Everything In Life I Need To Know I Learned From Driving A Golf Cart At Camp

Greetings from camp! We’ve been having an absolute blast the last few days, soaking up lots of sunshine and splashing in the lake. A special thanks to our first week’s camp doctor, Sue Nankin, for a great week. This was Sue’s 5th year as camp doc, and we loved having her around. Sue and her husband, Kemi, have three daughters–all BT campers, of course. This week Dr. Paul Finer and his family are with us for their 10th summer! Paul’s wife, Teresa, was a 9-year Birch Trail camper and counselor so she certainly knows the ropes. Teresa’s cabin mates, Jan Moody and Amy Wurtsburger, are visiting as well. Jan and Amy are up for their 11th (7 years as a camper and 4 on staff) and 9th (6 years as a camper and 3 on staff) summers, respectively, of canoeing and general helping-out around camp (Jan’s our resident sign-painter!). It’s great to have so many generations of Birch Trail folks around to model for the current campers just how integral a role camp often plays in life, creating friendships that truly do span decades.

On the topic of modeling great qualities and leadership, I’m pleased to report the continued success of Tamarack Project, our community service program for the older girls. We started Tam Project in 2005 in order to help our older campers (BLT and TM cabins) learn and experience the joys of giving back to their community, and to see how much fun they can while accomplishing those goals. We created the program with a focus on a three-tiered system: in Tam Project, campers first learn about ways to better help their immediate community here at camp, then they explore ways they can serve their communities at home, and finally they practice ways to make the global community a stronger and happier one by being great global citizens.

We spend a few minutes before each Tam Project session discussing with the kids not only how they will be focusing on a particular subject, but also why. For each in-camp lesson plan, there is also a corresponding take-home plan that will be sent home with each camper so that they can continue the wonderful work they begin here at camp once they return home. Each session includes some education, creativity and definitely a lot of fun!

Tam Project is also time for the Tamarack campers to become closer as a village and show the younger campers what leadership at BT is all about. Many tams have been coming to camp together for six or seven years, and they value the time they get to spend together outside of their cabin. We know that the time they spend in Tam Project will be special because it’s just for Tams, but we hope that it will become more than just another camp memory. The skills they learn in Tam Project are specifically designed to transcend the camp community and extend out into life at home.

Many of our campers do community service work at home, and we love to incorporate our campers’ great ideas and experience into the program as we go. Some of the activities include a BT Beauty Campaign, writing letters to soldiers stationed abroad, a staff appreciation day, early childhood literacy program, making care kits for sick children, and an animal kindness lesson.

On Friday, the Tam Project girls participated in a safe driving lesson, Birch Trail-style. First, everyone talked about being a responsible, positive role model by obeying speed limits and being courteous to other drivers. They talk about teen car crashes and how to prevent them, and also the importance of wearing a seat belt. It’s no secret that cell phone use is risky for drivers and studies have shown that talking on a cell phone while driving can make a young driver’s reaction time as slow as that of a 70-year-old. For every six seconds of driving time, a driver sending or receiving a text message spends 4.6 of those seconds with their eyes off the road. This makes texting the most distracting of all cell phone-related tasks, and pretty scary to think about.

Those statistics can be pretty scary, but they are still just words on the page. We wanted to get our campers’ brains off the statistics and onto the road, so they could see for themselves just how dangerous distracted driving can be. Staff members then set up an obstacle course of orange cones on the airstrip, and had each camper drive a golf cart through the course (with a staff member sitting in the passenger seat for safety and to keep each camper focused on the task at hand). Then, they drove through that same course while sending a text message. After realizing just how distracting cell phones can be on the road, the campers sign a “No texting while driving pledge.” We’ve learned that camp is a really great place for kids to explore this issue because they are less attached to their various electronic devices here in the Northwoods, so the message (no pun intended) tends to sink in a little better.

As I think about all the fun times we’ve had over the last few days—council fires, cook-out dinners, sunny afternoon prime times, and the BT Triathlon, I think I am most proud of Tam Project’s amazing success thus far in the session. Of course I hope that each camper will come away from her time here with loyal friends, new confidence, and fun memories, but I also hope they leave camp feeling ready to take on the world and navigate all the many obstacles we encounter in life. There will always be distractions, roadblocks, and challenges or one kind or another but if on even one single occasion, a BT gal remembers how to put that cell phone away (both in the physical and metaphorical sense) and focus on the most important task at hand because of what she learned during her time here, I’ll know I’ve really done my job.

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