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First Time Camper Continues a Family Legacy

Skylar and her group, summer 2023
Skylar and her group, summer 2023
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Skylar Schaffner is 8 years old and in third grade. She agreed to meet with me to share her experience going to YMCA Camp Warren for the first time in summer 2023.

When I arrived at Skylar’s house, one of the first things she showed me was her special camp bulletin board. She got the board specifically to display the letters and mementos from her week at camp. Letters hang from the board, from friends, parents, her sister, grandparents — and one from her uncle TJ, a Warren alum who stayed in the same cabin as Skylar’s: Cub 2. She also had a cabin photo and her Polar Bear Plunge certificate.

Camp ended months ago, and yet these items still occupy a place of honor in her room, and Skylar was eager to share them with me.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, but knowing as I do that Skylar is the third generation of her family to go to Warren, it’s still striking. And the letters to and from camp vividly show how the Warren experience runs like a connective thread from Skylar through her mom, Kate, to uncle TJ Moss, and Grandpa Tom Moss.

Kate, a Warren camper from 1986-88, told me that “even months later, Skylar’s still talking about camp almost every day.”

While her first week at Camp Warren was a unique and special memory for Skylar, that first-time experience is relatable to anyone who has been to camp. We have those memories of nerves, excitement, new experiences, learning about yourself and coming home stronger and more confident. How many former campers can nod their heads and say, “yep, same” at that description?

It’s certainly true in Skylar’s family.

Tom Moss — her grandpa — can relate. Tom’s first year as a Warren camper was in 1961 when he was 10 years old. He loved it and continued as a camper for 6 summers, and was a Warren counselor from 1968-74. Later, he served on the board of directors, and became a camp parent when he sent his daughter Kate and son TJ to camp in the 1980s and 90s.

Tom’s memories of being a camper are 60 years before Skylar was at camp and yet are so similar. He remembers being nervous getting on the bus and leaving his family, but he was excited to meet his cabin mates. He loved sailing and horseback riding. He came home from camp each summer with new skills, higher self-confidence, and new friends.

Skylar said many of the same things about her first week at camp. “I was nervous to leave my family for a week, but excited for the activities. I was super excited to meet my cabin mates and counselors.” She was impressed by how big the dining hall was, and enjoyed the energy and commotion at meals, as well as the family-style dining experience. She liked shooting archery and swimming and giggling with her cabin mates during rest time.

Tom was thrilled Skylar went to camp and when she returned, he was intentional about listening to her tell these stories about camp without jumping in with his memories. He wanted to hear her stories as though he hadn’t already been there and experienced the same things.

“I don’t think I did that very well when my kids were campers, but I’m figuring it out with Skylar and delighting in seeing my camp with fresh eyes through her descriptions. And I’m happy to have the shared experience of camp with her.”

Skylar talked a lot about how cool, nice, funny, and fun her counselors were. It reminded Tom of an experience he had when he was a camper. He was learning bare-back riding when suddenly, his horse took off running.

Instinctively, he threw his arms around the horse’s neck and hung on. The instructor had to chase after him and stop the horse, and all of his friends were laughing at how silly he’d looked. His counselor said, “That was fantastic! Did you see him hold on?! Terrific horsemanship!” The counselor turned an embarrassing experience into a moment of pride and a wonderful memory.

A few years ago, Tom went to a new church and when he walked in, there was Ted Nelson, the counselor who saved him on that horse. Tom reminded him of the story and Ted had no recollection. It struck Tom how powerful a counselor’s impact can be, often without even realizing it.

It’s been 62 years since Tom’s first week at camp, but he still keeps in touch and sees Camp Warren friends regularly. It hasn’t even been a year since camp for Skylar, but she still keeps in touch with several of her cabin mates as well.

One of the things Tom loves about Camp Warren is that “it’s a place you can build summer to summer, and also generationally. The impact camp has had on me and my family over the years is so powerful.”

Kate agrees.

“I was so excited for her to go. I knew she was going to have fun. But when I signed her up, I didn’t even think about it being the beginning of a very long camp journey, like, every summer from now until forever. We’re in this.”

As for Skylar, she’s counting down the days until she returns to Camp Warren next summer.

She’s excited for the all-camp games, doing pottery in arts and crafts, seeing friends she made last year and making new friends. She will be returning for a 2-week session because one week was “just not enough!”

I’ve never heard something truer than that.