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.