Life Lessons Learned at Southwoods by Erica

 For the past six years, I’ve attended a summer camp in the Adirondacks called Southwoods. Thinking about the experiences that have shaped me, I believe that my time in camp has taught me several important lessons about life. From getting along with different people, to experimenting with new things.

Over the years I’ve created friendships that will last a lifetime. Camp gave me the opportunity to spend time with friends that I’m the closest with, but rarely see because they live in different parts of the country, or even the world. A few of the kids came to camp from countries like China, Turkey, France, and England. Although, for some of the kids, there was a language barrier between us, we learned how to communicate and, over the course of the summer, I learned about many of their cultures and lifestyles. There was one girl in my camp named Jean who came from China, and barely spoke English, but after a few weeks, she started to speak and connect with the girls in her bunk. She told me that she’d never seen people with different colored skin than her, and that she went to a school where if a person attended who was not of her race, they would be treated differently than everyone else. She was surprised that everyone at camp was treated equally, and were so friendly. By speaking with Jean and spending time with her all summer, I learned more about different cultures and created a friendship that I didn’t imagine possible.

Going to camp opened me up to activities and possibilities that I never thought to explore before. I’d never acted in a play before I went to camp, and didn’t think I would enjoy it. My first year at Southwoods, my counselor suggested I try out for the camp production, Shrek. I was afraid of auditioning because I’d never performed in front of an audience, but I pushed myself to do it, and was shocked when I was given the lead role as “Fiona.” Dedicating myself, memorizing lines, and attending countless rehearsals all paid off when I saw the entire audience clapping and applauding for me.

In addition to friends and activities, camp also taught me life lessons that I will use in the real world. One day we went on a caving trip, and when I was in the enclosed space, in pure darkness and absolute silence, I learned how important it is to take risks. Sometimes you are challenged to step out of your comfort zone, whether you want to or not, and it’s always worth it. You get to try new things, and maybe you will actually enjoy them and continue to pursue them.

I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to attend summer camp because those experiences have impacted my life in so many ways. I built friendships I’ll know and love forever, experienced new possibilities, and learned life lessons I will use throughout my life.

-Written by Erica, Southwoods Camper

My Southwoods Story By Stephanie Rathgeber

        When trying to sum up my Southwoods story, it seems nearly impossible to keep it brief. I spent 7 years of my adult life at Southwoods and those were 7 of the most influential years of my existence. I have more meaningful memories of Southwoods than any other place on the planet,  and no matter how far I go or how long I am away, it will always be my second home.

I ventured to Southwoods when I was 19 years old. I was a bright eyed education major from Murray State, who loved kids and hoped to beef up her teaching resume. At the time I was  majoring specifically in elementary education and I envisioned myself as a Lower Junior counselor. As we all got to know Scott and Andrea throughout our training, we knew that those interactions would help them to determine which age group that we would work with. Since I just knew that my personality screamed “little kid fun,” I never had any concern about landing in the Lower Junior group that I wanted.

I was more than shocked when I was placed with Upper Inter Girls. I was placed well outside of my comfort zone, with TEENAGE girls! To say that I was nervous would be an understatement. In true Ralls fashion, they knew exactly what they were doing. During the summer of 2004, I worked with both Upper Inter Girls and Lower Junior Girls and I had the most amazing summer of my life. I was hooked; I was hooked on the camp experience, I was hooked on Southwoods, and I had found my calling working with teenagers.

While at Southwoods, Scott and Andrea taught me so much about working with kids of all ages. I learned that when talking with children you should always get down on their level; see eye-to-eye. I learned that teenage issues may seem trivial to an adult but they mean the world to kids at that age; you should always take them seriously but teach them not to sweat the small stuff. Upper camp campers want to be seen as mature but they still want to have those amazing childhood experiences as well.

That first summer taught me so much about myself and what I wanted out of my teaching career. It opened a door for a passion for working with teenagers and helping them grow in a positive direction. I returned to Murray State University that fall and quickly changed my major to middle school education. I went on to pursue my secondary certification and a masters degree in literacy. I now teach high school seniors at McCracken County High School in Paducah, Kentucky. 

I also went on to experience many other amazing summers at Southwoods. I worked as a Group Leader, Upper Camp Girls Head Counselor, and Office Manager during my run at camp. I was blessed to work in the winter office for 3 years and to call the Ralls family my friends.

I was also blessed to have done all of this with my husband by my side. I met Shaun Rathgeber when we were placed on the same staff tribal team during our training in 2004. He was from Canada and I was from Kentucky. I can’t imagine that our paths would have ever crossed had it not been for Southwoods. We worked together through our years at camp and we learned how to be a team when working with kids. Those skills have proven invaluable throughout our marriage and our partnership as parents. We have 3 beautiful kiddos, Emmett who just turned 5 (and has spent 1 summer toddling around Southwoods), and our twins Jillian and Norah who will be 3 very soon. 

Southwoods will always hold a very special place in my heart. It is the place where I truly learned how to be a “grown up” while also learning the value of seeing the world through the eyes of a child. Southwoods helped to form my family and taught me how to be a parent. Because of Southwoods I try to always “find the fun” when working with my own kids and my teenagers in the classroom. Actually, camp taught me to find the fun in life every day. Cabin clean up is always easier with music and dancing … so is housework. Climbing to the pines after swimming at the waterfront might not be the most loved adventure, but it is an adventure that is easier with laughter and a song. My English content isn’t every student’s cup of tea, but I know that I can make their experience in my classroom as fun as possible and I can create a safe environment where students can take risks during class discussions and activities.

Southwoods made an investment in me as a person. Scott and Andrea, and the rest of the head staff, went out of their way to instill all of these skills within us from our very first day of training to our last day of camp each summer. I see those skills manifest within my life every day. I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing work experience and I can’t wait for my kids to return to camp as campers in the future. 

-Written by Stephanie Rathgeber, Former Southwoods Staff Member

My Southwoods Story By Rachel Golden

 My first memory of Southwoods was parents day 2004 when my family trekked up to the Adironacks to pick up my brother who was a Lower Inter Boy that summer. I remember receiving letters from him all summer long saying how much fun he was having and I couldn’t wait to see the camp and all it had to offer. We got to camp and I remember all he wanted to do was show us the archery area. My family ended up staying in the archery area for two hours because I was the one who didn’t want to leave. As we left camp that day I knew I wanted to become a Southwoods camper.

In 2005 I started as an Upper Junior Girl and I never realized how my time at camp would affect me in life. As an Upper Senior I lead my Mohawk tribe to victory and I remember that was the first time I had ever been truly responsible for something in my life. I was placed on spirit committee because everyone said, “oh, Rachel is loud.” But no one truly understands that being a chieftain is the most important thing to the Upper Seniors until they actually are one. Being a chieftain not only gave me responsibility but also independence and confidence that I never knew I had.

After being a Super Senior I realized this was my last time being at Southwoods. I walked down the bunk line on parents day sobbing because I truly thought that was going to be my last time at camp. Then Scott mentioned to my age group an idea of a Leaders in Training (LIT) program. I never thought it would actually happen until I got the greatest email that September. I decided why not sign up and be a camper one more summer! It wasn’t until I got to camp that I realized how much of a growing experience that summer would be. Southwoods always gave me a source of independence and responsibility, but it wasn’t until I became an LIT that I fully got the leadership experience I wanted.

When we arrived the campers were so excited, and the counselors were looking forward to having another helping hand. I jumped right into a Lower Inter Girl cabin with 12 girls. It was the best summer ever; I got to play like a kid again but I was still present as a big sister figure. We did a lot of leadership workshops and truly figured out what it means to be a leader. During intersession, we went to Disney and participated in the Youth Education Series (YES!) Program. I thought we were just going to goof around all day, but what I found was that we learned leadership skills and techniques that I still find myself using today.

Being an LIT was probably the most empowering experience I could have had in high school, and then coming back as a counselor has been the most rewarding experience to date. Going back to camp each summer, I see old faces all excited to see me and new faces anxiously waiting to understand who this crazy counselor in a tutu and fanny packs is.

As a counselor I truly found my inner kid. I found what it means to not only be a friend, a big sister, a pseudo-parent or a camp counselor, but what it means to be taking care of a parent’s most precious gift. I realized that being patient is all a kid needs and that a smile can go a long way.

I never imagined becoming a counselor at Southwoods, let alone becoming a Group Leader this upcoming summer. I can honestly say I owe who I am today to Scott and Andrea, my counselors, my co-counselors and my campers. I don’t know where I would be today if it wasn’t for Southwoods, but I know there is no other place I’ve wanted to spend my last 10 summers and hopefully more to come.

-Written by Rachel Golden, Southwoods Group Leader

My Southwoods Story by Gary Peacock

  My Southwoods story began in July 2007. I had decided I wanted to go to America to live and work but had no idea how I was going to do it. Then a friend told me about working at summer camp and I thought it would be perfect for me.

Before then my only experience of summer camp was as a kid watching movies like 'The Parent Trap', 'Camp Nowhere' and one of those made-for-TV movies starring the Olsen twins. I had no idea that working at summer camp was even an option. But as soon as she said it, I had pretty much made up my mind.

The next few months were spent researching camps and exchange companies that could sponsor me to go. Filling out hours and hours of application forms, program agreements and personal information, was a major chore for someone like me, (I was never good at doing homework).

In November, just a few days after I finished all my paperwork, I got an email from Southwoods wanting to set up a phone interview. The conversation went well and ended with "we'll be in touch". I honestly didn't expect to hear back after that, I thought "there's no way I'll get a job from the first camp I spoke to".  I later received an email from my exchange company reading "We are excited to inform you that you have been offered the position of Water Ski Instructor at Southwoods Summer Camp". I never spoke to another camp.

Before going to camp, I had never traveled on my own. My only trip out of Australia was on a family vacation to Thailand. I was introverted and shy, and although I was incredibly excited for the adventure I was about to have, I was also scared to death. Flying into New York City was daunting to say the least and taking the subway in the wrong direction did not help me feel better. But when I finally got to my hostel, met some of the awesome people I would be working with, and we all made our way into the beautiful Adirondack mountains, my worries seemed to fade away. I will never forget arriving at camp my first summer.

My first walk up the bunk line, comparing camp to the videos I'd seen and thinking it was the coolest place I had ever seen. My first look at the waterfront and how excited I was to say that it was my office for the next 3 months (and little did I know, for the next 5 summers). I remember a lot of firsts at camp: my first time getting in the lake, my first evening line up, my first sloppy joe (still my favorite). Having the life scared out of me by the deep, booming voices of the male Group Leader's chanting my first "give it to me one time". All of those little camp things that once seemed so strange and foreign to me and now feel like home.

And then we come to the people. Whether it is campers or staff, it’s the people at Southwoods that make it feel like home. My first summer at camp I was with the Upper Inter Boys and I got to see them grow into Chieftains and even a few into LIT's. This summer I get to see some of my boys come back as staff. I can't wait to see them in action. I have made countless friends I keep in close contact with. I visit a lot of them whenever I can. I am even lucky enough to say that I met my best friend in the world at Southwoods.

But even as I write about all of these amazing things that make Southwoods, Southwoods, I can't deny the one aspect of camp that brings me back each year. For some it is the people, for some it is the lifestyle, and for some it is just those memories of hanging out with friends and doing something fun or silly. But for me, it is and has always been, the moments of pride that working at Southwoods has given me.

These moments come in many different forms: finishing the waterfront set up at the start of the summer and looking out over a job well done, the look on a nervous camper's face after trying to water ski for the first time and succeeding, and helping a new child make a friend or making jokes to help them feel a little less nervous.

My proudest moment of all was the night I joined a group of amazing people who own a simple, grey T-shirt with two simple words. I felt genuinely honored to receive "The Way" shirt and I still remember the blur of shock I felt after Scott read my name. At the risk of sounding corny, it really was the proudest moment of my life.

For anyone coming to camp for the first time, if you get to experience even half of the amazing things Southwoods has given me, I promise you will have the best time of your life. See you this summer.

-Written by Gary Peacock, Southwoods Staff Member

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Birthdays This Month!
Gabriel Keller 7/31
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Caleigh Barber 8/6

Neal Gurland 8/7
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Henry Meyer 8/9
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Cheyenna Bardsley 8/16
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Elias Wainberg 8/17
Ryan Khalil 8/17
Alberto Santos 8/20
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Emma Gershberg 10/31
Anmol Acharya 10/31
 
 
 
 

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