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I attended Summer Camp for the first time when I was 10 years old. I’d just finished the fourth grade and was in the throes of early puberty. It was an awkward time for me. I had grown about four inches and multiple shoe sizes during that school year, and even for the mid-1990s, I was unfashionable. Needless to say, I was not a popular kid. But I was active in a variety of after school activities, including Girl Scouts – even though the troop was mostly made up of popular girls who wanted very little to do with me. My mom was the assistant troop leader though, so they had to tolerate me enough while the adults were around. The Girl Scouts had a summer camp, and that year I convinced my mom that I was ready to go.

So there I was, two and a half long hours in a car away from home in the middle of a hot Texas summer, in the woods, somewhere in East Texas. I had a sleeping bag under my arm, the handle of a small suitcase in the other, and a backpack full of shorts, sunscreen, and bug spray. It was a bit frightening, a bit exciting, and you know what? IT. WAS. AWESOME.*

*Except for Frito Pie night. I HATE Frito Pies.

Camp gets kids out of their comfort zone

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At camp, I was pushed to try new things. It wasn’t always glamorous (real talk: that country well water made my city taste buds cringe in fear), but I was being adventurous. I was forced to get out there and make new friends, and you know what, they weren’t scary at all! They were girls just like me! Scouts from near and far who were away from home – many for the first time as well. We bonded over our new experiences together. We were all camp versions of ourselves. Maybe even truer versions of who we really are. None of the baggage we carried around at home mattered here. Line up a bunch of girls along the edge of the swimming pool for a buddy check, and you can’t tell who is popular, what their family life is like, or anything else that haunts them back in their “real” life. Here at camp, we were all given the same opportunities to succeed. And with your new friends encouraging you to take those leaps, how can you fail?

Camp builds character

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I went to that camp two more summers. Then when I was 15, I was nominated by my high school to attend a week long leadership camp at a lakeside YMCA summer camp. That decision changed my life forever. I came back a better person. I learned so much about myself and what I could do. Camp builds self-confidence. It builds independence. I was selected the next summer to join their Counselor-In-Training program. It was a life goal of mine ever since that 10 year old girl fell in love with the magic that is summer camp. My counselors were SO COOL. I looked up to them, they were my role models. I wanted to do that. I wanted to be the one encouraging campers to embrace their differences! And I did.

Camp is educational

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I worked at summer camp for a number of years after that. It was a girls camp for ages 7-12. I want to tell you all about everything that I taught them, from teamwork to archery, but really I feel like most of the time they were the ones teaching me. I can’t even articulate the power that camp had on these kids. At first, it was so strange being on the other side. I had my own life outside of camp. I was a student, a daughter, a friend. But to these kids, I was a teacher, a counselor, a super hero. My co counselors and I poured our hearts and souls into making every week at camp a magical week. We pooled our knowledge to share with them. Our camp drew in staff from all over the world. I met the most amazing women from Brazil, Spain, England, and South Africa. They shared their culture and language with us, we took them for Texas BBQ and to rodeos. We often spent only six days with these kids, but you could see the difference those days made when their parents came to pick them up.

Camp is FUN

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Camp is fun. It just is. Camp is a week away from home to see yourself, or to try and be someone new. Camp is where you sing silly songs before every meal. It’s where sometimes, if you are lucky, your counselor will march your cabin hushed through the woods at night straight to the back door of the kitchen where she will sneak into the walk-in fridge and steal everyone a piece of cookie dough. Even the most reserved, quietest campers would finally break down and admit that they too, were having fun. Camp should be for everyone. It is incredibly empowering to young children – especially those who struggle to find a voice in their normal life. But camp can be expensive. For many families, camp is a luxury that they simply cannot afford.

And that is where you come in. Camp is a powerful experience that every child should get a chance to have. The American Camp Association believes in this mission and works to preserve, promote, and improve the camp experience. They accredit camps and insure that camp is a fun and safe place for all campers and staff. I love my camp and donate to their scholarship fund every year. Camp is something I truly love and want to share with everyone!

Click here to donate to the ACA to send a child to camp!

If you want to find a camp near you, or one that has specific programs or goals, they can help you out!

Tell me about YOUR camp experience! Did you go to camp as a kid? Did you work at a camp? Or are you just excited for a week at Iggle Camp? Why do you think camp is important? What camp are you donating to? Comment below or use the hashtag #IgglesDoGood to share your Pay It Forward moment with us and we will reward you with the special Doing Good achievement!