By Paige Lester-Niles, Camp Director

This morning I woke before dawn. I was mid-dream when my eyes slowly blinked open. I stretched and looked around, curious as to why I had woken up. In the darkness of my room, I could hear the joyful chatter of songbirds – likely werns, robins and warblers. Their morning chorus warmed the chilly air, and my heart. There are many theories as to why birds send melodies and twitters out in the hours before the sun has risen into the sky. I’m sure that if I spent some time searching the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (who “believes in the power of birds to ignite discovery and inspire action” – isn’t that wonderful) website I could learn more, but I like to think that they are sharing their joy for a new day, and new possibilities before them, and that their vigorous songs offer us all hope for what is to come. 

Last week I was fortunate to attend the American Camp Association’s National Conference in Portland Oregon. This was the first in-person conference ACA has hosted since the winter of 2020, and I could see excitement in the smiling eyes of masked faces. I attended workshops on MESH (Mental, Emotional, Social Health) support, creating safe spaces for transgender participants and staff, staff recruitment and training and so much more. Our keynote speakers spoke of the challenges that children are facing today, and the constant refrain in workshops and keynote sessions was “camp is the solution!”.

Of course, I have always believed in the power that camps have to support children and help them grow in confidence, independence, resilience and so much more. There are copious studies to support this claim. I also believe that giving children the opportunity to spend time in community with others, to learn social skills like empathy and understanding in a diverse group of people, and to step away from technology for unstructured play in a creek promotes wellness; however, the “morning songbird” in me wants to embrace the idea that we can move to a future when we don’t need “solutions” and “antidotes” to the stresses that affect children. Instead of being reactionary, I’d like to believe we can be proactive in giving children not only the tools that they need to face challenges that they will encounter, but also in filling them with joy and hope to do so.

One of the workshops that I found inspiring last week was titled “A Hope-Centered Lens for the Journey Ahead.” The leaders John Hamilton and Jamal Stroud from the Alliance for Hope International spoke to us about the science of Hope and encouraged us to “put 2020-2021 in our rearview mirrors…[and] discover hope in the staff we train, the children we serve, and the caregivers who rely on us”. As I listened to their stories and processes, I felt my heart warming, the corners of my mouth curving up, and my stress crumbling away. I was grateful to be reminded to “throw sunshine, not shade.” The clouds hovering over us have led us to forget the power of positivity and hope to brighten our days.   

Eagle’s Nest was created from a place of hope for the positive development of children, and we enter each new season with similar hopes for what we will create. Yes – we are a solution. Yes –  we are an antidote.  But camp is so much more; we are a tributary for a great ocean of hope in the future.

My dream today is that we’ll be able to help children hear the morning song birds and inspire them to greet the rising sun with joy and hope.