By: Liz Allard
"We can do anything with a couple of sticks and a bucket of mud!" If you've ever sat in on a staff meeting with Jake at the helm, you've likely heard this phrase echo off the paper thin walls of Millar. I think about this phrase often and can't help but smile. Camp Henry is like an amoeba. It engulfs you with its inclusivity and makes you feel all of the feels-fun, happiness, empowered, confident, loved-the list of feels could easily take up this entire blog post. These feels, however, aren't derived from the buildings, the high ropes elements, the banana boat, four square balls, or any other resource we think is necessary to keeping the good times rollin'. Although all of these items are excellent, the Magic of Camp shines through when the resources are absent and we, as campers and staff, are left to our own devices.
Plain and simple, Camp taught me the definitions of resourcefulness and resiliency. I remember once, as a camper, walking into Arts and Crafts during week seven of Camp. The room looked post-apocalyptic. The cupboards were bare, except for a couple of small bottles of primary-colored paint that stood like the last few campers during a game of British Bulldog. Random cuts of yarn and string were strewn about and old wax was hardened in beef stew tins on hot plates from weeks of candle making. This could have been a moment where my counselor threw her hands up and directed us outside onto the A-field for chill time, but instead, she instructed us to go outside and find a rock. Meanwhile, she began gathering the remaining paint bottles, sponges, and any decent brushes and plopped them onto the center of the table.
When we returned from collecting our rocks, she exclaimed with that 'fake-it-'til-you-make-it' excitement, that we were going to paint our rocks! This had the potential to be a totally lame activity, but in true Camp fashion, us campers humored our counselor and got way too into painting our rocks. We even did a gallery walk of our finished artwork at the end of that afternoon activity! My painted ladybug rock is still used by my Dad as a paperweight in his office.
Flash forward to when I was a counselor during the summer of 2009. It was Pirate Day at Camp. These themed days started popping up at Camp once a summer as soon as a certain counselor (*cough* Kerry Drake) discovered, in our staff manual, that Camp used to host Paul Bunyan Day, and insisted we bring it back. When campers arrive at Camp, they come with whatever they have, unlike many of us counselors who come equipped with an entire closet filled with costumes that can morph into whatever theme we desire.
On Pirate Day, which ended up being another Olympic Day with pirate tendencies, it only seemed fitting that my entire cabin look pirate-appropriate. I began pulling out any pirate-ish clothing from my costume closet for my cabin of youngsters and drawing on face paint like our esteemed pirate colleague, Captain Jack Sparrow. Considering my costume closet was ill-equipped to dress 12 pirates in one day, I watched as campers pulled out items - scarves, striped shirts, bandanas - from their own bags and shared those items amongst themselves. We looked like a bunch of salty dogs by the end of rest period that day, and only spoke in pirate talk from then on. Being the youngest of the Girls' Village cabins, we weren't expecting to be the champions of all things pirate that day, but we certainly had the most fun. As my cabin and I got ready that day, I was reminded that at Camp, you don't have to have everything to be everything.
When I think back on my time at Camp Henry, most of my favorite memories revolve around instances where a camper or staff channeled this attitude of resourcefulness to create something unexpectedly awesome. Take morning activities during themed weeks at Camp, like Christmas in July. As you well know, there's no snow during the month of July in Michigan, but counselors, myself included, always insist on sledding as a morning activity, whether you're slip n' sledding on a soapy plastic tarp on the hill near the old corral or sledding on plastic mattresses down the stairs of Millar. Creating activities like these prioritizes imagination backed by innovation.
Like slip n' sledding, I definitely can't forget about the time that Jake wanted to make a go of a Camp Henry Rodeo as an evening activity. Us counselors were tasked with coordinating different events from line dancing to barrel racing to lasso practice. At the end of this newfound evening activity, Jake lined up the entire camp on the B-field to make the announce – uh, rather, share that the final event would be cattle roping! We all stopped and looked around at each other. To the best of our knowledge, camp didn't have any cattle. Jake then explained that two staff – Derek Whaley and Todd Boynton – would play the role of the cattle. Derek and Todd would have a ten second head start before the ENTIRE camp was to chase them down and lasso all four limbs together. I stood back and watched as Derek and Todd tore off across the B-field with hundreds of campers in tow. In an instance, dozens upon dozens of kids engulfed them as they disappeared amongst the pile of campers. When the campers cleared away, there laid Todd and Derek, disheveled and smiling.
At Camp, there's never an "I'm bored" moment because we are always thinking about those couple of sticks and that bucket of mud. In today's world, where cheap distractions and entertainment rest at the tip of my index finger, I'm reminded of the value of my experiences at Camp. Camp challenged me to reach beyond perceived limitations and to fill every moment with intention, regardless of where I was or the resources I had on hand. Camp Henry is about taking what might be considered mundane and building extraordinary experiences with the perfect storm of resourcefulness, imagination, intention, and can-do attitude.
About the Author: Liz Allard
I first attended Camp Henry mini-week when I was eight years old. I remember showing up with the pack my mom used when she worked on a fire crew for the U.S. Forest Service. The pack stood a third of my height above my head and was packed to the brim. I wore my signature jean short overalls all three days and had Emily Clark as my first counselor in the old cinderblock Commanche Cabin. It rained all three days and one of my first memories from those three days at Camp was Jake on stage in Idema Theater screaming the words to “Singing In the Rain,” while the rest of us sopping wet campers screamed along with him. When my parents arrived back at camp to pick me up after those three days, I begged them to send me back to camp the following summer.
I spent eight years as a camper followed by six years on staff, during which, I met my best friend and husband, Derek. We married in May of 2015, surrounded by our Camp Henry family. I currently live in Alaska, which I first visited when I was 16 years old while on the Teen Challenge trip with Camp Henry. I am excited to help with the same trip this upcoming summer when the new crew of Camp Henry teens visit the 49th state in July.
By Wendy Jacobs
Wendy is the mother of Jeff Jacobs, aka Jake, the Executive Director of Camp Henry
Jeff, or Jake as he is known at Camp Henry, began attending Camp Henry as a 9 year old soon after we moved to Michigan from Ohio. I thought it would be a good place to meet some new friends...little did I know it was the beginning of a long term relationship with such a special camp. It is a huge part of his life as he has gone from camper to counselor, program director and then summer camp director to now he is the Executive Director! His love for Camp Henry shines through with his enthusiasm for making sure each camper has the best week of their lives at camp as well as his ideas for new programs (like spring break trips and off-site trips for teens), and new facilities. Yet he also retains the old traditions of camp.
Our car can practically drive to Newaygo and the shores of Lake Kimball all by itself due to the many trips we've made there. Each summer Jake would invite us to come and share the various events, from the Indian campfires, with the horses picking up each cabin of campers, to observing Olympics week, watching talent shows, attending chapel services, to having the experience of eating in the dinning hall, or for special cook-outs, on the deck. During the years that he and J.J. (his wife) traveled from California to run the summer camp, it was a bonus for his father and I to be able to spend time with our grandchildren!
I'll never forget my first experience at the Indian campfire when Jake came across the lake dressed as an Indian and paddling a canoe to begin the traditional campfire. It was all so impressive and you could hear a pin drop. The campers were so engrossed in the ceremony!
Camp holds such a special place in Jake's life that when his first son was born, he was named Levi HENRY Jacobs! And where do you think he was baptized?....at the Camp Henry chapel!
Now he has three sons and what a joy it is for him to have them there as campers! Also now many of his high school and college friends are sending their children to old Camp Henry, old Camp Henry.
I know I'm a very proud mother, but I think Camp Henry is so lucky to have such a dedicated person at the helm. Jake is so knowledgeable of the camp history while at the same time he has great vision for the future. Any parent sending their child to camp should know that he will be in good hands with such a caring and capable director along with such a competent staff.
Here's a poem that captures the impact Jake has on Camp Henry.
C amper,counselor,summer director, and executive director too
A well qualified man for the job to do.
M any friends made and a role model too -
P lus camper numbers growing - new cabins going up.
H elping each camper - being the best he can be,
E njoying a week at Camp Henry -
N ature, boats, games and songs
R elating to counselors all week long.
Y es, sad when the day comes to leave ---
But plans will be made to come back once more
To that special place Kimball -right on the shore!
Stephanie Rustem, a former camper and staff member at Camp Henry, took a moment to look back on all her years at Camp Henry and has a wonderful story to tell from her experiences!
From Caterpillar to Butterfly: How Camp Henry Changed My Life
It isn't every day you get the opportunity to share memories from one of your favorite places with the rest of the world, but I am one of the lucky few who has been given that chance.
During my last few summers working at Camp Henry, campers and staff were likely to find me chanting at the top of my lungs, eating out of my cabin's "gut bucket", pulling snacks out of my pocket, or even refraining from showering for an entire week in the name of "stink". I was, and continue to be, confident and comfortable in my own skin whether it's covered in paint or clad with a 1980s frock.
Many people today would probably be surprised that I was not always a lover of my own quirks nor did I always have the confidence to crawl on stage during the rules of flashlight tag. Those with whom I worked during my first summer as a counselor in 2007 probably remember me as a shy, quiet person who laughed often, but only spoke out of necessity. I was always cheerful, but found myself intimidated by the seemingly outlandish traditions and high level energy that the other staff members managed to bring from the first day of staff training.
I knew that camp was a judgment free zone since I had experienced it first-hand as a camper. However, I kept to myself for fear that my true quirkiness was beyond the tolerable level of "weirdness" that was camp. As a high school student, I had allowed myself to fade into the background and preferred being overlooked and invisible over taunted and teased. I had unknowingly built an armored wall around myself. Given how shy I used to be, to this day I could not tell you what possessed me to apply for a counselor position in March of 2007 as a 19-year-old kid without a single friend on staff. Perhaps I wanted the challenge of growing into myself while helping kids find their own path in life. In any case, I was terrified.
With each passing day as a staff member, however, I realized that camp really was a special place where judgment of individuals' unique personalities was embraced—a place where "flaws" were viewed as positive attributes and "normal" was absent from our vocabulary. Rather than feeling ostracized for things I viewed as "abnormal" about myself, they were embraced. I could feel my wall coming down stone by stone. I was no longer afraid of letting others really see me. I felt myself transforming from a caterpillar into a butterfly.
What I learned during that first summer on staff was that the location doesn't make a place special, it's the people. I am one of the lucky few that has had the opportunity to grow up at Camp Henry as both a camper and a staff member. I've learned to love myself and share my quirks with the world thanks to the amazing staff members and, most importantly, campers, I now consider my family.
We often talked about the "Magic of Camp" which made it different from the "real world". What I'm realizing now, however, is that the true magic lives in the hearts of the campers that attend and the staff that support them. It can be carried away from camp and shared with the "real world". The camp experience does not need to begin and end at 5575 Gordon Ave, but a small piece of it lives on wherever you might go. Even though I am now a Camp Henry camper and staff alumni, I know that camp lives on in my heart because of the people I had the chance to know.
While at camp, I learned to embrace the "powdered donut" and that no matter how ridiculous a nickname is, it is ALWAYS a term of endearment. So, yell at the top of your lungs, run as fast as you can, and roll in the mud. After all, life is to be lived out loud, not hiding behind a wall.
If you allow it to happen, camp will change your life forever. Embrace its people and traditions and you, too, can become your own sort of butterfly.
Stephanie "Rustamove, Rustemus Prime, Crusty, Aunt Jemima" Rrrrrustem
Stephanie Rustem is currently the Assistant Director for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs Youth Camp in Chelsea, Michigan. She received her Master of Science degree in Community Sustainability in May 2014 and hopes to pursue a career in environmental education and youth development at the end of the summer. Stephanie was a two-time Camp Henry Teen Challenge camper to South Manitou Island at the ages of 15 and 16. She stayed in Dome Village before it saw its demise from a tree. She returned to camp at the age of 19 and served as a counselor, nature director, and assistant director over the next 7 years.
By definition, a camp friend is simply someone that you meet at camp. It may be someone you met as a camper or someone you had the pleasure of working with on staff for a summer. Camp friends know you better than most. They have seen you act a fool at opening camp fire, they have been with you on a camp out when a massive storm blew at 3 am, they have cried with you at Friday chapel during Week 8, they have laughed with you during skit night, they have loaned you their grooviest polyester threads for disco banquet and they helped you wash peanut butter out of your hair after Dutch Auction. Hands down, these friends are, to quote my camp friend Kelly Hotaling, "the best in the west."
The summer between 4th and 5th grade my family relocated from the Detroit area to Grand Rapids. To make the big move seem less traumatic, my grandparents sent me to Camp Henry and lucky for me, my best friend Angela was able to come too. I remember it like it was yesterday; we were in Apache cabin and our counselor was Stephanie Litton. I recall having butterflies in my stomach as we waited to jump in the lake and take the swim test and how excited I was to see that our first meal was pizza and chocolate milk. During that week I met some new friends who went to the school I would be attending in the fall and on the first day of school I was so grateful to see a few familiar faces. When I got a little homesick for my old friends back in Detroit, I always knew I would see my best friend Angela for a week a camp every summer despite the fact that we now lived two hours away instead of around the corner. Having "camp friends" from my old home and now my new home made all the difference in helping me with this transition.
In the mid-90s when I was on staff, "camp friends" were your entire life for the summer. This was before cell phones, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, etc. Back then there was a one payphone in Millar that everyone used to contact those back in the "real world." I remember distinctly having discussions with my non-camp friends about my lack of communication May – August. If it was an emergency, family and friends knew to call Millar and keep their fingers crossed that someone would answer – and then be able to locate me. Saturday day offs were spent with camp friends. Rarely did we even consider heading back to Grand Rapids or our respective schools to visit our "other" friends. The main concern was who was driving to the laundry mat, what time the Taco Bell in Fremont opened, what we needed to pick up at Wal-Mart for the upcoming week and when Palmer Tie Dye Weekend would be. We traveled in packs, always together.
Eventually we all grew up. We graduated from college, started attending camp weddings and then camp baby showers. I am so grateful that my camp friends were present when I married by husband and loved when they loudly chanted for him to carry me around the gazebo at our reception. These camp friends are now not only special to me but also special to my daughters. My girls love looking at my photo albums and hearing stories about the fun, crazy and now probably unsafe things we used to do at camp. If I close my eyes I can still hear Chris McCleary and Cary Fletter singing "Forever and a Day", Katy Kozal's voice as she called "HORSES!!" at feeding time in the corral, Mark Penning giving the best weather report anyone has ever heard ("sunny skies and a high near 90!"), Jody Waclawski's giggle and Jake singing Big Yellow Taxi at a PJ Sing. No matter how much time goes by, when I see these camp friends it is like no time has gone by at all. We will always be united by that special bond of time spent together on the shores of old Lake Kimball.
Sarah (Carrington) Nelson began her camp journey during the summer of 1985. She has been a camper, Assistant Counselor, Counselor and Wrangler. Currently she is a camper parent, Camp Henry Board Member and works part time at MVP Sportsplex.