Mitchell Field is empty, but my heart is full.
Usually today’s the one day, Visiting Day, that Mitchell Field is full of cars. Not this year. But camp IS alive with the sounds of happy campers as we host families for the second weekend of Family Camp 2020. They are here to connect to their camping roots. PFC is part of the rhythm of their lives. And it’s their love of camp and the fun that they, and the staff that are here, bring to this place, that fills my heart with gratitude, joy and optimism.
Before we finish Family Camp in just 2 weeks, we’ll have had almost 100 PFC families here! And we know that there are many, many who couldn’t come in person this summer but feel the ties that bind them to this special place. And they’ll be back.
This year, parents aren’t breaking the tape and running into camp, but we’ve got plenty of parents and campers running around, playing tennis, shooting hoops, paddling canoes and having a great time. And it feels good. It feels right.
There may be a hole in the summer, but it’s not forever. We have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to. So I’ll take a break on this special day, walk across the field that was named after me, the year that I was born, and I’ll think about the many happy families who reunited here and, most of all, I’ll look forward to the many, many more to come.
You may have read the blog “The Opposite of Spoiled” by Ron Leiber that appeared in the NY Times in 2014, entitled “Finding an Overnight Camp that’s Truly Worth It.” If not, it’s worth the read!
Leiber raises five “essential” questions that parents should ask when choosing a summer camp that is truly worth it. Here are the questions from the article and our answers. We think that they truly set Pine Forest apart, above and beyond others. Read on!
1) “Where are other children going?”
As Leiber says, this is a trick question. There is a natural instinct to send your child to the same camp as his or her friends in the neighborhood. The answer should be that a worthwhile overnight camp has a diversity of geographic areas represented. Overnight camp friends should not be the same as friends at home. That’s the biggest difference from day camp. Every child has friends from home and school, but let camp introduce them to a whole new group of friends, some that span great distances, with different interests, styles and stories. Let your child reinvent him or herself! An investment in camp should broaden a child’s circle of friends.
Here’s an interesting statistic: At PFC we have campers from 114 towns, 15 states and 4 countries. There’s a whole world of new friends out there, and they might be living right in your cabin!
2) “What are the retention figures?”
This is one of our favorites. Once a child starts at camp there is a 90% return the next year. This continues until “graduating” as 11th graders. Our retention rates are trulyamazing. The author asks if we do follow up on those few who don’t return, and of course we do. Every camper is an integral part of our camp family. Honestly, the few children who depart before their final year do so for reasons unrelated to camp, a family trip is planned, a team requires practice at home, etc.
The blog also asks the retention rate of counselors and the percentage of counselors who are former campers. Here’s an answer that you might not expect: first as to counselor retention, our standards are high. Counselors are not automatically asked to return, in fact we are very selective about who meets our standards. Also, the truth is that not every former camper makes a great counselor. The transition is not easy. Not every young adult can make the change from being the one who is looked after to the person who does the looking after. New counselors bring new ideas, new energy and a gung-ho spirit, that not every former camper possesses. Our experience and firm belief is that the best counselor team is a mix, new and old. We want the most enthusiastic, positive role models for campers, whomever they are!
3) “What can they do here that they can’t do at home?”
Here’s the beginning of a truly endless list that starts with wake-up and goes till lights-out. Good morning, it’s group clean up, then off to rock-climbing, mountain biking, martial arts, sailing, canoeing the rapids of the Delaware. Travel with your camp basketball team to play another camp. Play Capture the Assagi, be on a dance team, join a rock band, hike the Appalachian Trail, go on an overnight in a yurt, cook wood-burning pizza, go to a Triple A small-town baseball game, be in a bunk skit, link arms with a whole camp and sing songs around a campfire, have a bunk outdoor picnic.
And by the way, we try not to do things that you do at home. So on trips we stay in college dorms-not hotels, we don’t normally go to amusement parks, bowling, movie theaters. It’s on purpose! You can do that at home with your parents!
4) “What makes your camp unique?”
To us, that really is the most important question. Our camp organization is 90 years old and has been in one family for 5 generations. There are thousands of camps in the USA, hundreds that are old but very few, if any, can say that. Our longevity and track record is truly unmatched. Our facilities are modern. The range of activity choices, amazing. Our camp is staff second to none, filled with coaches and teachers and camp folk. The ratios of staff to campers, almost 2:1. We have a rare range of campers from all over. But it’s our 5 generations and 90-year story of success that is truly extraordinary.
5) “Can you tell me about the ties that bind.”
Here the author was really asking about the soul of a camp. He mentions his daughter, at lineup, watching two staff members honored who fell in love and became engaged at camp. He’s speaking to a sense of self, a sense of identity that links a person to his or her camp for all of time. All you have to do is look around Pine Forest to see our ties that bind: from names on courts and fields to our Old Timers Tree and memory wall. If you’ve never done so, just take a minute to check out our online database of Old Timers Tree names or our PFC Couples Who Met at Camp. Both speak to the heart and soul of camp, and that heart and soul is you: each and every camper who spends one summer or ten in Greeley, PA.
The trouble with camp is that camp ends.
The buses pull out this morning. In an instant, camp is silent. But the air will be filled with happy memories. Pine Forest’s 89th summer has come to a close and it was one of the best ever.
Thank you campers and counselors, housekeeping and maintenance, nurses and doctors and office staff, one and all, for making it such a tremendous season.
And now it’s back to home and school. But everyone who shared this wonderful summer comes home a little different. A little better. Keep the spirit of PFC alive all year long. Stay in touch.
Pine Forest is more than a place in Greeley, PA. It’s a place in our hearts.
Like the song says, “All our bags are packed, we’re ready to go.”
Mountain Baggage, R&B, UPS, FedEx, parent pick-up.
Today we pack up, have our awards ceremonies, and tonight it’s the candlelight. It feels like we just arrived. But we’re coming home with so much more than we can pack in a bag; new friends, new adventures, new confidence. There isn’t a duffle bag or shipping company big enough to handle it.
Those are the things that we carry.
Mickey’s book club is growing! By popular demand, we’re beginning a second book this summer: Squirm by Carl Hiaasen! We have more campers than ever before joining the club and spreading the joy of summer reading. Campers are looking forward to reading about outdoor adventure and protecting the environment…two of Mickey’s favorite things!
Our upper camp campers returned home to Greeley, PA last night, all smiles. Our 11th graders arrived first, back from Boston, having visited Tufts, BU, and Northeastern (and their old stomping grounds from the 9th grade trip). The 7th graders were next to come home, sharing stories from the Adirondacks and how great their first overnight trip out of camp was! Not long after, at 10:15 PM on the dot, ALL of the other buses we were waiting for rolled in! We’re back to our regularly scheduled programing, but can’t get enough of the stories.
July 4th is one of the best days at camp, so we woke up to pure excitement today! Our 10s came through each bunk decked out in red, white and blue and they paraded around camp with whistles and bullhorns in their decorated golf carts!
We walked into the dining room to find the entire place decorated with red, white and blue balloons and streamers. For breakfast, we had french toast with strawberries (red), whipped cream (white), and blueberries (blue) and fresh Krispy Kreme doughnuts – a true PFC tradition!
We did lunch the only way we know how to on the 4th: a special meal complete with foot-long hot dogs!
This afternoon, we had an awesome carnival come to camp! It was complete with an inflatable obstacle course for the pool and massive inflatable waterslides!
The highlight of 4th of July at camp are the best fireworks display in Pike County over Mitchell Field. We always hear from alumni that July 4th reminds them of their cherished time in Greeley. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Happy birthday, America!