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Life skills learned at summer camp with kids from different cultures


Growing up in the Kenwood and Evergreen camp community was extremely powerful for me. Over each 7 week period I learned life skills that are skill an important part of my life to this day. It’s one of the reasons that more than 30 years after starting as a camper it is still the most important institution in my life. One aspect that meant the most to me was not just how many deep, enriching friendships I was able to make, but how many of these people I came to know and love weren’t exactly like me. My best friend was a dedicated athlete, even though I really had no love for team sports. And while I was happy to play guitar and throw on the potter’s wheel all day (two things he had no interest in) we realized in a matter of days into his first summer that our friendship was destined to stand the test of time (and it really has. He was a groomsmen in my wedding and I signed the ketubah at his).

During our years as campers we had all sorts of interesting and different people in our age group. There were guys from New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, and even Colorado. There were also a couple of kids whose racial and ethnic backgrounds were totally different from my suburban Jewish upbringing. One our friends was born in Cambodia, and another other in Brooklyn, though he had also lived in China for much of his childhood. There were also two cousins from Italy, and two African American campers from inner cities. It was a really great, diverse group of friends and we all grew to love each other. 

So many years later, and our brother-sister overnight campis in some ways even more varied in its population. Last summer we had campers from 15 states, and 3 countries. This summer it looks like there will be kids from 17 states, along with Spain, Italy, Mexico, Scotland, and China. We also have campers whose parents hail from all over the globe, including Guatemala, England, Korea, Israel and more!

Through the help our friends at the charity Mickey’s Kids we are also blessed to have campers from economically disadvantaged communities. Just like every other camper, they enrich our community with different life experiences, stories, music and more. Part of this incredible overnight camp experience is getting to know and care about people from so many different groups and cultures, and helps us meet that important goal. It’s why we hope that you will encourage your child to participate in this summer’s swim-a-thon to raise money for Mickey’s Kids.

Two weeks ago my family had the pleasure of attending the bar mitzvah of a longtime K&E family from Westfield, NJ. We danced and celebrated all night long…and just 7 days later were at the quinceanera of one of our Evergreen girls. If you are not familiar with this tradition, it is a coming-of-age ceremony for a 15 year old girl in the Latin community. It’s a beautiful celebration of faith, family, and friends in ways that are very similar to a bat mitzvah (only with more choreographed dances). In two more weeks many on the K&E leadership team will be celebrating the wedding of our friends Xin and Wanning, both originally from China and now fixtures in our extended camp family.

We teach so many important life skills at our summer camp in NH, including independence, leadership, critical thinking and resilience. Simply by asking our campers and counselors from around the world, and from different cultures, to live and work together, we also teach them two other vital skills for life: how to effectively communicate with different people, and how to live together and find compromise in a group setting. What life skills could be more important to practice and master at such a young age? These are not just the skills that will someday help someone be a good college roommate or spouse, but will help our campers grow to successfully explore the many corners of the world, and collaborate in this evermore international community.

Jason Sebell