My first year of camp was not the easiest for me; overwhelmed by the girls in my cabin, the tomatoes on my grilled cheese, the muck in the lake and the relentless mosquitoes. I did not want to go back, but I did – not by choice but by edict. The next year wasn’t much different for me. But by the third year things had changed. Or I had changed. The girls were nice. The tomatoes tangy. The lake was less mucky, and mosquitoes not so bad. So I went back again. And again. And again, until eventually I was directing the camp, taking care of overwhelmed first-timers and rambunctious returnees. Over the course of my 13 years as camper, CIT, junior counselor, counselor, adventure trip leader, village chief, CIT director, and camp director, the Y seeped into my being, shaping me as no other place has done.
I developed a love of the out-of-doors, the ability to run a Hobart (industrial dishwasher), and the confidence to take on tasks I had neither the training nor know-how to do. I learned to say ‘yes’ to new foods, new people, new experiences. To craft activities from the materials at hand, invent games, tell stories, corral kids into action. I learned to sing in front of other people, comfort homesick campers, drive a truck, shoot an arrow, put one foot in front of the other because the mountain loomed large and walking was the only way up. I discovered grit I didn’t know I had, patience, and a sense of awe. The Y I attended drew children and staff from around the world, able-bodied and disabled, wealthy and poor. And the amazing thing was, where you were from didn’t matter. The shoes that you wore, the clothing in your trunk – meaningless. Somehow, everyone was ‘in’. Lanyard-makers hung out with soccer players. Woodcrafters ate marshmallows with swimmers, shared books with horseback riders, giggled with children too shy to speak.
I met my husband at a Y camp. Not the camp I had gone to for years but another – its sister camp – 600 miles away. I decided to do an exchange program with this other Y, leading trips in the Rocky Mountains. My husband-to-be, the director the weekend I happened to go for an interview, was asked to check me out. He did. I got the job and we worked together, and eventually married.
The Y remains an important part of our lives. We still visit my original camp, share stories with people I met as a 12-year old. And we live and breathe the Y philosophy – my husband a high school teacher and me a child psychologist – devoted to building communities and helping children stay strong. I am thrilled the Y is coming to Exeter, and look forward to coming home.
Written by Dawn Huebner
Dawn is a child psychologist who lives and practices in Exeter, NH. Her husband, Jim, is a Physics teacher at Exeter High School. Their son, Eli, attended YMCA Camp Lincoln for many years and is now a senior at Bates College in Lewiston, ME.