Camp Traditions: Pyoca Week One

Each week this summer has shown a different side of Pyoca programs. This week, during Pyoca Week One programs, guest writer Kim Van Wyk shares how camp has shaped her life. Kim has been coming to Pyoca her entire life and doesn’t miss any chance to visit camp.  Here is her story…

Written by Pyoca alum and volunteer, Kim Van Wyk:

I can hear the musical works of The Proclaimers, They Might Be Giants, and

Toto. My coffee mug has Coca-Cola in it. And I have a bug bite on my ankle that has

itched for 3 days. It’s Friday morning and the last day of camp. I’m exhausted. My throat

is sore. I have a sunglass tan. I would take this five times over because above all, I’m so

sad to be leaving my favorite place in the world.

My passion for working with kids and love of camp is somewhat cyclical. My love

of being around kids compelled me to be a counselor 11 summers ago, and being a

counselor for 11 years has driven my love of being around kids. It’s a very symbiotic


The fifth graders I teach just had their farewell ceremony, as the end of school is

near. In preparation for this ceremony, my coworker and I took pictures of each student

with a sign saying, “Future ___.” They wrote what they want to be when they grow up. If

Mrs. Mintz had done that to me when I was in 5th grade, I would’ve have said I was

going to be an OB-GYN. Spoiler Alert: I did not become an OB-GYN. My next plan was

to be a pediatric nurse. Spoiler Alert: I did not become a nurse.

I. Love. Camp. I would give many, many things to be there. As a camper and

counselor, family vacations were cut short. I left my sister’s bachelorette party early,

personal relationships were tested, and I’ve literally missed out on thousands of dollars

in summer jobs and internships.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My oldest sister double majored in Theatre and Theatre Arts Administration and

my middle sister graduated with an English degree and minored in Art and Arts

Administration. I became a teacher. None of us will own yachts and take multi-week

vacations every summer. Our passions were always put before the desire to make

loads of money. That said, if you want to hit me up on Venmo with some donations to

my savings account, I won’t stop you.

Valuing passions over profit is a reason I can be found at my summer camp

every year instead of working a second job. It doesn’t pay me in money, but it pays in

memories, friendships, and rejuvenation- both physically, spiritually, and mentally.

I am my happiest at camp. I feel most in touch with who I am and who I want to

be when I am at camp. It is exhausting and invigorating at the same time. Everything

good in life can be found at camp.

As a camper (2000-2006), I enjoyed the lake, campfire, and Ms. Peggy’s

cinnamon rolls. My counselors were my role models, and the images I have of them are

still deeply embedded into my image of Amazing Woman and Counselor.

As a counselor (first volunteer, then Pyoca staff member, and now back to

volunteer), you carry the necessities: bug spray, 1st aid kit, song book, water bottle,

pens, friendship bracelet string, and much more. Your Chacos (sandals) are prepared for

creek stomping and your tye-dye skills are honed and ready. You also track who is sitting

with whom during meals to make sure no one is left out and check rooms to make sure

kids are sleeping so they have energy for the next day. You are careful with your words,

making sure you are trusted and welcoming to all campers. You unclog toilets and pick

up lost and found towels every week. You try (and for me, fail) at starting campfires.

And you also just listen. You listen for small openings into campers’ lives.

During my two Pyoca staff summers, I watched kids laugh and cry, sing and

pray. I watched relationships bud and flourish amongst their peers as well as with their


But most importantly, I learned what it meant to love. The Greek word Philia is the

love I learned at camp. It’s a deep friendship love. It’s the loyalty to friends, the

sacrifices you make, and the sharing of emotions with them. Camp is where I found

that. I found it as a camper, and even more strongly as a counselor.

In terms of friendships with other counselors, you need to know one thing. One day

at camp is like a week in the real world. You spend nearly every moment of your

summer, good or bad, with the same people. You can’t help but recognize the goodness

and beauty within each of your new-found friends, many of whom feel like family. You

create spontaneous memories that bond you for life, no matter how often you talk or

what geographic obstacles stand in your way.

Looking back, there’s many procedures, activities, and lessons from camp that prepared

me for teaching (Oh, yeah; I’m a teacher!), but there’s one statement that encompasses

them all. When a child comes to camp, those parents are trusting you, a 19-year old,

with their whole heart. They are trusting you to care and love their reason in life. And

that responsibility cannot be taken lightly. The statement is simple, but it drives

everything I’ve done as a counselor and teacher. Each interaction with a child is judged

on whether or not I am honoring that concept.


An Incomplete List of Ways Camp Prepared Me to Teach:

  • Pick up on small comments. They are a window into home life and what’s really on kid’s mind. When a camper changes a subject, or interjects with something you think is off topic, go with it. You don’t know to what it may lead.
  • Trust the child. In matters of emergency and safety, believe the child in front of you. They are coming to you for a reason.
  • Kids are exactly that. Kids. They will make mistakes. They will stay up late. They will try to get away without showering. Recognize that you were a child too, and let them have their chance. Just make sure it’s all done in a safe space, still with guidelines. Please make them shower.
  • Brain breaks help everyone. If a family group lesson feels dull, sing a song, play a game, make up a skit. Just do something.
  • Embrace the silliness. I am eccentric and wild and full of energy most of the time. Camp should be the one place that a camper can be themselves. Let the “nerdy” kids nerd out and join in with them. Let the drama kings and queens participate in campfire. Let the camper who sits back and takes it all in observe and ask for their advice on how to make whatever it is better. Try to meet kids where they already are.
  • When in doubt, play Poison Dart Frog. Finished High Ropes early? Finished your I-STEP test before the other classrooms? Poison Dart Frog.

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