For this week’s blog, I want to get a little more personal than I feel I have in previous entries. Obviously, anything about camp is something highly personal to me, but I’ve made an effort not to focus on myself or my experiences in these posts. Something Tigre said in his interview struck a chord in me though. I asked him about what he had taken from camp in his personal life, outside of professional skills he’d honed, and he said that Wayfinder had saved his life. I think you’ll find a lot of long term community members who think this, myself included. I’d say that Wayfinder has saved me on no less than two occasions, that I would not be here today if I had not had camp. Even if I had survived adolescence and the hardships I’ve had since (which I highly doubt I would have) the person I’d be would be unrecognizable from the person I am.
The first time camp saved my life was right when I started attending. I was 13. Wayfinder was recommended to my mother by my therapist. Some friends who were also clients of his had been going and had given it rave reviews. He figured it might be good for me. I was struggling in school (because I wasn’t trying). I didn’t have very many friends. At least once a year I got into a fight that always came with an in-school suspension. I had, for some time, loudly been proclaiming that I wished I was dead. Naturally my parents were at a loss for what to do. My parents split when I was young, and they both worked, so some kind of summer supervision was a necessity. Wayfinder was the latest in a string of summer camps. That first summer was a turning point in my life. I went to two weeks of camp, three weeks apart from each other, and I fell in love. That fall I started attending Woodstock Day School (switching from Rondout Valley) and got the chance to reinvent myself in my daily life, which I jumped on. I don’t think the school change would have mattered much had I not started coming to camp. Wayfinder showed me a place where I wouldn’t be forced to pretend to be someone else and people would be excited to see me. Camp showed me it was all right to be me. If I’d never been shown that, it wouldn’t have been much longer until I believed the people who followed me around in classrooms heiling Hitler, spent recesses circled around me saying whatever it took to get me angry, or just jumping right into hitting me. The first time I was saved was when Wayfinder showed me that there was more to the world than the people who haunted my daily life.
The second time I was saved was in 2016. Being a staff member for so long has been incredibly important to me. I’ve had the chance to create space for kids and give back the pieces of my childhood that I treasured so much. In the process I shifted my thinking about camp. It no longer seemed like a place which could contain my struggles. I thought that as a staff member the only thing it had to offer me was the satisfaction of giving that space to our participants. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I was 16 years old I was sexually assaulted by a good friend. I didn’t start processing it until I was 25 (in 2015). My path back to emotional stability has been long and will probably never be over, but Wayfinder gave me an opportunity to take a step forward in a way I didn’t believe was possible. The summer of 2015 was lonely. I told maybe two or three people at camp about my assault. I didn’t want it to become the focus of anything we were doing. I was minimizing the space that it took up. The effect was that I felt isolated and uncomfortable in one of the few spaces I had ever felt at home. At the last event I worked at our final staff meeting I told everyone that I was an assault survivor, the first time I ever made that kind of a public admission. Last year I set my summer up around being at staff week turning down a position at the Kansas State Young Writer’s Workshop (a program I had been involved in for 2 years). I couldn’t stand to feel that distant from everyone at camp for another summer. Staff Week’s trust workshop was planned almost entirely around creating a space for sharing trauma and hardship. The love that I received in that circle reminded me of the feeling Wayfinder had given me the first time around. That it’s all right to be me, even if that means being hurt.
Wayfinder provides opportunities for acceptance, healing, and self-exploration. Very few places are able to offer all three, we manage to do so while focusing on building an adventure together. It’s a community of people who are all invested in the process for each other. Ask almost anyone why they come and I’d bet they tell you for the community. I know that I was built into the person I am today by having that space available to me. Wayfinder saved my life, twice. Thank you for the chance (and help along the way) to remake myself.
Written by Judson Easton Packard
Published on 5/26/2017