Hi all and Happy New Year!!
Hope everyone’s holiday season brought a healthy dose of cheer, gratitude and wonder. Here at HVC, we’re so grateful for some of the people that make camp so special every year: our counselors! Working hard behind the scenes – and on the scene! – to ensure that campers have the best time possible while staying safe and feeling heard, HVC counselors bring alongside their stellar personalities an incredible array of hometowns and backgrounds coupled with strengths, skillsets and experiences that make them indispensable as teachers and mentors. Indeed, a great number come from overseas every year! Whether offering comfort to the homesick, instructing a new skill or sharing nuggets of wisdom when not busily planning activities, our counselors are instrumental to the spirit of camp and well-versed in it, too, plus all the best strategies for engaging with campers, after two-weeks of in-depth staff training where they get to know each other prior to the campers’ arrival. Over their deserved school breaks, I had the pleasure of speaking with four counselors about their experiences at camp, including some of their personal favorite moments and insights into what makes the job so rewarding as well as, of course, fun 😄
First up is Finn, a lifelong camper and two-time AWAC as well as counselor from the (not-so) faraway land of Kennebunkport, Maine! Here’s what they had to say:
When did you start at camp? What’s the most special thing about camp in your view?
I started at camp as a camper when I was seven years old; I was an AWAC when I was 16 and 17 and a counselor at 18. I went to Hidden Valley because all my siblings went there, so it was sort of a given, but then I kept going because I really liked the environment. I loved the people that I met there. The most special thing to me was the community I built as a kid…it was these friends [whom] you got super close with for a month over the summer; you lived with them, and then you didn’t see them for a year, [but] then you came back the next year and you clicked instantly, right away…it was something I’d never experienced before. I made a lot of my closest friends at camp [whom] I’m still in touch with today.
What’s been the most rewarding part about being a counselor for you?
The most rewarding part for me was [that] as a camper who was there, I know how much impact my counselors had on my life and how much I looked up to them. And so really the most rewarding part was knowing that I was stepping into those shoes and being this person [who] acted as a role model for these kids…because I think my counselors have shaped who I am today, and I love knowing that I can do that for the next generation!
Any core memories from your experience with theater at HVC?
I have this core memory of performing in Pippin; it was my first lead in a musical, [though] I was splitting the role with Maya [Bond] of course. And they didn’t tell us that [after the opening number] they were gonna burst these confetti cannons; it was absurd, none of us were expecting it! [So] we were just standing there…we were so out of breath, we had just done this little dance, and they just burst this confetti all over the rec hall. And it was just wild because I looked over at Maya and we were both smiling…and it was sort of like my moment of ‘Oh my god, I think I want to do this forever’!
What’s one thing you’ve learned as a theater director that never occurred to you as a camper?
I don’t think I realized how much work goes into directing shows, especially children’s theater! Because I don’t know, as a kid I always thought it was so easy to put on these shows so quickly; I was like…this is so simple, we’re so good at what we do. And then as a director, I was like, ‘Oh my god, how am I gonna get a show up in four weeks when we actually only have 24 hours of rehearsal time?’ Yeah…so I think realizing that the counselors put in so much effort was a total shock to me.
What are your favorite spots at camp and why?
I love the swing by the soccer field because I have memories of being an AWAC and sitting there…it was just really fun [having] late night conversations with the other AWACS. It’s also just a great place to read. And then the rec hall, obviously; I have so many memories there, of just performing…it was really the first place [where] I ever felt like an actual performer on stage rather than just a background character, so I think that was big for me. A lot of my great camp memories are as an AWAC, so I’d have to also say the AWAC shack, just because I really loved getting to know all those people [whom] I was a camper with and then went on to also be a counselor with and [whom] I was friends with for so long.
Favorite AWAC memory?
We had this one trip my first year as an AWAC where we went to Belfast, and we all got in the ocean and it was freezing! We were all literally just like in the ocean because both of our ARPs were lifeguards, and so they brought their little lifeguard tubes and we were trying to prop a camera up on the lifeguard tube but it kept floating away. And we just have these great pictures of all of us laughing so hard trying to catch this float with the camera on it and also trying to look good for a picture…I loved that.
Next up is Nate, another former camper and AWAC plus counselor, and also theater kid and director from Westchester, New York! This is what he had to say:
When did you start at HVC, and what are some of your earliest memories?
My first summer was as a camper for the first session of 2015; I was in Avalon. Definitely my first time seeing the lake was a very big memory…I can [still] remember that feeling. I took a boating class, and we could go on all different parts of the lake, and I was really blown away by how big it was. I think I [also] did glass class work for the first time, which, you know, I learned there and now I teach it – and so that’s a great memory, and I still use those skills today. I can [also] distinctly remember one night, I was feeling kind of homesick and one of my counselors sat me down. We had a talk, and he was really able to help me kind of handle it and feel better. Some of the strategies he used on me are still things that I’ll implement today if I have campers who are homesick.
What’s the most rewarding part about being a counselor for you?
I think that for me, the most rewarding part of being a counselor is watching your campers succeed and watching them discover things about themselves that they didn’t even know. Because that’s what I loved so much about being a camper – that there were so many opportunities to try new things, and you would try something and love it, and you never would have thought to before! So it’s watching that same transformation happen with my campers, even from the beginning of the session to the end, but also across years – you know, even if they’re not my campers anymore – but seeing them continue to do the things that they discovered at camp, that’s definitely what I feel is the most rewarding.
What was most memorable about directing HVC theater productions last summer?
So I had some experience directing before coming to camp, which was interesting because the climate or the vibes, if you will, of HVC theater are so much less tense than you see in the outside world, which was at first a little bit of a switch for me, but it was so nice! And you know, you just have to understand that you’re there for the kids, and they’re having fun, and that’s what matters. And so really putting their enjoyment of the scenes as the most important part of any of the performances…made it the best show that we could have, when they were really enjoying themselves. And I think that another thing I was surprised by was the amount of effort that the kids were willing to put into these productions, considering that they have so much else going on as well! But they really went above and beyond what I was expecting. And [so], you know, every show just ended up 10 times better than I could have ever believed because of the effort and the amount of fun that these kids were putting into it. Just considering how little time we had, they really blew me away!
What are your favorite classes to teach at HVC?
Directing the plays is always great, but I [also] enjoy teaching promos because not only is it acting, but it’s also creative…because you have to create the skits yourself, and I think that it’s really fascinating to see the way people bounce ideas off each other and build on each other’s creative processes. And just allowing the kids to not only act the scenes how they want, but [also] create the scenes how they want is really fun. And then of course, the glass work that I teach…that’s what I feel is the most full circle moment because like I said, everything that I know I learned from Carmi, from Peter, from people who taught the classes to me, and now I’m using those same lessons here. And I feel like I have a special take on the lessons because I learned as a camper; I feel like I know what the best way is to describe it to new campers.
What are your favorite evening programs?
It’s hard not to say the Wheel [of Misfortune] because like every session you build up to it, it’s what everyone is waiting for and it never really disappoints. That’s the kind of thing you won’t find anywhere else in the entire world except at Hidden Valley! [So] it’s hard for that not to be the favorite, but I think that there’s so much that is fun, so much that goes on. [For example], electives are always a blast because you can try new things and you can meet new people. [Also] Pinegrove…specifically closing Pinegrove [for me] is just the most emotional night of camp. When I think of camp, those are the emotions that come to mind: closing Pinegrove with the fire going and all the songs and the music and the love, and just the amount that everyone cares for everybody.
Next up is Manaka from New York City! As a counselor and lifeguard last year, she taught an array of waterfront, land sports and cooking classes although she’s candid about the fact that her true passion lies in the water. Here’s what she had to say:
As a waterfront teacher, what are your personal favorite aquatic activities?
I grew up swimming…something about being in the water, blocking out all the sounds, is really calming especially in times of stress, especially at college. I did love teaching kayaking because when I was younger, I went to sailing camp…so I could sail for a brief period of my life; fun fact, I could tie all the knots! Recently I’ve [also] taken up water polo. It’s not as hard as it looks, I promise…it’s good team bonding. I feel like swimming is an individual sport, but with water polo, it’s about the team, how we can all collaborate together.
Any standout memories from the waterfront?
Something really impactful for me personally was teaching level 1 swimming; I was really happy because the kids were very appreciative and eager to learn. It made me happy [also] because my class was right before Interest Groups, and they would go right back to the pool and practice their swimming! I really loved that. I’m also a swim instructor now.
What was one of the strangest concoctions made by your campers in Iron Chef?
Well this one group wanted to make a cake thing, [but] we didn’t have cake [ingredients] or the time to bake a cake, and during that time the oven was broken – shoutout to the broken oven! – so they just used bread and it didn’t work, obviously…shoutout to Finn who had to taste it. So that was interesting, but shoutout for their creativity! ‘Cause I wasn’t gonna stop them from trying to make it [and] because to be honest, I didn’t really know what to make either. But…there was also a lot of pasta; the campers were all obsessed with white sauce (alfredo)!
If you were a camper now, what classes would you want to take and why? Anything you want to try this summer?
If I were younger, I think I would definitely have taken kayaking or paddleboarding [because] if I have an opportunity to go near water, I wouldn’t pass it up. Oh, and glass fusing! I made a glass bead [last summer] and I want to experience that again…I would love to make another glass piece because it sits on my desk [now], and I think I can make a better one. I also want to make an actual vase this time, like a functional vase.
What was your favorite evening program?
Electives! Specifically, lifeguarding at the lake [because] being at the lake in the evening is just so calm and relaxing, especially around sunset time…you know, golden hour in the forest.
Last but not least, we have multi-year counselor Bones! Alongside teaching archery, Bones has been known to lead camp in a Macarena spin-off that rouses spirits and energy levels each time. (Oh yeah, and he was also a staple figure on our hardy Snack-tor.) Here’s his two cents!
Where are you from originally, and how did you find out about camp? Any ‘culture shock’ moments for you?
I’m from South Africa; [specifically] Pretoria, the big capital, and I found out about camp through a mate of mine [who] went to a university where they were promoting it. [As for] culture shock…I just think [that] Americans are portrayed differently than [they are] on TV. At least for me, the kids are a bit different than in other parts of the world; I feel like they have a lot more freedom!
What are your favorite memories as a counselor?
Just being part of a community that just takes care of each other. The program…the way it’s set up, it’s such a great program, and I wish a lot of people could see it and understand. It just makes me so happy to see the community that camp brings and the love; it’s beautiful.
What are your three favorite activities at camp and why?
Archery! Archery is number one because I just love the sport…it teaches you discipline, it teaches you self control, to just be in control of yourself above all else. I [also] love the videography (video classes). I don’t do it [myself], but I love it because it captures all the beautiful moments that we have, and I’m all about remembering [them], actually just remembering moments whether beautiful or not! I love seeing memories and having fun with that, you know? And then finally, I think [it’s] between swimming in the lake and stained glass. Stained glass and all the other creative art classes because they teach you a lot…but swimming in the lake just relaxes you and makes you view things in a different way. And [it makes you see] just how beautiful everything around you really is; you get to get lost in it.
What’s the most rewarding part about being a counselor for you?
Getting to pass my knowledge to the younger generation…taking everything that I know and just passing it on. Seeing them take it in and learn something, that just makes me so happy! You know what it is, I think I speak to so many people, and I think that when people have a problem in most cases, they [feel like they] can come to me to ask ‘what would you do in this situation’ type of thing. And I think I’ll always have a little solution for them whether it be my friends or campers, co-counselors, whatever the case is; I just love passing on lessons.
That’s all from me for now – a huge thanks to these awesome counselors for sharing their insights with us!
You’ll hear again from us next month; ’till then, stay warm and cozy!
H. V. Scribe
Some more staff doing what they do best!