-director for the first time. Suddenly, it occurred to me that being a counselor was more than just having fun. Being on the other side of the Camp experience was a new perspective. As a camper, I would have wanted to win the races or the contests. But, I’m no longer a camper, and this is not my camp experience. When I sit down at lunch, day after day, kids save seats for me, follow me, and listen to me. They share their snacks, color pictures for me, and show me things that are important to them. Every morning, kids are excited to give me hugs or chatter a mile-per-minute to give an update from the day before. As a teen counselor, I am reminded throughout the day that these kids watch everything that I do, listen to everything I say, and tell their parents and friends about it. I have to be intentional in all of my actions.
There is no doubt that I was biased against Gavin and Galen. Despite being a boy myself, I fell victim to labeling them into the “boys are out of control” bucket. They were outcasts but I blamed them for bringing it to themselves. All of us counselors automatically punished them in fights with other kids. We were stingy awarding them points in games and activities. It all added fuel to the fire. Despite my Christian upbringing, I was guilty of starting this fire.
It wasn’t until the 3rd week of camp when I realized that I had the influence to change the direction of their camp experience. I came up with an action plan for myself: find a unique connection with each of them. Set aside my own opinions and judgments. Get to know each one as individuals. Ask questions and listen. Be on their side. Show them that they matter and are heard. I spent time getting to know them, together and individually. I got to know their hobbies, home life, struggles, and their world. We were connected through the game of Surviv.IO, Rubix Cube, and programming.
The journey to realizing my weaknesses was not easy. I always prided myself in being a fair and impartial convinced by logic and reasoning. However, my bias and judgement were not the only flaws I saw. I needed to humble myself and reveal my own vulnerabilities so that Gavin and Galen could trust me. I needed to be sincere at the risk of being rejected. And I was rejected for many days as I persisted to get to know them. They had also built up walls to protect themselves from the other kids. I showed them that I was on their side despite the other kids treating them as rejects. By the end of the summer, they were joining in on all of the activities, lessons, and sports games without any hint of contention. They continued coming to the Jr. High youth ministry at my Church after camp ended and also attended my 2-week Coding Camp where I organized and taught the fundamentals of programming. Ultimately, I was the one that was rewarded by the friendship that I gained with Gavin and Galen.
“Are you ready for this week of Camp? We’re playing Capture the Flag in Outdoor Rec”, as the 3 of us walked into the Fellowship Hall together.

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