Summer Camp Blog

Creating deep and lasting connections by Iris

Camp Director

So much has changed at Agawak since I started here decades
ago -- new cabins, new colorful floating toys on the lake, healthier
foods –though the most crucial artery of camp life is unchanged.
And that is, the tight bonds of friendship that happen in the woods,
off-screen and in real-time, as no computers or cell phones are

In my writing activity of Agalog, the girls pour out their thoughts
and hearts on lined yellow pads. I see how relaxed they are, when
they aren’t rapidly clicking away on computer keys. With pens in hand,
they can stop to think and I witness their whole souls opening up
under our open sky.

My history at Camp Agawak that began when I was 8 in 1963
and continues in 2021 has given me many character traits that
have become the spine of my life, from independence to courage to
an ability to get along with people far different than me. This place
and these people and these hallowed grounds are the subject of
my seventh book,  Camp Girls , starring Agawak though fanning out
with the universal message that summer camp in our youth is a
transformative experience that endures.

A favorite part of the book is the interview I conducted with
Mary Fried, Agawak’s owner/director for more than three decades.
Here is a snippet of that interview, as Mary underscores the quality
of relationships that happen, face-to-face, away from technology, in
our camp community:

The structure and the support found at camp allows for our children
to decompress from the stressors of their over- packed lives.
Camp is a natural anxiety fighter.
Giving children time to chill and spend time in nature is more
important than ever before. To add to their academic pressure, they
are stressed over the intense competition to make their school
tennis teams, soccer teams, swim teams. Years ago, you walked
on to a team.

Then there’s the intense pressure of social media: How can they
keep up with hundreds of screen friends that post only their
happiest stories, their prettiest filtered poses surrounded by smiling
friends? Girls with not so many smiling friends who may not feel so
pretty are thinking, “Wow, everyone’s life seems so much better
than mine,” which can leave children feeling depressed."

Social media is so often a false projection of one’s life. Camp is real
life. At camp, the girls wear sweatpants and T-shirts, and their hair is
tied up in messy ponytails. They aren’t out- posting each other on
Instagram; they are talking, not texting. They have the
uninterrupted time to have deep and long conversations. It’s in the
quietest of moments in the cabin, whether during rest period or at
bedtime, that the girls have the most significant conversations, they
really open up to each other.

Something really important happens in the woods. They begin to
trust themselves more; they develop trust in each other. They share
their deepest secrets about things they haven’t shared with
anybody. They talk about their worries, and it is healing, because
they feel heard and that others do care.

Along with the warmth of cabin life, nature in itself is very calming.
Nature slows them down. Surrounded by the forest, campers can really
think, they can reflect. In their hectic lives at home, they rarely
have five minutes to be still. At camp they have weeks to be more still,
to be reflective and to breathe in fresh air.

Camp is truly an oasis, the place where girls can feel like they truly
belong and are accepted for who they are. Camp is love.