KarolWhen I was 12, my counselor gave me a list of day and sleep-away summer camps for my family and me to consider. She thought it’d be a great way for me to open up and meet other kids who have struggled with some of the same pressures as me. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t think I’d be able to go at first, but then I noticed Camp Homeward Bound – it was free to my parents and had tons of activities. Little did I know that camp was going to be more than boating, photography and video-making. Camp Homeward Bound would become my home for the summer for years to come and would play a huge role in my personal growth.

My first year at Camp Homeward Bound, (CHB), was rough. I was very shy and had really poor self-esteem, but my counselors did their best to make me feel welcome and worked hard to help me see the beauty and uniqueness in myself.

The next year and the two other years that followed, I came back to camp each summer more confident than ever. Those summers were ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. The best I’ve ever had! I had finally broken out of my shell, and became a social butterfly. I LOVED the all the different activities – but mostly I loved the unity I felt with my fellow campers, as well as the incredible bond I formed with the counselors and instructors. CHB had become a second home to me.  A home where I knew I wouldn’t be judged.  A home where everyone is different and accepting of others. A home where you can feel love in the air.

My last year as a camper, I was very bummed out because I knew I was going to be too old to return. My tent mates and I decided to write letters to prove the importance of creating a Counselor-In-Training (CIT) program. We were elated when Bev, CHB’s director, told me that fall that the new CIT program would start that next year!

The CIT program was tougher than I expected but probably the most rewarding experience of my life, so far. There were 10 CIT’s – all ex-campers like me – and we spent the whole summer doing workshops, including CPR training and First Aid course. We had intense training to be Lifeguards!

But my primary responsibility was working with the group of younger girls, “The Fairies” and by the end of the summer, I felt that I had really made a difference in their lives. Every morning, as I’d walk up the hill to go to the cafeteria, they would run to me with huge grins on their faces. I hugged every single one of them and spun them around. They saw me as their mom or big sister.

When I was a camper, my counselors lifted me up and helped me believe in myself. And now, as a Counselor-In-Training I had the opportunity to make that same difference in the lives of my campers.

A lot of the children that come to CHB are living in very chaotic and depressing situations, so many find it difficult to adjust to the camp environment. I always reminded my campers to be polite and positive, and more than anything, to treat others the way they’d like to be treated. I grew to have a special bond with each of my girls, one that was hard to let go of at the end of the summer.

I always dreamed of going to Penn State, but I never thought I would get in. I didn’t even plan on applying, but I remembered something my counselor Holly would tell me: “The only thing stopping you is yourself!”  I pushed myself to study harder and decided to apply. I’m proud and ecstatic to say that I was accepted to Penn State and will begin my freshman year this August.

I am forever grateful to have spent the last five summers at Camp Homeward Bound! My counselors brought out the best in me, and truly helped me become the outgoing and optimistic young woman I am today. My experience as both a camper and then a CIT at CHB completely changed the way I view myself, and the world.