Camp has so much to teach us about how to build deep community

Submitted by Rachel Elizabeth on July 23, 2014 - 6:38am

Over the last year and a half we have been asking people about their memorable experiences of community.  Responses have been overwhelming and inspiring.  A pattern that emerged is the role that camp has played in many people’s lives. People from age 8 to 80 have shared about camp as a place that embodied community for them.  This summer we will be working with summer camps to explore this more deeply.  Here are some insights from conversations that were held at Willowgrove this past week.

In our wired society, camp provides a space to unplug and connect with the people in front of you... in the present moment.

People are taken out of their comfort zone and put into a new setting.  In these situations, we need one another to help us get our bearings so kids and councilors alike reach out to each other for support.  Because you are dependent on each other, you bond more quickly and intensely.

At camp you wear grubby camp clothes, you don’t need to put on a mask so people can feel free to come as their true selves.

Community is more than just people; there is something about being out in nature that allows us to experience a sense of transcendence, the spiritual experience at the root of deep community. Through nature we are able to see how we are all interdependent. 

Camps also create space for intergenerational connections. Kids are able to build authentic and healthy relationships with their councilors who serve as role models. For many, this might be their first time having such an interaction with adult figures. Beyond this, camp creates a space for kids of all ages to connect and play with each other.

A camp becomes a single organism with many parts. The health of the group depends on all the individuals coming together and looking out for each other. By creating common tasks and challenges you help build that bond and through the week the group builds an identity. 

Because of the intensity of the experience and because it is rooted in a location, people become very tied to the location. Campers and councilors will return years later to rehash old memories.  Though it is the stories and relationships that give the space meaning, the physical space develops a deep emotional meaning for people.  There is a feeling that something really valuable happened here.

As we explored what it could look like to engage youth in conversations about community, it became clear that community is active: doing things together; exploring things together.  We recognized we couldn’t just talk, we needed to act, build, and do.

Camp makes us think about:

  • How do we create space for people to live and connect in the present moment?
  • How do we make safe space for people to bring their full selves, bruises and all?


Stay posted as we learn more from camps over the summer months.