By Lia Messersmith, In-Camp Program and Staff Manager

I am often asked how I started working at Eagle’s Nest Camp. I talk about how I began coming in 2011 as a camper and just never left. The natural follow-up question is, “What kept you coming back each year?” That is always a bit harder to answer. There are a million reasons, from the friends I made to all the activities I’ve been able to do throughout the year. As I reflect on my years at camp and the reasons I feel so drawn to the Eagle’s Nest community, I’ve realized a huge factor is that camp allowed me to just be me, which, in turn, instilled a massive sense of confidence in myself.

At camp, we talk a lot about letting campers and staff be authentic selves. I think it goes a little further than that. We hold space for everyone to be themselves without pressure or expectations to define exactly what that is. Within that space, people thrive. 

Campers can take classes in areas they may typically not gravitate towards, expanding their comfort zones and embedding themselves into a new community. This allows them to hone in on their skill sets and find interests and hobbies they may not have otherwise discovered. Through their time at camp, they have the opportunity to try new things in a supportive, judgment-free environment. This judgment-free environment becomes a catalyst for building self-assurance in one’s skills and interests. 

Within each cabin, campers learn how to navigate social dynamics, make new friends, and develop interpersonal skills. For some, this comes naturally. They are drawn to people and find it a breeze to participate in social situations. For others, much like myself, this can seem like a daunting task. Living in a cabin with ten other people can be challenging, from simply sharing space to learning how to confront conflict. 

When we create a space built on belonging and inclusivity, campers have a support system that can boost their self-esteem and foster a sense of confidence in their social skills. We encourage kids to share their interests and passions with their peers, even when they think no one else will also be interested. Odds are, there will always be someone who shares the same interests or at least five people who want to learn.

When conflict inevitably arises, campers learn ways to resolve issues while respecting others’ experiences and opinions. These tools extend far beyond camp. By exploring and learning in a supportive community, campers have the confidence that they can go out into the world and make genuine connections with people. 

Beyond all the skills we learn at camp, we also discover that it’s okay and encouraged to be silly and ourselves. When I first started at camp, I was so painfully shy that I don’t think I said more than 10 words. I was always that kid who watched from a distance, trying to figure out how to join in or if my personality would be accepted. Now, 13 years later, I’m dancing down the Quad to One Direction just because I want to. 

Camp gave me a space to come as I was, where I didn’t feel the need to change who I was to fit in with the masses. It was a space where I didn’t need to fit into a box and label myself as one thing or another; I could just be me and go through the human experience of figuring out who that was in a community where that was normalized. I think that is the cornerstone of how Eagle’s Nest builds confidence in every person who comes into this community.