Weekly Update: August 7, 2022

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Without attempting to paraphrase David Brooks’ amazing editorial in The New York Times this week, “What Is It About Friendship That Is So Powerful?” we will only say this: Yes.

As we were reading the article, which acknowledges that friendships which cross class, race, gender and experience lines enliven our senses, enrich our lives and deepen our sense of purpose and connectedness on this planet, we kept thinking, “This happens at camp. These friendships occur at camp. Camp is where this happens for kids right now. Camp is the greatest place in the universe!” So when Brooks’ finally reaches the end of his piece and talks about HIS summer camp–we may or may not have let out a triumphant hoot…and we also think he might have missed one part: how we actually MAKE friends in “unexpected” places.

Making friends is a skill–and making friends with people who don’t look like you, think like you, or respond to situations like you is a challenging task for most adults in this country these days–so why are our campers so well positioned to make, and keep, friends while they are at camp?

Geography: We seek a sense of connection and belonging to our most immediate living unit. By building a core foundation of consistent, caring individuals, over the course of a summer camp season, that regular interaction with the same people builds confidence in and develops new interpersonal skills. Campers might connect with other individuals throughout the days and weeks, but they always return to their living units, to those core “home base” groups where they are known, appreciated and have the deepest connections and friendships.

Access: Kids at camp do not have access to their computers, phones or other devices while at camp. They are not fragmented and do not have the “illusion of certainty” that comes from engaging with a “world” from the comfort of their bed, able to idly swipe past individuals or situations that don’t interest them. At camp, on the other hand, they have to engage with real people, day in and day out, and respond to the idiosyncrasies and emotions of those around them.

Challenge: We do hard things at camp. We wake up extremely early to climb mountains and “hawk” our horses. We squat in “lightning position” in Aspen groves during really intense thunderstorms. We have to eat food that doesn’t taste quite right and drink iodine treated water. We have to sleep on uneven ground with people sliding into us all night long. We learn how to compromise and be curious instead of getting frustrated with our friends for not being like us or for not understanding who we are (or for accidentally pushing us off of our sleeping pads).

Near Peer Role Models: Our emerging adult staff are neither irresponsible kids nor jaded adults. They are THE adults in this space and they take their roles very seriously. These counselors model inclusivity, kindness, openness, caring and a genuine desire to know and to see each and every camper in their living units, activities and trips. They see the value and strength in each camper and, in turn, those campers have a safe foundation from which to take calculated social and physical risks: talking to a new person, discovering I am strong enough to climb a mountain, asking for help and watching how adults can make and keep friends in a small community. But they are not parents and they see the world differently. Having a variety of adult perspectives within a singular living unit or on a trip leading team or while playing a game of Gagaball provides campers with a wealth of intra- and interpersonal skills they can try on and try out both at and beyond camp as they seek to build new friendships and interact with others.

At camp, Brooks’ writes, “We learned about one another’s worlds and created the joint world out of our own friendships. We learned a capacity that I wouldn’t have been able to name until decades later — social range.” The social range at Sanborn is vast and deep and encompasses almost 75 years of incredible summer experience and an unfathomable amount of small, trajectory shifting moments for every individual who has been a part of a summer here. It is a “joint world” that Sandy and Laura Sanborn created out of a desire to create a place where people could recognize they had more in common than not. A place where people could discover their shared humanity and build friendships based on real-life, shared experiences…not only on favorite popular cultural references or material goods.

Today, the High Trails campers regaled the lodge with their triumphant trip songs from their long trips this last week. The joy could be heard in their voices as they rewrote pop songs into new lyrical versions that captured the stories of their trips, but it was the pride they felt as they walked to the front of the lodge that was so palpable. Many of them did something on their trip that not a single one of their friends at home will have done this summer or ever. Many stood on the summit of a 14,000 foot mountain; many rode horses for 6, 7, 8 hours a day, miles and miles away from any roads; all of them slept in sleeping bags in tents they set up themselves; all of them had moments of collective triumph as well as moments of individual self-doubt; and all of them found strength, support, laughter and encouragement in the friends and staff who were with them on these journeys.

While talking to a staff member from the Harvard/Yale trip on the drive home, she commented, “I don’t think I will ever forget this” and she won’t, and the campers won’t, because they have accomplished something incredible with a community of individuals who “have realized how fun it is to resist the natural temptation to hang out with people like themselves” and who have had the courage to come to camp.

This last week of our 2022 Sanborn Summer, our Big Spring campers will take all of the skills and experience they have been building up over the last three weeks and head out on their long trips to climb mountains, ride horses and deepen their friendships as well. High Trails campers will have some final trips and some “last chance” activities, but will also make the most of their time together with awesome all-camp evening programs like Miss Sanborn, High Trails Got Talent and the perennial favorite: the JC Dinner. Our Sanborn Junior campers will hike to the Florissant Fossil Beds, tube on the river, sing even more songs and continue to use their sense of wonder to run, play and imagine in the natural world.

It is going to be an incredible last week!

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Ariella Rogge
About Ariella Rogge

Ariella started her career at Sanborn when she was twelve. After five years of camper and five years of Sanborn staff experience, she continued her work with kids in the high school classroom. Ariella and her family returned to Sanborn in 2001 to take on the Program Director role which she held til 2012. She and Elizabeth Marable became co-directors of High Trails in 2013 and then Ariella became the High Trails Director in 2020. In the fall of 2022 she became the Director of Sanborn Western Camps, overseeing the director teams of both Big Spring and High Trails. She lists mountain golf, Gymkhana, climbing mountains and making Pad Thai in the backcountry as some of her favorite activities at camp. Ariella received a B.A. in English from Colorado College and is a certified secondary English educator,an ACCT Level 2 Ropes Course Technician, an ARC lifeguard and NREMT and WEMT. She lives in Florissant in the summer and in Green Mountain Falls during the school year so she can stay involved with the busy lives of her husband, Matt, and two teenage sons, Lairden and Karsten.