Our kids are living under tremendous pressure. If the stress only came from what kind of bike to ride or whether or not to sleep in on Saturday, it wouldn't be so bad. But it's a little more complicated than that.
The constant burden of juggling family, friends and an education can be very overwhelming. Part of growing up is learning how to manage the various demands in our lives, but when is there time just to be young? Echo Ranch tends to become the place where a lot of kids find themselves with the freedom to let go.
As the bus rolls away from Auke Bay toward Echo Cove, the transformation begins. Home moves farther and farther into the distance. The messy room, chores, parents, siblings - all left behind. Whatever has taken place at home before this moment is put on hold. Life back in the real world will have to wait. Not all campers are excited to be leaving home, but most are anxious for a change of pace. The counselor in the cabin has a certain level of authority but isn't seen as mom and dad. Imagine being able to switch jobs for a week and your boss giving you orders to throw water balloons at your coworkers.
While the home can be left behind, friends are one component of life that can have a positive and negative effect at camp. It's good to have fun with people you're already friends with but there also needs to be room to make new friends. We encourage cabin group interaction with team building activities and games designed to include everyone. With a three-year age span among campers, this can be a challenge. There needs to be a level of equality and unity if fun is truly going to be had. Time away from friends not at camp may also give kids an opportunity to examine whether some of their friends are helping to make good decisions.
In the months leading up to summer, school has been a main priority in the kids' lives. Daily homework, papers to write, group projects, test scores, grades, social interactions, sports, clubs, and the list goes on. School is a full time job all by itself. And if any of our campers are anything like me, procrastination has made the school year particularly taxing. There is also the pressure of fitting in and living up to standards which can feel unattainable at times. The onset of summer is the promise of freedom. Remember how hard it was to sit through the last few days of school? The clock on the wall couldn't move slower. Wouldn't it be great if we all could take two and half months off for vacation?
The process of learning how to manage various demands is part of growing up. As the years go by, our youth are being asked to grow up at a faster, more intense rate. In our modern world there is very little room for error and kids feel that pressure. Any sign of weakness is looked down upon and rather than be vocal about it we are taught to bottle it up inside and cope with it on our own. I compare it to holding your breath and not really being able to fully exhale. Echo Ranch gives youth a chance to breathe a little and let off some steam. We can't make it through this world holding our breath. When campers hear this, they are given permission to let their guard down. I've seen kids arrive on Monday with the most somber look on their face and by Thursday, be smiling from ear to ear.
It has been said that laughter is the best medicine. That's probably true. Throw in an emphasis on loving God and loving your neighbor and I'd say you've got Echo Ranch. Our goal is to create a fun, safe, peaceful environment of camping excellence where people have the opportunity to meet God. When this happens in the lives of young people, they get a chance to let go of some of their baggage and be young again.
Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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