It is an unexpected sight to walk into day camp in July and see a fully decorated Christmas tree with presents underneath and a big screen projecting a Yule log burning. That is how the meeting room at Epiphany United Methodist Church is adorned when SpringHill is on site and the staff are giggling about it. At the team meeting, they open their presents that were crafted by the leadership team. The room feels happy, if a little tired, which makes sense for a Wednesday in the eighth week of summer day camp. This team has accomplished a lot. In recognition of their hard work, they are coming together to affirm each other and get a little silly at the end of the day. The presents include snacks, paper cut-outs, and lots of jokes the team shares together.
This SpringHill team is spending their week in Loveland, Ohio, with ninety children from the congregation and community. Epiphany and SpringHill have a long relationship that includes over twenty years of sending campers from the congregation to overnight camp, as well as hosting day camp since 2010. The director of children’s ministry describes a relationship that she is happy to continue with SpringHill for both camping experiences. An important piece of this contentedness is due to the staff and the fact that they leave the church cleaner than they found it on their first day. When describing the camp to congregation relationship, she says, “We really just open up our doors and they [SpringHill] come and take care of it. It’s great!” The years-long relationship between the camp and congregation appear lasting and strong.
This year’s SpringHill team uses the Christmas spirit both in their meeting room and during their quality evening together at the end of the week. Part of the boost is in reaction to the challenges this SpringHill team has with illness and injury amongst its members. Nevertheless, the jolly theme continues with a secret Santa gift exchange. The gifts are highly personalized and there are lots of inside jokes. Several staff receive jars filled with affirmation statements from their Secret Santa. Affirmations are a common occurrence with this group both formally and informally. Formally, the leadership staff on site pass out coins that staff can turn in for a high five, hug, a quality minute, or words of affirmation. The gesture is a simple one, yet the signal to the group is one of support and caring. One counselor chooses to turn in his coin with leadership staff for words of affirmation at the end of the day and the response is immediate and positive. Informally, affirmations are part of the culture the team practices daily in their communications with each other.
During day camp, the kids notice the staff’s strength and affirmative interactions in the face of challenges, too. The kids see the staff working hard and feel cared for by their counselors. “They take very good care of us,” one camper states with conviction. Another camper tells a story of when their counselor got hit in the head at day camp, but “they always push the bad things behind.” This camper notices and appreciates their counselor’s resilience after getting hurt. Another kid states, “They are the best counselors in the world!” The kids around nod their heads in eager agreement.
In addition to what the campers notice, parents show a high level of trust in SpringHill staff members. When one camper is picked up by her mom at the end of the day, she is crying. The mom sees her upset daughter, and the counselor quickly explains the miscommunication that just happens during a game of Poisonous Dart Frog. Two people were picked, instead of one, and the camper felt cheated out of her turn. The counselor talked with the camper about taking deep breaths and that she is correct that only one person should have been picked to be the poisonous dart frog. The mom says that she says the same thing at home to her daughter when she gets upset, which is nice consistency for the camper. The mom seems happy and calm with how the counselor handled the tears and shares that she thinks her daughter is more tired the normal. The way the parent and counselor communicate shows ease and trust in their relationship.
On the last day, the SpringHill staff gather in a circle to start their day with a prayer together. They pray for their campers and for strength despite their illnesses and injuries. They ask God for help to make their campers’ last SpringHill day a great experience. Based on the smiles and excitement the campers show during the closing worship, it appears that they did it. The final interactions between campers and staff happen with parents present in each cabin. Counselor teams select specific character traits with a Bible verse for each camper in their cabin. One parent states that the character trait of “bravery” perfectly describes her child. The staff wrap up the affirming week with affirmations focused on the gifts of the campers.