Why Should Teenage Boys Keep Coming to Camp?

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John, a Man of STEEL, competing hard during one of our All-Camp-Games!

Camp is designed to grow with boys, and meet them where they are at each stage of their journey to manhood. The oldest boys in camp are given more responsibility, independence, challenge, and opportunities for reflection. For our rising 11th and 12th grade campers, we also have two leadership programs, created to build off of their existing camp experience, and help transition them towards college, work, or returning as a counselor at Falling Creek. However, some campers stop coming back to camp once they reach their teenage years, and have sports, school, or other opportunities vying for their attention. At Falling Creek, we believe the experiences that young men are given here at camp in their teenage years are especially valuable for their personal growth, leadership development, and for giving them “an edge” when they return home. What can the oldest boys at camp expect from their final summers as campers?

Rising 11th graders are known as FLINT (Forging Leaders INTentionally), and rising 12th graders are known as STEEL (Summer Training Encouraging Emerging Leaders). In FLINT, they are fully campers, but there is an emphasis on building leadership skills this summer that will help them in all areas of life. During the summer our FLINT guys will become “master campers”, and if they are invited to return next summer as Men of STEEL, they’ll be our counselors in training. Men of STEEL are a select group that has gone through an application process, similar to applying for a job at camp. After proving that they live by our Falling Creek Code during their years as campers, they’ve been invited back for a final summer, learning what it means to become a counselor, and assisting in cabins and activities.

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Carson, the Betula Linehead, sharing at the "Top of the World" Betula Campfire

However, the opportunities for growth start even before boys reach FLINT or STEEL age. On Tuesday night, when each Line split off for their age group campfires, the oldest boys in the Betula Line headed up to the “Top of the World” to share the evening together. When they reached the base of the hill at the orchard side of camp property they paused so Carson, the Betula Linehead, could speak to the group. “I know walking up this hill will be challenging for some of you, but there will be a lot of challenges you’ll take on this summer. I’d like you to take on this challenge the same way you’ll take on all the others - with an open mind.” He explained that on the walk up the hill, they’d be silent. They would use the time to think about how they wanted the rest of the session to go, with “mouths closed and minds open.”

Its not easy to have a large group of teenage boys walk silently with their friends, but Carson encouraged them to embrace the experience and lean into the silence. As they walked up the hill, it wasn’t completely without some goofing off, but it did allow everyone time to reflect, during what is otherwise a busy and fast-paced session. Once at the top, they all had an opportunity to share what was on their minds, and what they wanted to get out of the summer. This age group at camp is encouraged to begin thinking about their goals and expectations for their future selves. When they reach their final two years as campers in FLINT and STEEL, they’re ready for more leadership and growth opportunities.

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Some Men of STEEL stand at the front during the Robinia Campfire

Later that same night on Tuesday, FLINT was invited to take on this greater responsibility during their induction ceremony. At the lights out bell, the FLINT campers were led down to Bain Bridge by their counselors, and met by Yates before crossing into the campfire area. He asked them a series of questions before they proceeded in silence, walking past the candlelit faces of their STEEL and DASH peers. The induction ceremony itself is kept secret until boys reach FLINT age, but a part of it is pledging to do their best and live by the Falling Creek Code. “We believe you embody the FCC Code and Honor Creed, and that you have what it takes,” they were told. The STEEL and DASH members, Directors, and their cabin counselors were in attendance to support the FLINT campers, explain the benefits of the program and encourage them that they have the ability to be great leaders in the camp community.

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Older campers work together during some "team-building games"

But why should teenage boys keep coming back to camp? We asked a handful of Men of STEEL what keeps them returning. “There’s just something about people being able to go to you and know you can help them,” Parker said about the rewarding aspects of the STEEL Program so far. He was helping at the F.A.R.M., weeding some garden beds so the watermelon could grow better. “You gain a lot of respect, but there are safety nets. You’re there to help, but also have fun,” he said. “I’ve had so much fun with my cabin. I don’t get the opportunity to do a lot of this stuff at home in Georgia.”

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Walker, one of our FLINT campers, often spends time working on his horseback riding skills

The STEEL group this summer is one of our biggest ever, with many boys back for their 8th, 9th, or 10th summers. Many of these young men grew up together, and are now able to give back to the younger generations at camp. However, not all of our oldest campers have been here the longest. Mike, another Man of STEEL, is only back for his 3rd summer this year. He found out about Falling Creek during our first Family Camps offered, and returned last year for his first year as a camper in FLINT. He still remembers his FLINT induction ceremony, which he said made him feel like he was part of the community. He came back for the opportunity to learn what being a counselor is like. “STEEL is definitely worth it,” he said. He thinks that other older campers like him should come to Falling Creek because they’re able to get more out of the progressions, and the activities scale with greater ability. This summer he’s helping in the Barn, and loves being able to ride his favorite horse, Joker.

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Rhodes shares his kayak knowledge with Jackson, both FLINT campers, as they work on rolls in the lower lake.

Spencer is back for his 8th year this summer, and was helping out at Ultimate Frisbee. “I do different activities each year,” he said, which is how he keeps things interesting and challenging year after year. This summer he said he’s trying out rock climbing more. “It’s been a good balance of responsibility and fun,” he said. Sam was also at Ultimate and joked that he only came back to be awarded with his 10 year knife. “But actually, I really like the group of guys, that was probably the biggest reason.”

Whether the reason for returning is to gain more responsibility, improve skills, keep up with close friendships, grow as a leader, have fun, learn how to be a counselor, or help the next generation of campers, camp can continue to help reach the many goals that teenage boys have as they age!

As you will probably be receiving your first letters home from your sons (unless they’ve been too busy to write!), we also wanted to make a note about homesickness:

While we know that many letters will contain fun stories about new activities or friends, we also know that many will share feelings of missing home or feeling upset. We wanted to make a note of encouraging you as parents in case a few have received homesick “snail mail” letters, reflecting boys’ feelings during the first few days of settling in at camp. Now that the boys have been here for a couple of days and camp is still new to them, this can be a time when homesickness could begin to show in some of them. Homesickness is completely normal and we’re prepared to work with each boy, as no situation is the same.

Our counselors are great at working through homesickness with campers, and we wrote a blog about this last year which you can read here

If you do get a homesick letter in the mail over these next few days, don’t panic. These feelings are common for all campers at some point throughout the session. The challenging times for them can be when things are moving at a slower pace, such as during rest hour or at night. This is also usually when they have the most time to write home!

Please be assured that if your son shows any continuing signs of homesickness, we will be in touch with you. A good rule of thumb typically is that no news from us is good news, and the homesickness usually passes quickly. The boys are learning to be independent and resilient, and you are giving them a great opportunity to do that by allowing them to be at camp!