“Friends! The rope is ice cream!” shouts a counselor to their campers. The campers are doing the Flying Squirrel together, a high ropes course element that requires the entire cabin group to pull a rope attached to a camper wearing a harness who is then pulled into the air. When the camper reaches the top, the counselor calls out, “Strike a pose!” The camper does the best version of the Floss dance possible while being suspended by a body harness twenty feet above the ground. Cabinmates cheer on their fellow camper in the air. Then the group slowly lowers the camper to the ground and the counselor yells, “Friends! The rope is lava!” The campers scamper away to a shaded area to find relief from the August heat, leaving the rope and the counselor behind to unhook one camper and prepare the next.
This is the tenth and final week of day camp for SpringHill’s staff in 2019. The energy level is exceptionally high amongst the staff because, as they say in their staff meeting, it is the campers’ first week of day camp. The conscious effort to give campers their energized week of camp is almost palpable. Energy abounds throughout the day with camp counselors, known as summer leaders at SpringHill, screaming and interacting during the large group skits and songs. The call and response of silly chants echo through the halls of the church during transition times. Outside during the activities, counselors jump in with kids on the water slide, Slip N Slide, and in the Gaga pit. It is a spirited week for campers and staff alike.
This team of around 20 staff members is known as Western Michigan #1, one of thirteen SpringHill day camp teams that collectively traveled to 128 congregations and other ministry sites to lead day camps in summer 2019. The entire summer required a lot of get-up-and-go for this particular team, as they drove to do SpringHill day camps in Georgia and Alabama, as well as various states in the Midwest. Every week included the SpringHill signature large group productions and outdoor activities, such as the rock wall and giant inflatables. Just setting every part of day camp up requires a fair amount of work for the team, and they seem prepared for the tasks at hand.
This week the team is close to home at Resurrection Life Church in Cadillac, a small city in north-central Michigan located less than an hour’s drive from SpringHill’s overnight camp property in Evart. Cadillac is a predominantly white, working-class community. The church is a large, modern building complete with a coffee shop and kitchen inside. There are just over 100 campers at day camp. This is the second year of partnership between SpringHill and Resurrection Life.
The church staff and volunteers speak positively about the SpringHill staff, yet the relationship seems to have started on uncertain footing the previous year. In contrast with many other congregations, no counselors in training (CITs) from the congregation were at day camp this summer. Several people shared that CITs did not feel appreciated by SpringHill staff and therefore none of the five returned for a second year of day camp. Two CITs came for this week from a neighboring town with a church that hosted SpringHill during the fourth week of summer camp. These CITs’ experiences appear to be more positive for them to volunteer not just once but twice in the same summer. A focus for the current year amongst SpringHill leadership is to rebuild the relationship with Res Life in this area to encourage more CITs next year and improve their experience. Without the help of CITs, the SpringHill summer leaders need to put in extra energy to ensure that campers stay together as they move from activity to activity, engage in Bible study conversations, and remain under control in the high-energy large group sessions. They are up for the challenge, and it seems they even have energy to spare.
Even in the staff’s free time after campers are sent home, the energy stays high as they put together a “Goodwill Prom” for themselves and show up to a host home in 80’s and 90’s formal wear. The looks range from the outrageous to the mildly dignified. Staff admire and joke about each other’s goofy outfits. Streamers hang from the rafters and a photo booth background is set up to the side. After a full day with campers, the staff host a dance party prom for themselves and dance through the evening together.
The best indication that summer will soon start winding down are the team’s “Dundee Awards” that they hand out (the “Dundee Awards” are a joke based on the popular TV show The Office where a manager hands out personalized, ridiculous awards to his staff). The jokes of the awards come from a summer’s worth of mishaps and humor. For example, the award for “the person most likely to gain superpowers from a spider bite” goes to the counselor with a gnarly spider bite on his leg. It is a joyful atmosphere with the team laughing and sharing in the humor of the awards, enjoying their final hours as a SpringHill team before the summer is over. Western Michigan #1 put an abundance of energy into their summer and held onto that energy through the end of the final week. The campers seem thrilled to be amongst friends and get excited with all of the activities and fun of day camp. For the staff, the dancing continues all day and all night long.