In Turbulent Times, Shelter From the Storm

By JR Verkamp

In 1925, with the American camping movement in full swing, a group of boys was put on a train and sent north to spend eight weeks away from home and learn valuable lessons for growing into strong men.

Ninety-five years later, most of our campers arrive by car, bus or plane, but our program has changed little, and the elements that promote growth in a boy have not changed at all: hard work, camaraderie, wilderness adventure, success and failure. But the world has changed, and Kooch-i-ching now offers something more critical than ever: a break.

Each morning, as I slice peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in half, divvy up portions of fruit and fill water bottles with ice, I keep the TV remote close by. (Perhaps I should turn the TV off, but my wife and I enjoy watching the morning news.)

All too often, what comes across the screen—whether on the TV, computer or cell phone, in the news or on Facebook’s News Feed—is content that we don’t want our children exposed to: violence, crime, inappropriate language, political turmoil.

My wife and I feel it is important to share many realities of the world with our daughters, but we also do our best to provide shade from the “rough stuff” in the hope of protecting their innocence, something that seems to be waning faster and faster in children these days.

Finding this balance is far easier said than done. Screens have come to dominate our lives at home and at school; screens, in part, dictate the lessons learned by children.

I don’t want Kooch-i-ching to be seen as a hiding place, but it certainly offers shelter from the storm.

At home, our lives are governed by school, sports and social media, interrupted by constant dings and notifications. Camp is an opportunity to catch our breath and relearn how to interact with one another. Absent screens and social media, conversation becomes natural, leading to mutual understanding and, ultimately, empathy.

Just as in 1925, we are striving to facilitate well-balanced manhood. We get dirty, play tackle games and use knives. At the same time, we use words of love and kindness, put others first, and promote community service.

On Deer Island, you will hear a staff man say, “Leave it better than you found it.” On a canoe trip, you will hear him say “Leave some firewood for the next group.”

By encouraging a combination of toughness and kindness, I like to think that we are shaping solid men who will not only stand tall, but stand for what’s right.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of the Kooch-i-ching Tumpline.

KoochBen Woods