In the Summer of 2004, I was a recent high school graduate looking for a path to follow. Realistically, I struggled through high school, not because I didn’t understand most of the work required, but because I was a sarcastic, strong willed and vocal student. I don’t ever think that I was a “bad kid” but I did usually operate by mirroring the level of respect that faculty provided students. I refused to concede that an opinion was invalid because it came from someone under the age of 18. As a result, I own that I wasn’t always the most proficient at crafting my position, but I could defend it passionately. High school was often a time of shedding light onto the “gray areas” of technicality for me. As such, I also went to 4 high schools in just as many years, depending greatly on the generosity of friends and their parents for a couch to crash on if I was at odds with the rules of my own household.
I remember often thinking that I would have enlisted in the Armed Forces if no other opportunities abounded, but I was fortunate to follow the recommendation of a high school girlfriend to Texas Lions Camp in Kerrville, Texas. I had helped out around youth groups at a local church while I was in high school and so serving in a camp setting was a natural progression. The work that Texas Lions Camp does is phenomenal and I am glad to have been a part of their mission as Summer Staff, not one but two Summers. You can (and I thoroughly suggest you do) find out more about their work here.
I was able to fully invest my talents into TLC while I worked there, understanding the importance of the experience that each camper receives. Summer Camp staff have a direct role in helping to shape what a weeklong experience means for each camper. Taking that experience into consideration, we were able to prioritize creating a fun and meaningful environment alongside staff members and campers of all different abilities. There were always a list of activities and a schedule to maintain, but I like to think that some of those “between moments” in transit from one area to the next were the best of times. We would yell out camp cheers and phrase repetition games (“I said a Boom Chick-A Boom!”) from place to place at the cost of losing my voice about 2 days into the week, and then starting all over again as I recovered.
What I found for myself in working at Lions Camp was a passion for helping the population they serve, as well as some lifelong friendships. Ultimately, the relationship that initially referred me to apply to work at TLC ended. But, I also feel as though outside of gaining a stronger understanding of self, I met some other amazing friends along the way, some of whom I still check in on or hang out with to this day. Our hangouts may not be as frequent as spending an entire Summer together, but it always feels like home, something that I may have missed in between transferring schools/friend groups/houses so often as a high schooler.
One of those camp friends is a guy named Scott. Scott just has a charisma about him that draws people in. I’m pretty sure he would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, but I haven’t asked. He’s just genuine and true to the things that fuel him. I respect his ability to connect with people by including them in whatever he has going on. Scott doesn’t live in Texas anymore, though isn’t that far, but any time I see him, I try to slip him something that feels like Texas; Whataburger or HEB products usually make the list. Scott usually will share music or invite me to a show, sometimes with bands I am peripherally aware of and sometimes to acts that I know well but didn’t even realize were playing Houston.
I included The Atari’s version of “Boys of Summer” from their 2003 album “So Long, Astoria” this week for a few reasons. The first being that this was on a Camp Mix CD that I acquired in the days that we would burn CD’s. The camp had a radio station and radio program that I was able to help with my second summer. Also on that specific mix were some of my favorite Ben Folds live tracks. But, part of what I relate to my own experience with the song is the idea that I thought I knew what love was heading into the Summer. What I found out instead helped to shape a career in non profit youth work for a period of my life.
I have quite a few memories of TLC and the two Summers I spent out there which may continue to develop in future blog posts, though I also understand that I have grown greatly from that point. Each year, I was fortunate enough to receive scholarships from specific Area Lions Organizations for the Community College that I attended in addition to the weekly compensation that I earned. In many ways, I still point to those scholarship awards at helping me recognize a path outside of enlisting. I at times think about the choices I didn’t make, but in the refrain of Atari’s frontman Kris Roe “those days are gone forever, I should just let them go”.
In 2018, I was fortunate to see The Atari’s play “So Long, Astoria” in it’s entirety, 15 years after it’s release. The room was intimate, and each song sounded as clear and wonderful as I remember from the album. I recommend seeing them play if they are in your town, even if focusing on other works. With any luck, you’ll hear a tune that takes you back and sticks with you long after the Boys of Summer have gone.
Let’s have a wonderful and safe Camp season, friends!