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SEP. 28, 2015

Cultivating Lifelong Friendships at Eagle’s Nest Camp

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Paige Lester-Niles, Camp Director

Since camp ended, and I’ve moved back to my winter office in Winston-Salem, I’ve had a chance to “tidy up” my office. In the process, I found a big stack of “Letter’s Home” postcards that my kid’s cabin counselors wrote to me over the years. The cards date back to at least 2008, when Finn was a 6-year-old in Cabin 9 (he’s now 16 and was in Tree Tops this summer). It’s been fun to re-read the cards and to see how my children have grown through the years, but what really touched me was seeing these photographic reminders of how their camp friendships grew.

Both of my children have been coming to camp since they were under a year old, and both started living in cabins as soon as they finished kindergarten. As a result, they’ve met and made friends with hundreds of other kids from various backgrounds, cultures and countries. I’m excited that they’ve had the opportunity to learn how to make new friendships and get to know kids who come from different backgrounds. I know that these experiences will be helpful to them as they grow and mature, and when they eventually move out of our house and into homes and new communities of their own.

But mostly, I’m thrilled for the strong friendships that have formed after many years at camp. When I looked at those camp postcards, I saw my children growing up along with their camp buddies. I saw the physical changes in all of the kids, and also the emotional changes as their bonds grew stronger and stronger.  It’s interesting to me to know that some of my children’s best friends are the friends that they spend only 2 – 6 weeks with each summer. I think those strong, positive friendships speak to the value of living together in an intentional community that values respect, trust, compassion and love for each other. Over the years my children have had the opportunity to live and play with their friends in a community that helps them support each other in being their best selves. And when they are together, I see the light in their eyes and the love in their hearts.

Through the years, my kids have coordinated summer camp plans with their camp buddies – choosing to go on the same Added Adventures or Hantes. As they have gotten older and more independent, they have been able to visit their friends outside of Eagle’s Nest.

Finn and Griffin in Cabin 9

Finn and Griffin visit for Spring Break

One of Finn’s best friends (in camp and in life) is Griffin. They’ve known each other since they were together in Cabin 9. One is a climber and the other is a paddler. They both love outdoor adventures and music. Each summer they write a rap to preform together at Coffee House, and each year they’ve supported each other in learning new wilderness skills and achieving advancements for their hard work. They’ve been on two Hantes together, are already planning which Hante they’ll do in 2016, and have dreams to summit Mt. Rainier together someday (I don’t doubt that they’ll do it).  Griffin has traveled from his home to visit us twice, and Finn has made the trip to visit Griffin as well. They stay in touch and speak frequently, encouraging the best in the other. When I was looking at the pictures of Griffin and Finn over the years, it was fun to see them standing beside each other year after year, to see picture of the year that Griffin grew to be nearly a foot taller than Finn, and to read the card where their Cabin 9 counselor wrote “Finn gets along especially well with Griffin, though they do compete to be the best at everything and anything – guitar, ring game, bed making, sweeping, etc.” That friendly competition continues today, but has also matured to be more focused on supporting each other to be the best that they can be – individually and as friends.

Posey and Jayme at concert

Similarly, Posey has been friends with her Session 1 buddy Jayme since they were in Cabin Library together in 2010. That year Posey had a big gap where her front teeth were missing and crazy bangs that she had cut herself. Interestingly enough, her counselor also wrote about the close friendship they were already forming and added that they were “never exclusive of the other girls”. Of course, that friendship has also grown with the girls. At the end of this summer Posey visited Jayme for a week, and last night the teenagers met up for a concert together in Raleigh. As soon as we pulled up to our meeting place Posey jumped out of the car and ran to hug her old friend. When we parted a little before mid-night, the girls were already planning their next meeting. In between I smiled as I watched two girls that spend only 2-weeks together each summer, and who haven’t seen each other in nearly two months, act as if they’ve spent every day of their lives together. I could see the comfort that exists between camp friends who TRULY know each other. It filled my heart to know that 13-year-old girls can feel that acceptance.

Of course, these experiences aren’t unique to my children. Many, many campers, Junior Counselors, Hante Adventurers and Outdoor Academy students form similar strong friendships. A few years ago at the Eagle’s Nest reunion I heard a former staff member from the early 2000s remark to her group “I wonder if there are any other staff groups that are as tight as we are?” My answer was “YES!” Just last week I took advantage of being in the Pacific North West to take a little side trip to Seattle to see an old camp friend that I worked with way back in 1991. We’ve seen each other a handful of times in the last 10 years, but you wouldn’t know it from our hugs and laughter. I had so much fun seeing and reconnecting with her. It was easy because from our experiences and work together at Eagle’s Nest, we KNEW each other.

Friendships are so important. I’m glad that Eagle’s Nest provides a place for them to grow and develop.

Paige Lester-Niles, Camp Director