Group Hug

Always Coming Back Home To You

WFE1In all of the Where Are They Now interviews the interviewees (members of our community who have been away from the physical space of camp for some time now) have brought up an important facet of the Wayfinder community. The idea that you can leave camp for any amount of time, and you will always be welcomed back in. The way I have always pictured it is to see camp and our community within that physical space (even though we’re not always at the same location the physical space when the community comes together for an event) as a circle. No matter how long you step away from that circle, we will always have a spot for you to return to. There is no guarantee that you will come back to see the same faces as when you left, and more than likely there will be more new ones than familiar ones. I can promise though that you will be welcomed with the same warmth, the same love that you had when you left.

It helps this idea (both the circle I picture in my head, and the reality of returning to camp) that we put a lot of practice into doing this. At the start of every camp, and then again each morning, we open with a circle. During this time everyone is invited to share how they are feeling, what new experiences they have had since the last circle they were a part of, whether it has been hours or years since they held that space. An exercise I’ve always loved in our circles is when we take a silent moment, look around the circle person by person, and smile at every face that we see. It doesn’t matter who they are or how well you know them, every face you come across is returning that feeling to you.

WFE2Due to the setup of our community around a summer camp, there is always going to be some change in the people who are attending. People’s lives move forward. They go to college. They get jobs. They move on to whatever the world holds next for them. Spending summers at camp you get used to the rotating nature of the people around you. Every time someone new comes to camp it’s a chance to bring someone new into the fold. It’s always exciting to see what they bring into the space with them. New games. New ideas. There’s also, almost guaranteed, to be a friend who has been long absent. Someone who wasn’t able to be at camp for whatever reasons, or you two just haven’t been at the same weeks. Every camp is a chance to reenter these friendships. The function of being a summer camp means that the majority of the people at camp will not see each other maybe nine months out of the year. The friendships we have suspend in time, they tie to the space we hold at camp. It’s why it’s so easy for us to come and go in each other’s lives, to maintain relevance, as Marika put it so well a few weeks ago. We have grown use to coming home to each other.

It can be hard to understand making your home in other people. The idea of home we are always sold probably attaches to a specific structure or town. My home is Wayfinder. It has been since I was 13 years old and came to my first camp. Since then I’ve spent time with Wayfinder at upwards of twenty different lands and locations. No matter where we go, no matter what difficulties that land possesses (everything from giant mosquitos to non-potable water) I know I will be home. Home is the place where you can be yourself, whatever the most honest version of that looks like. Camp is a place where not only are we encouraged to be our real selves, we take time to work on that piece. I talked a couple weeks ago about how characters help us build ourselves so I don’t need to go deeply into it again here, but feeling at home in that space is a big portion of being able to do that work.

WFE3I’ve lived in six states and three time zones. I’ve told myself more springs than I’d like to admit that the coming summer would be my last one at camp, that it was time for me to grow up and move on to a new home. In 2014 I didn’t go to camp for the first time since I started in 2003. The year that followed was one of the hardest, most isolated of my life. There were a lot of external strains that led to this throughout the year as well, but I would be lying if I didn’t notice the weight of not getting to come home to camp and be me. Not having the time to put my stress aside and sit in a circle and fall asleep in the grass when I’m probably not supposed to (OK I’m definitely not supposed to and am probably supposed to be running the circle). Camp is my home. Who knows how long we get to call any one particular place home? If you get the chance to, come back. We miss you.

Written by Judson Easton Packard.

Published 4/7/2017

Group Hug

Life is an Adventure Game

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Group Hug

Camp’s Magic Circle

Camp’s Magic Circle

0K6A8668Recently I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about play and what it is. I’ve been taking a class on play theory (one of many reasons my writing of this blog has lagged so heavily) in which we have been looking at different definitions of play that people have had throughout the years and the implications of each one. Wayfinder is the reason I signed up for the course. Seeing as we talk about and engage in play so much within our community, I wanted to get an idea of what the broader view on the topic was. As we’ve progressed I’ve also been looking at my own beliefs as to what play is, what role it holds in this community, and what play has done for me. I’ll probably write more of the personal responses to play as time passes but for right now I want to look at some of the ways play applies to camp at large.

One thing that play requires, as defined by the theorists, is a set of parameters which play exists within. Of the different terms used to describe this, I think the best I’ve encountered is the “Magic Circle.” The Magic Circle is essentially a space that we agree to enter that, once inside, everything can be understood to be play. This is a broader concept than the most active and named construction of space that we have at camp, we call it the “Play Space.” While a “Play Space” generally comes with a set of physical boundaries and a time limit (they usually exist for the duration of specific workshops), camp is a collection of different Magic Circles, the most obvious being everything that happens within the Adventure Game, which literally starts with a circle. From the very minute you show up to camp though, you are stepping into a much larger magic circle. Play is a way we all get to interact, to learn about each other and ourselves, to remind ourselves that we have stepped out of the world at large and into some place we can let down some of our boundaries, a place we can really trust each other in. That space only exists because of the play we have done to create it.0K6A0886

The very first thing that you do when you show up to camp is play. Literally the first workshop on any camp schedule (and every morning at day camp) is called opening play. So from the very second we all arrive into that space we step into that kind of circle, a place where we know that we are safe to play. Important to this is that there is an ability to opt out of the games that we play (very important to the idea of play is that it’s voluntary). Even with the Adventure Game we have an “out of game space” where you can go should things be too intense and you need to step away. Even within the games themselves there are chances for people to have different levels of intensity. We have systems that allow for people to say when something has become too much for them, when it has become unsafe, and we talk a lot about playing to our partner’s level, making sure that we are calling people into a kind of play they are comfortable engaging in. None of this should be viewed as taking away from anyone’s experience. Our magic circle, the one we build that holds camp inside of it, has space inside of it for you to play (or not) at your own level of comfort. Having that kind of space, which allows for a variety of needs, is integral to building the community that we have.

Through the space for people to play or not play in specific games as they need, we show our community at large that this space is a safe one for them to engage with when they’re ready. While, by the nature and needs of supervision, you aren’t given free reign over the physical spaces you may always occupy, you are allowed to set your level of engagement. The same can be said of the community. Our community provides a lot of opportunities for personal engagement. There are regular trust workshops, morning circles, and story circles which allow for different kinds of semi-guided sharing. When these come up, the kind of play that we’ve been doing (and specifically the idea of playing to your partner’s level) allows for community members to decide on any level of participation they may feel comfortable with. When you see everything we do at camp as included in this magic circle, the same rules that dictate play dictate every interaction. Relationships built at camp are built around play. Conversations between us then, by nature, have some of these play elements woven into them. There is no place at camp where you can look without seeing that play is alive and well.
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There’s a lot more that I could (and hope to) say about play at camp, in the world, and in my life. For now let me close by saying that as I’ve been learning more about how the scientific community views play, (they’re pretty shaky on why it exists but they’ve distilled some things it’s capable of and some good guidelines as to when something should be defined as play) one thing has been very clear to me. Play is alive and well at camp. We play everyday, we play hard, and we have a strong idea as to the importance of play within our community. Thanks for playing with me.

Written by Judson Easton Packard
11/9/17

Group Hug

Take It Home With You

Take It Home With You

21017471_10155575641123698_1641010195_oClosing circle at camp almost always includes a specific message and call to action: the things we do at camp can be brought out into your regular life. This isn’t to say that you’re going to get everyone you meet to break out into LARPing games at school or in your day to day lives, but instead that much of the work we do on ourselves at camp can be applied to ourselves outside. Personally the comfort and confidence I have found in myself through Wayfinder has allowed me to navigate social situations for the past 14 years of my life. It’s taken a combination of the different types of skills and knowledge I gained through camp in order to be able to cultivate those qualities in myself.

Maybe the simplest (and the easiest to overlook) is the work we do with improv. The rules to improv games form a great set of conversational guidelines. If you go into social situations with them in mind (accept and build, make your partner look good, go with the flow) it can be easy to get a conversation going. Many Wayfinder attendees over the years (including several of our alums from the Where Are They Now series) have talked about the ways that they just treat uncomfortable professional or social settings like they were roleplay situations. This is the same kind of guideline. You decide upon the version of yourself you want to be playing that day, and then put it into action. Improv and Status workshops at their cores are essentially a form of low stakes social training that we engage in together.

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Another way I have found myself able to bring camp into my daily life (and thus keep alive some of the feelings of connectedness that I get while I’m there) is to try and bring as much of the trust work as I have done there into my daily interactions. Again I’m talking about the core tenets of what we do in those workshops not the actual exercises (though I have sat with non-camp friends and done a session of the stare into each others eyes and take turns sharing workshop when I really had a need for that kind of guided sharing). Consider the ideas that we work on: establishing and communicating clear boundaries for yourself, being a safe place for people to share their personal business, and relying on the people around you for support. If you move through the world guided by the work you’ve done in those spaces, it can allow you to create the kinds of bonds you have made at camp in the outside world.

The Adventure Game itself is rife with experiences to pull into your daily life. As we often talk about, every character you play comes from somewhere inside of you, which means it’s there any time you may need to access it. Now it may not always be necessary or appropriate for you to draw on being a demon hunter (or even just a demon), but sometimes you need a little bit of that kind of spitfire, me against the world, bravery. Everyone of us has faced down death and the end of the world through Adventure Games, and while clearly those stakes were imagined, there still is an element of having to make snap decisions with real in Game consequences. Remembering that kind of high tension decision making can be helpful when it comes to those moments in your everyday life. P1020287 (2)

Camp helps us form who we are. It doesn’t have to stop doing so when we leave the land and return to daily life. Those ways we feel empowered to be ourselves through camp can be hard to hold on to. We all live in each others’ memories as those versions of ourselves. If they can hold on to that piece of us, why shouldn’t we?

Written by Judson Easton Packard

on 9/19/2017

Group Hug

Hero Fund

The Hero Fund

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At Wayfinder we believe in the work that we do. Giving children and teenagers a safe, playful place to explore their identity is important, and we’ve dedicated a lot of years to making sure we’re able to provide that. Every teenager needs a space outside of school and their family to explore who they are and who they’re becoming. Not every teenager comes from a family or situation that can afford to send them to summer camp to provide that kind of experience. That’s where the Hero Fund comes in. Often Hero Fund applicants come from economically disadvantaged families, families where one or more parents are undergoing serious medical treatment, or have recently lost a job. Wayfinder is the place where these young people feel most comfortable and open, particularly in moments of familial unrest like these. Wayfinder has always striven to help people in need of financial assistance since it’s inception; for the past three years we’ve been asking our community to help us with that goal.

In 2014, Wayfinder started the Hero Fund, our scholarship program. The Hero Fund is funded through donations and money made from our Frontier Adventures that we run throughout the off-season. In the end (being a company based around community), Wayfinder often operates at a loss to help get everyone we can to camp. Donations generally come from community members who feel that camp is an important space to them, and extended community members, such as parents, who have seen the benefits of our programs. One of the largest donating demographics are our staff pool, with 16 different staff members having personally donated to the fund, making the work we do at Wayfinder a priority for them. Staff have donated paychecks at the end of events, donated after they were no longer able to be involved in camp, or just donated when they could afford to (the best present that I got when I graduated from college was a Hero Fund donation).

IMG_5073While the money coming in from people who are already involved is important, Wayfinder is currently at a need for donations. Over the past three years we are proud to say that the Hero Fund has been able to give over $15,000 in assistance to participants in need. We are so thankful to the community for having provided this much for our members who need that extra help. For this coming summer, we have requests for almost $8,000 in Hero Fund funds. Money is allocated based upon the amount that our participants are able to pay to be at camp and the amount of money we’ve had donated and raised throughout the year. We do everything we can with the donation money to provide a space for as many people as possible. We also take the privacy of our applicants very seriously, and never share even the fact that someone has asked for assistance with the community at large.

We’re calling on our community to help us raise this money with the summer fast approaching. The Hero Fund supplies campers with access to a space that meets a certain kind of need in their lives, one that can be particularly hard to meet. Wayfinder as a community and an organization offers people acceptance. At the age at which people start coming to camp this may be something they have never experienced before. Countless participants have talked to me about the ways in which Wayfinder has saved their lives (and a couple of weeks ago I wrote about how it had done that for me on this very blog). So often kids come to camp shy or nervous, only to leave by the end of the week glowing. I could never possibly list the number of parents who have told me that Wayfinder was the time their child was happiest. This summer we’d like to offer that to as many participants as possible; some of them need a little help to get there. Please help us be the difference in those children’s lives.

Written by Judson Easton Packard

Published 6/22/2017

Group Hug

Paying Attention to the Women Behind the Curtain

Paying Attention to the Women Behind the Curtain

Wayfinder7When you think Wayfinder a specific image probably comes to mind. Something involving a group of children dressed in tunics carrying foam weapons and sporting names like “Shadow” or “Everheart.” (Everheart being the name of my next character.) If you’ve been to our camp, or if you’ve talked to (or more likely raised) one of our participants you probably also associate a certain look for joy with the whole atmosphere. Sit in on any circle and you’re guaranteed to find that look. Easy smile. Shining eyes. Relaxed posture. Those moments are a big part of what keeps everyone coming back to the camp, regardless of their role in it. The kids come because they love it, because there’s nowhere else that offers the mix of fantasy adventures and friendship that Wayfinder has brought to the Hudson Valley. The staff come because they’ve been doing it forever, because the people there are their community, and they want to give back that experience to the next generation of participants. What keeps our overlords (Read the company’s Directors Corinne McDonald and Trine Boode-Petersen) in that place of joy?

They’re very clear on why they took things over from the original owners of the company, a group of 30 odd friends who started it back in 2001. There was a call for someone to step up and run things, Corrie and Trine rose to the occasion, if they had not the camp would have stopped running in 2012. The two of them offered similar sentiments on what drove their decision. “Trine and I have been working camp consistently for so many years the idea of not going to Woodstock Day School and running camp with the kids, and seeing eight year olds get in the first time when they’ve been waiting for years to play, and not having overnight, where our participants have a chance to be unashamed in their power and be completely themselves and really seen, was just heartbreaking.” The work of building both a space for that kind of play and that kind of empowerment are central to the joy that permeates the community. While Corrie had provided a view on why they did what they initially did, Trine was able to voice what pushed them moving forward. “We knew campers who needed that safe space, and we didn’t know where else they’d find it. It was a responsibility to our community to keep that available to them.” The calling was clear, and they have risen to that task.

Wayfinder8Moving forward the challenges they have been presented with are some that often plague the small business owner, but with a particularly poignant twist. The balance of business and personal in a passionate workplace can be a hard one to maintain. For a company like Wayfinder, where the business is strictly personal, it is nigh on impossible to avoid those kinds of struggles. In Trine’s words: “This is fifty percent business and fifty percent community, and we’re always trying to balance what’s good for the community and what’s good for the business.” Both were certain on what ends up winning that struggle. When I asked, the resounding answer was community. While the struggle continues on in everyday business decisions, Trine shed some light on how they have found a way to mitigate some of the difficulty. “The more we envision what our end goal is, the easier it is to make business and community decisions line up. The more we work to one common end goal of good, the easier that is.” And Wayfinder has that end goal. While looking to maintain the communal air and quality of programming, Wayfinder is searching for a permanent home in the form of land. Land where we can build permanent installations and both house our equipment and run our programming.

Another challenge they have faced is the shifting of roles. Going from being someone on site, particularly in the camp director role which both Trine and Corrie often found themselves in, to someone in more of an administrative role comes with some hardships. For one you are removed from that kind of hands on time with the kids and staff, and two, moved to a drier (often literally), more bland environment. The work itself also loses some of the sense of urgency. On site work at camp is a lot of putting out fires and dealing with concerns within time constraints. The work in front of our overlords now is stretched over a significantly longer span. Moving into that kind of role can make someone feel out of place when they return to camp time. While they both say they’ve found comfort in the role, Corrie said it was difficult in the first year or so. “I found myself looking around for an adult, and you realize that you are that adult, so you look around for a more adult adult, somebody who is adulting better, and that just didn’t exist.” Personally there is no one other than Corrie and Trine I would rather have as the most adult adults around.

Closing Remarks:

Corinne McDonald:

Wayfinder9Running Wayfinder has never been just about this community, and making sure this community maintains itself, or making a successful business. It has been about a change that will transform the world. It’s not just a summer camp, and it’s not just this community, the goal is to make incredibly empowered and conscientious people who will go out and change the world in a positive way, and that I think is why we’re doing it. It’s that that keeps me sane in the current climate, knowing that I am creating generations of passionate people who are working for a better world makes it worth it for me.

Trine Boode-Petersen:

Wayfinder10Having [Wayfinder] be a thing that transforms people into better people who are more compassionate, better community members, and people who advocate for what’s right. That’s what’s in my heart. I think the whole world will just be better if people take more time to play. Playing doesn’t mean you aren’t a serious person that takes things seriously, it means you are able to relax, enjoy the moment, enjoy the world you’re in, have fun with what you’re doing, and approach things in a creative and playful manner while still doing something new. I think a lot of the things people create in the world would be improved if they had a playful outlook on it.

Post written by Judson Easton Packard

Published 2/16/2017