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Birmingham Magazine 2012/2013 Parent's Choice Awards: Best Overnight Camp. Click here to read!

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Our Heritage

 Interesting infomation for alumni, parents and campers. Discover Winnataska's 96 year history, and learn how to volunteer. Click here.


CAMP IS....Worth more than a thousand pictures!

This blog post was written by staff member Cole Milberger, who worked the ropes course last summer. He's from Hunstville and attends school in Auburn. Thanks, Cole, for sharing what CAMP IS to you!

“A picture is worth more than a thousand words,” is a very common saying. Why though? People say that because they believe the content of the photo, memories the photo holds, or the meaning behind the photo, is more descriptive then anyone could ever put into text. Camp is my place that is worth more than 1 THOUSAND pictures. That is why I want to share with you my attempt of putting my camp experiences into text, and tell you why camp is, well… WORTH MORE THAN A THOUSAND PICTURES.

Growing up, I was that kid that had my fingers in every different type of school activity and social group. I never made that group of friends that I would always follow and long to see. Camp was always there, and with camp came my “camp friends,” (the words my friends at college now hate to hear.) Since going to camp at age nine I have gained hundreds of friends:  Friends meaning people I will hug when I see them, not just gentle acquaintances with whom I would shake hands.

These people are my true-life friends I will see at my wedding, and will stand with me forever. This type of friendship can be cultivated at camp because camp is the place where you can be you. At first glance, I am an extremely collected and well thought-out person, but in reality, my camp friends know me as the weird, Velveeta (cheesy), outdoorsy fool that likes to take risks. Are you comfortable being yourself? If not, you should go to camp and see how freeing it feels to be in that atmosphere.     

To be truly accepted for who you are is a humbling experience, I can tell you that from first-hand. My camp friends are not just limited to the guys I worked on staff with this summer, or someone who was a camper with me. My camp friends are everyone who went or goes to camp, from the smallest Chico all the way to the oldest alum. Camp is the place where you will make the longest lasting and true friends you will ever have. These are the friends that will help you change a tire in the middle of a storm, or will beat you over back of the head and tell you that you are in the wrong.

Besides the sappy stories of camp friends, there is more to camp I have yet to explain. Winnatasksa is hands down the most beautiful place on this planet. From Kelly Creek (Yes, Kelly with no “S”) to the scorching hot High Ropes Course, all the way to Grace Lake, camp is gorgeous. I like to describe camp to my friends as “an extremely outdoors non-denominational Christian camp!” Then they always ask, “What do you mean by extremely?” What I mean is that camp is extremely different from normal life at home.  Think about it, who sleeps in a room with fifteen other friends with screened 5-foot windows? Or where you play in the mud, and then walk around covered in mud as a badge of honor? Or where you don’t mind  a 9-inch fan as a replacement to air conditioning? Personally one of my favorite times at camp is when it rains, and I get to hear the drops of rain hit the tin roof as I lay in my bed. At camp you learn to love nature, how to treat it, and survive in it without modern day conveniences, something everyone should experience. The beauty in the nature of camp is more than just what the eyes see, its what you experience as well.

Camp is more than just 1000 pictures, which equates to well over one million words. If I physically could, I would write over that amount several times, but I have college to get back to. Overall, camp is the most amazing place I’ve encountered on this planet. You will find me there every second I can, as a returning Blackfoot or as an alum helping staff move luggage to huts in the heat or rain. (Usually rain… just saying.) Go to Camp Winnataska, and you will understand why I love it so much, and what I mean when I say it’s worth more than a thousand pictures.



Three Cheers for Volunteers!

If you are the parent of a camper that is new (er) to Winnataska, you probably know that Winnataska is very proud of its history! As you read the historical plaque at the front gate, or browse through the website, some facts might catch your attention - Our 100th anniversary is quickly approaching, for example.

But here's one fact that I have only discovered myself in the past few years, even though I know a great deal about Winnataska. The more that I learn about Winnataska, the more that I have realized camp's success is based on this. The little-known fact is revealed here:  Volunteers keep Winnataska thriving!

Pictured above are the recipients of our first-annual awards ceremony at the celebration picnic held at camp in August.  I'd like to introduce them in this blog format, because honestly, they are usually working behind the scenes at camp and you might not have a chance to meet them otherwise.

Pictured left is Jim Thorington, who was recognized for his outstanding guidance or supervision during this particular year in overseeing activities, programs, and/or the mission of Camp Winnataska. This particular award was named the King Arthur Volunteer Leadership Award.  Parents of Chicos, we all have Jim to thank for installing the glorious new industrial fans in the ceiling of the huts on Chico Hill. This is just one example of the many things that Jim has being doing around camp!

Second from left is the Program Director Blake Huynh. Blake has served camp in many ways, but this was his first summer as Program Director. He brought so much energy and enthusiasm to the job that he received the Spirit of Winnataska award.

Pictured in the middle is life-long volunteer Bill Jordan, and far right is Forrest Brice.  David Etheredge is not pictured here, but wherever you find Bill and Forrest at camp, you will find David as well.  These three fearless former Blackfeet have tackled many projects over the years, but most recently they have left their mark at camp by redoing the Hillside speaker platform and working on the new Wayside cross.

Second from the right is Kenny Williamson Keith, who has supported Winnataska in numerous ways over the past few decades. Her love for horses has helped to make our horse program strong, and she donates her professional time to camp very generously. Bill, Forrest, David, and Kenny were all recipients of the The Great Chief Distinguished Service Award, which is presented annually to a volunteer or volunteers in recognition of outstanding contributions over a period of time to enrich the camp through working on facilities or property, or other specific projects. This award is given to individuals or teams who have been working in a volunteer capacity over many years in the service of the Winnataska.

These fine folks are part of the Winnataska family.  They are just a few shining examples of the literally hundreds of alumni who volunteer their time, talents, and good old-fashioned sweaty hard work! Recent summer camp closings in and around Alabama in the past few years remind me that summer camps are complicated ventures, not inexpensive to keep up, and must have a support net in today's economy. Fortunately those who love Winnataska are working hard to provide that support net for many future generations of campers.  Again, I say with great gusto and heartfelt thanks - Three cheers for volunteers!


The Heart of Winnataska

This blog post was written by Michelle White, a third-year staff member who will be working with Horses this summer. Thank you Michelle, for sharing about your love for camp!

Every first day of school, as far back as I can remember, a teacher has asked me to write about the highlights of summer. As a child, I wrote about Winnataska every time. I only came to camp one week per summer, but that week was always the crowning glory of those three months of freedom. A friend of mine will experience camp for the first time this summer. When Staff training was over, and we were driving out of the gates, he looked at me and said, “I don’t want to leave; I love this place.” He’d only been there for approximately fifty hours. Something about Winnataska snags your heart and makes you wish you never had to leave. What is this something that makes camp so special?

Aside from riding horses, perfecting your archery skills, climbing in the falls, and eating the glorious cooking of our beloved chef Ms. Edna, you spend your days at Winnataska making friends. Some of my very best friends are from camp; you build relationships that cannot be easily severed.  At camp I learned how to be a good friend. I also learned to be a leader at camp - how to step up and take initiative. I learned in order to lead you must serve. I faced my biggest fears at camp. I am not a huge fan of heights, so climbing the rock wall and going on the zip line were immense challenge for me. (I didn’t listen when they said to not look down.)

I learned how to be myself at camp. Like anyone, I have weird little quirks, and as a kid, camp was one of the places I felt safe to be my true self. Everyone cuts loose at camp and lets the masks of perfection fall off. and everyone is silly. I could write for hours about all of the things I learned a camp, but the most important thing I have taken away from Winnataska is how to love and how to be loved.

The freedom to give love and feel love at camp is the center of the spirit of Winnataska, the heart of Winnataska is Christ and His unyielding love.  I learned how to love from the Leaders and Staff that came before me. They lavished so much love, not only on me, but on every child at Winnataska, no matter how much we annoyed them. Campers and my friends taught me how to be loved. I have had campers walk up to me, and know little more than my name, and tell me that they loved me. It blows my mind - they don’t know anything about me how could they love me? Just as mind-blowing is the love my friends on staff who know everything about me, and will look me in the eye and tell me they love me, despite knowing everything they do about me.

I am also guilty of both of these things. I have told campers I loved them, when I only knew their name, and I tell my best friends I love them, even when I know everything about them. Neither is a lie. Just as Christ can look at us and see everything, including what we want to hide because we have deemed it unlovable, He says that He loves us.

Camp is where so many people say they feel closest to God- I know I do. It’s because of that love. Camp is the place where you are accepted and loved, no matter what baggage you come with. It’s the place where you find people to help you unload that baggage and draw close to the Savior who takes it all from you.


Planning for the Perfect Camp Experience

Very few things at camp actually go as planned. Oh, not that we don’t have a plan! I am the best of plan-makers, believe me! I am an expert at lists, charts, tables, procedures, etc. (Just ask the staff that work with me.) But throw together 200 campers, 60 teenage counselors, 50% chance of scattered afternoon thundershowers, a rash of homesickness in the youngest hut, late delivery on the canteen truck, and you’ve got a recipe for plans that do not go according to plan! Working as a teacher, youth director, and now camp director has taught me that planning is crucial to success, but that flexibility and learning to solve problems that arise are just as critical.

Take, for example, Registration during the summer of 2013.  Ask any parent who brought a camper to Winnataska and they’ll tell you it rained during Registration. Because it rained. Not just drizzle, or sprinkle, or threaten to rain, it rained on Sunday afternoons like I have never seen rain at camp before. The weather pushed our flexibility to the limit, as we had to adapt and change our original plans and work in sopping wet conditions. 

Even though the stress of such situations is intense at the moment, I wouldn’t go back and change anything about the rainy Sundays, even if I could. For one thing, being out at camp always reminds me that God is in control. And secondly, I can’t teach flexibility to my camp staff without encountering such unplanned obstacles!

An article on the ACA wesite called "Because I Worked at Camp" affirms my observations: "Staff may find themselves in situations in which they need to adapt an activity to fit the needs of their group, lead a program that does not have all the necessary supplies available, or help campers negotiate their differences in order to accomplish a task as a group. Not only do camp directors see problem solving in action among their staff, researchers have also found that staff experience an increase in their ability to solve problems as a result of working at camp." 

Not only are camp staff going to grow in problem solving skills, but here’s the real gold nugget…. so are campers!  No matter how well-packed they are, at some point during the week, your camper will not be able to find what they need. No matter how many new friends they make, at some point, every camper will be annoyed with another camper in their hut. No matter how many choices offered in the dining hall, at some point, our campers will not like what is being served at that meal.  No matter how engaging and entertaining camp staff is, at some point, a camper would prefer to be at crafts, or the pool, or whatever their favorite activity is. 

These all seem so…negative. We want camp to be a positive place, right? Don’t we want to get rid of these “negatives?”

No, we don’t.

These are not negatives. They are unplanned obstacles, which can be stressful at the time, but they provide lessons for your camper to learn adaptability.  Can’t find your flashlight? Get up the courage to ask the person who sleeps next to you to borrow theirs. Not getting along with a hut mate?  Talk to your counselor about it before dinner to help you solve this problem. Don’t like chicken pot pie? Eat a salad; your mom would be proud!

One of our first instincts as parents is to try to rush in and solve such problems for our kids. (Me included, here, folks.)  For example, when I am at home, and my two boys are squabbling, the noise is worse to me than 10,000 nails on a chalkboard. So, I step in and provide solutions.

At camp, children must learn to be the problem solver and devise their own solutions. We, as parents, are not there to swoop in. Children mature through the experience of solving a problem themselves. We do work very hard to provide a supportive environment for campers, where the problems are such that a camper can successfully learn to solve them, and feels comfortable asking for help. (For example, there are a lot of caring counselors who will loan a camper a flashlight.) But the reality is, in “real life” and at camp, that something is always going to pop up, some unplanned obstacle is going to frustrate us, make us change our plans, get in the way, or mess up how we thought is was supposed to be. And that’s more than ok. The Perfect Camp Experience is not perfect, after all.

Dr. Tina Payne Bryson is a pediatric and adolescent psychotherapist, and according to her research, these types of situations that kids encounter at camp will even help to develop child's brain, specifically the middle prefrontal cortex: "So, when kids have camp experiences that require them to overcome fear, be flexible, handle their emotions (especially away from their parents), be persistent to master something, build relationships, and so on, it builds this important part of the brain."

At the end of the summer season, I flew to Michigan to attend a cousin’s wedding.  I came straight from camp, and was lacking some hair supplies (the whole 2 oz rule when flying), so I stopped in the drug store to pick up a few things.  My family needed to get ready for the ceremony. They took the rental car back to the hotel and the plan was for me to walk the half-mile back. A great plan! While I was in the store, guess what it started to do? Yep, you saw that one coming...Rain. Sunday-afternoon-registration-at-camp kind of downpour. I whipped off my high-heeled sandals, sprinted back to the hotel, laughing along the way.  (While I enjoy story-telling, I am not lying in this tale, even though the only witnesses remain in Michigan.)

As I was making my way through the torrents, I came to a realization - I know why I can laugh in the rain! Camp is why I can laugh in the rain! Camp has taught me that I can be happy anywhere, even in the most stressful situations. I am flexible! Adaptable! It was definitely a God moment. I was deeply grateful for all the life lessons that God had taught me through the people and (soggy) situations at camp.

Thank you, dear moms and dads, campers, and camp friends, for reading this far. I’d actually love to revise and add to this blog entry with some examples of how camp has helped you to become more flexible, adaptable, and a better problem solver. Email me here and I’d be thrilled to share your insights and stories.


Summer Camp: Not Just for Campers!

Once the new year begins, we really kick it into high gear at Winnataska.  Looking at all the returning camper's names who have recently registered, and with sessions filling up, reality comes at me full speed: The campers are coming! The campers are coming!

My job is to prepare camp for the campers, but my job is also to prepare parents for camp.  This week away from home can can cause a lot of anxiety....not just among the 8-year olds, but also among the 38-year olds. 

It's the gut-wrenching, can't-sleep-at-night, "What-if?" kind of worrying. The kind that only comes with being a parent and realizing that your "babies" are growing up and becoming independent.

We are so used to instant gratification in this technologically advanced age, that the 6 days without contact with our child is mind-boggling.  Want to know who played the butcher on The Brady Bunch? Just google it. What's the fat content of a Cookies and Cream milkshake at Chic-fil-a?  The answer is waiting for me in my cell phone in 3.8 seconds. But while our kids are at camp, the only communication is a letter from our kid on Tuesday: "Dear Mom and Dad, I have a rash. Send cream." And we're supposed to just sit there and do nothing?

The answer is yes.  Pray for your child, pray for their counselors, pray for the camp staff. Write them a letter with some corny knock-knock jokes. Keep busy. Do a house or craft project that would never get done while your child was at home. Go out to a nice dinner with your spouse or friends. Organize their closet. But try not to let your worry overshadow your pride in your child for trying new things and growing up.

During our staff training, everyone at camp learns the meaning of "in loco parentis." It's the level of care that we expect our counselors and staff to provide for our campers and it means "in the place of a prudent parent."  While we have a tremendous amount of fun at camp, we do take this responsibility very seriously.  I might not get to know all of their names during the week, but you can rest assured that if they have a health problem or they are unhappy, I will treat them with the same love and compassion that I would treat my own children, and I will work tirelessly to make sure that everyone at camp does the same.

I am right there with you when I send my kids away for a school field trip or church retreat. Who can possibly take as good care of my kids when they are away from me? The answer is that no one can replace you. But the self-help and social skills that campers get from a week at camp can't be learned unless the camper is in a new situation...away from their parents. We all want the best for our kids, and the bittersweet reality is that there are many lessons that they have to learn for themselves.

The rash cream? We have plenty at camp; don't worry! ;)