Three of Wildwood’s amazing counselors were recently featured in the spring issue of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter, as part of the regular “In Your Words” feature—Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares their story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. This week on the blog we’ll be sharing the stories of Jackson, Nina, and Dustin, who all came up through the Wildwood program as campers, Leaders-in-Training and Leaders-in-Action, and Junior Counselors. Next up, Nina Swett!
Since my parents met as campers there, it was always a foregone conclusion that I would attend Wildwood for overnight camp as well. As soon as I was of age, I started spending part of every summer at Wildwood, eventually working my way up through the Leaders-in-Training and Junior Counselors programs* and finally becoming a counselor myself.
My clearest memory from my childhood years at Wildwood was taking a walk down First Point Trail, learning about vernal pools from staff naturalist Johnathon Benson. It was so amazing to me that all these frogs and salamanders were completely dependent on these small, temporary pools to survive and procreate. Wildwood definitely instilled a fascination and love of nature in me. I remember being a Leader-in-Training (LIT) and asking for special permission to get up at 3:00 am to watch the Perseid meteor shower from the activity field. We laid in the grass and counted shooting stars and talked for hours—that was a really special memory.
Like most kids, I had a few mixed experiences as a camper, which is a natural part of the growing process. A few really great counselors helped me through the challenging times and made me feel like I mattered. Now, as a counselor myself, I want to be that person for other kids, and the culture at Wildwood fosters that kind of supportive environment. Wildwood is a kind of safe space where kids are encouraged to be themselves, to drop the “false personas” they may be holding at home or in school, and even to try out new ways of expressing or defining themselves as they figure out who they really are and want to be.
Now that I’m in college, I want to become a science teacher so I can impart the lessons that Wildwood has taught me and use the skills I’ve learned there. Even now, I find myself using my “counselor voice” to make sure my friends are staying hydrated and rested through finals!
It’s hard to communicate the power of camp to my “non-camp” friends and family. The skills I have developed through my years and experiences at camp—how to connect with kids, how to be patient, how to love nature, how to love yourself, how to appreciate what you have and what’s really important in life—most people outside the camp world don’t really “get it.” There’s something about going into the woods for a few weeks with no internet or cell phone that does something really profound to you. It’s being in a place you love with people you love. It’s so important.
Every day that I’m alive, I’m so glad that I went to and continue to be a part of Wildwood. It has given me the best friends I’ve ever had—and ever will have—for the rest of my life. I don’t know who I would be without it. In a literal sense, I wouldn’t be here without Wildwood; in a figurative sense, I wouldn’t be the person I am now, and for that, I am so thankful.
Nina Swett is a first-year student at Mount Holyoke College, where they hope to pursue a career path toward becoming a teacher. They will return this summer for their 14th year at Wildwood and third as a counselor.
*Wildwood’s Leaders-in-Training and Leaders-in-Action programs are now known as the Environmental Leadership Program, Years 1 and 2, respectively. The Junior Counselors program will be replaced with a Counselors-in-Training (CIT) program this summer.