I’m one of the lucky ones. I grew up at Wa-Klo; have been here since I was 10 years old. When I was younger, I was a shy kid; I struggled with confidence and was unsure of how to best make friends. As my family can attest, I was also a pretty stubborn kid; I was strong headed and knew what I wanted but wasn’t sure how best to go about getting it. It was at Wa-Klo that I built the necessary relationship skills. I learned how to connect with others, maneuver through conflict, and be a leader as well as allow others to lead.
I can easily and without hesitation attribute the person I am today to Wa-Klo. It was my second home where I was able to leave behind all of the preconceived notions of who I was; I was able to leave behind any stories that might have pigeon hole me. Every summer I was here, I grew. My first summer, my Wa-Klo me lasted a few weeks into the school year, but year after year, the Wa-Klo me lasted longer into the school year until one year, it lasted and became me year round.
Many employers have placed an emphasis on relationships and its impact on the success of the workforce. Building relationships seems easy on the surface but it is a skill that needs to be practiced and learned. When talking about relationship skills, we are referring to the ways we seek, form, and maintain healthy and supportive connections with other people. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, relationship skills “enable a young person to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed” (CASEL, 2019).”
Over the past five years, the American Camp Association in relationship with the University of Utah’s research team completed a 5 year impact study focusing on the lasting impacts a summer camp experience has on campers and staff. The researchers were particularly interested in investigating the social and emotional learning that occurs at camp. “Relationship skills was the most frequent and in-depth outcome shared by former campers” during the first phase of the study.
For us in the camping profession or long time Wa-Klo families (or even some new Wa-Klo families), the results of the ACA 5 year impact study is no surprise. At Wa-Klo, building relationships skills is tied directly to our mission statement. Wa-Klo empowers girls to be confident, independent, and have a voice. While living our mission statement, we provide ample opportunities for girls to build relationships through living in a bunk with 6 to 8 other girls, eating meals with the other girls in their age group, participating in activities with girls of all ages and having wonderful female role models within our camper and staff communities. Providing an opportunity to build relationships is only the first step. We, here at Wa-Klo, feel it is of utmost importance to aid the girls while they are developing these skills. The staff are here to model these types of relationships as well as support the girls as they are developing them by guiding them through these tricky situations.
Olympics is one example where girls build relationship skills with a whole different group at camp. The camp is divided into 3 teams and compete for 2 days to win Olympics. During this time, the girls work together to write cheers for their respective teams, have a team challenge where they had to complete multiple mini tasks, and many other mini competitions. These types of opportunities are built into our daily lives here at Wa-Klo. Some of them aren’t noticeable unless you are looking for it; such as our shout outs. Girls recognize each other for the little successes throughout the day such as getting up on waterskiis or going out of their way to help clean up a mess that isn’t theirs.
When families ask me what differentiates Wa-Klo from other camps like us, I alway say (and a lot of you have heard me say it) that what separates us is our community. We build our campers and staff up. The impact that a camp can have on an individual’s life is immeasurable. The 5 year impact study has tried to quantify an impact that is hard to quantify. Wa-Klo is proud to be a camp that prioritizes relationships and building relationship skills. The more summers a camper spends at Wa-Klo, the bigger the impact. This unseen skill is something that our Wa-Klo girls will take with them for the rest of their lives. A lot of our alumni say: “You can take the girl out of Wa-Klo but you can’t take Wa-Klo out of the girl”. I do hope and believe this to be true. Here’s to many more summers of us building life-long skills in the middle of the woods, surrounded by our best friends, and having the time of our lives.
- Tammy Fortune