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  • Writer's pictureJohn Michael Spelman

Nurturing Faith and Leadership: Aldersgate's Staff Scholarship Awards (part 1)

Camp Aldersgate’s mission is “a sacred space, empowering all in faith and friendship to change the world.” As part of that mission, we want to empower staff to take their own faith development out of the sacred space of Aldersgate and into the world as they continue their education, spiritual, and personal development. Because of this, Aldersgate offers a cash scholarship to a staff person who will live out this mission after leaving Aldersgate. Due to the generosity of our donors, two scholarships were awarded this year.

There were many submissions this year and were assessed by a small group of Board members through a blind process.

Staff submitted responses in whatever form best expressed their feelings to the question:

"All summer, we have been exploring the Advent story and lighting candles to remember the themes of Advent. Where have you seen Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love at camp this summer?"

Below is the winning submission from Anna Santos.

The theme of camp highlighted this year is the season of Advent which represents hope, peace, joy, and love. These aspects of this season have consistently been demonstrated this year at Camp Aldersgate, both at day camp where I am a counselor and at overnight. This works alongside the mission statement of creating a safe space that empowers all with faith and friendship. Between the staff and the campers, I believe that hope, peace, joy, and love have been taught, but also been a part of this community here at camp this summer.

Hope is a powerful emotion that creates wonderful expectations here at camp. Campers come to Aldersgate expecting that they will be accepted, and that can express themselves in a way that most accurately aligns with their personality. Because of our hard-driven mission statement, it is desired of those who attend camp here, that they are included in all aspects of camp, going from dietary needs, all the way to their gender identity. It is our job as a staff to carry out this hope of a sacred space and provide that to the campers by giving them the freedom to live in a judgment-free community that they might not experience outside of Camp Aldersgate. To carry this out we provide lunches for all dietary needs to fit those who are vegetarian, vegan, may have Celiac disease, or just in general have a more selective diet. We also include everyone who may have an allergy, and create a nut-free facility here at camp. I had a conversation specifically with my six and seven-year-old campers at lunch about why we couldn’t have just one table that was nut free, like what they have at school. I explained to them that those who have an allergy may feel uncomfortable having to sit away from their friends, or people even knowing that they have an allergy when they sit at that table, so here at Aldersgate we want everyone to feel included at their own lunch tables, and that they feel comfortable when there is food around, that they won’t experience an allergic reaction to one of the more common food allergies. That is just one instance of we carry out the hope that everyone is accepted here regardless of their dietary needs.

Another part of the hope that campers are filled with when they arrive is that they will be included in every aspect of camp. In a personal case of mine, I had a leader in training (LIT) who goes by a different name and gender identity than they had in previous years. I have watched the whole summer as they become more comfortable in the environment here at camp, going from the first initial reintroduction to being addressed in the way that makes them feel the most comfortable, to now where they are accepted for who he is. Even my six and sevens have started to grasp the concept that even if a person physically looks like the societal norm of one particular gender, they might not follow the same gender pronouns, and how important it is to use the correct pronouns. I have watched this LIT experience love as they find themselves here at camp and truly experience what it is like to be in a safe space. He has kept his hope alive that he can feel accepted in his identity in a welcoming community, which is something that he does not experience at home. Camp Aldersgate has given him this hope that he can be himself and be accepted in the world.

I personally rely heavily on music to find peace with my mind and myself, and here at camp, we sing lots of different songs at the campfire mostly, but even walking down the roads as well. During this time, it is a simple way to all join in a collective unit and sing about something funny, real “serious” songs, and religious songs as well. Taking the moment to join together really creates a sense of peace at camp. At day camp we don’t particularly have campfires every night as overnight does, but we do utilize songs while we walk throughout camp. It gets everyone walking faster for one, but also builds collaboration and keeps the minds of the campers at peace while they can follow a repeat after me a song to a moose named Fred.

However, I have greatly experienced a larger state of peace while I was at overnight campfires. There are two specific occasions and songs that I am referring to, one actually happening during staff training, and the other was at one of the last overnight campfires of the season. During the staff training campfire, a few of the returning staff were teaching a new song to the staff. All of us were invested in this song, creating harmonies and singing about the Lord. Overall it was a calm-down song that really let us all feel each other out for the first time together through song. We all found peace in that moment with the song, but also being together for one of the first times in this sacred community.

As wonderful as that moment was for me in finding peace, singing Sanctuary at the end of this past week's campfire really brought a serene state over the campers and staff alike. We all stood in a circle and joined hands as we sang the last song, swaying to the tune. At that moment I know I was at peace, but the campers also stopped their side conversations or their little bursts of energy, and we all sang the last song together as a group which was very powerful. The song Sanctuary in itself talks about spaces that are filled with God and that moment it could’ve experienced there. It really brought the entirety of that place in time together, creating a wonderful memory for all those involved, bringing us away from the real world, and into the safe space that camp provides a sense of peace.

Campers come to Aldersgate to have fun and be happy this summer, but there is one particular instance where I have seen pure joy on a camper's face every single day. No matter where I am, what pavilion I am in if I have a group or not, I will always race this particular camper to his car. It started off as a walking race, to get him to get to his car faster and to have the pickup line moving more swiftly, but it then became a friendly rivalry that he claims that I will never beat him in. This camper if I am not paying attention to see his car roll up, will come and get my attention so that we can have our daily race. Even if he is tired, and hasn’t had an amazing day, he is always ready for our little competition to race to his dad. We always end off with a high five and some friendly banter that I will beat him and him countering the opposite. It is a small activity that this camper finds so much joy in every part of every day no matter what kind of mood the day has been for him. It is truly inspiring to let that become a part of my life because if I could have one small piece of a day that I could always count on to make me happier, I feel that I could live a much happier life. I aspire to be more like this camper, to put it all aside to participate in an activity that lasts fifteen or so seconds, but he always laughs and has a smile on his face.

An emotion that every person seeks to be a part of is love, whether or not it is given to them, received, or both. Love is what keeps us here and living life as happy as we possibly can be. At Camp Aldersgate, it is how everyone is given that same care, no matter the circumstance or situation. I witnessed love at this camp between myself and one camper who I had last year as well as this summer. After her behavior the previous year she was ultimately not allowed to return to Camp Aldersgate that summer, however since we believe in second chances she was allowed to return this summer to try again in a brand new year. We had a touch of a rocky start, but she remembered me and ultimately for the three weeks that I had her, we grew to understand each other's boundaries and respect each other's places, but most importantly I helped her be able to talk to me about her emotions and listen to what she had to say, as opposed to it turning into a full-blown meltdown like the previous year. Last year she wasn’t given as much care from other counselors, due to her actions and us not knowing how to best help her, but this year she gets hugs every day, even asking me permission to “squeeze” me and we both get a laugh out of it. We have a mutual understanding when she starts to feel overwhelmed and frustrated she can sit aside by herself and think it out. Afterward, we always hug and she will thank me for giving her space. There has been immense growth from myself and other staff in giving her the love and support that she needs to be successful here at Camp Aldersgate. When she wasn’t allowed back after week six last summer, she has already glided her way to week eight shining radiantly the entire summer. She now is seen as the wonderful person she is, not based on her past behaviors, and in that she has found a safe space at Camp Aldersgate where she is set up for her greatest success. She has found love here in making amazing friends, but she has also found that she can be loved by an adult too and she can experience that even though she hasn’t always felt that way. Love has been very present at Camp Aldersgate this summer, and I’m glad that I could’ve been a part of this camper’s journey for not one, but two summers, and watching her grow and find love through counselors and campers alike.

The themes of Advent, hope, peace, joy, and love are all embedded in the spirit of Camp Aldersgate, and the mission statement as well. Hope is shown through our inclusion of everyone specifically through dietary needs and relating to gender identities. It is a trademark of Aldersgate that everyone is accepted no matter the circumstance. Peace was found through song this summer at day camp and overnight, as groups worked together to sing beautiful songs with various different meanings. Having the simple moments of joy throughout the day such as just racing a camper to his car, has left a lasting impact on my life that we should look for the small positive moments in each day. Lastly, love was found through watching my camper grow over the year and learning to understand and help her succeed the best at camp. Overall this summer has encapsulated the theme of Advent and left a lasting impression on the campers that attended, but the staff that worked here as well.


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