As I reflect on what our mission is here at camp, I am drawn to one of my favorite books: “the Help” by Kathryn Stockett. It is a story set in Jackson, Mississippi during the very beginnings of the civil rights movement. It follows the lives of three women who have decided that they are going to start telling the truth about the racial segregation in place. Many of the black women at that time were maids for white women and would slave away at cooking, cleaning, and raising their bosses’ children. The children they would care for were often neglected and mistreated by their mothers and taught racism against blacks at a very young age. It is in this setting that we meet Aibileen, a black woman who has been working as a maid since she was a teen, who begins to have the courage to speak out and create a change.
Aibileen, during the story, is raising a small girl named Mae Mobley. Aibileen tries her very hardest to show her that racism does not need to exist and that not every influence around her is correct. Aibileen struggles as she has watched so many of the kids she raised before grow up and turn just like their mamas. She knows that it is only a matter of time before teachers, friends, and parents teach Mae Mobley that blacks are dirty, sinful, and dumb. Aibileen, in her short time with Mae Mobley, decides on three simple truths to tell her every day, in hopes that she might remember who she was as a child and overcome the societal pressures to be racist.
“You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”
I think these three things are universally important for all kids. To me it looks like this:
You is kind – What you will give back? You have the knowledge, so now what will you do with it? How will you choose to project yourself? What things will you be involved in that can better the community around you? How will you treat your friends, peers, or parents?
You is smart – you have what it takes. You are a smart kid who is capable and that knowledge comes from within you. You do not need external affirmation to know that you are a skilled, talented, and gifted person.
You is important – The wisdom within you, the knowledge that you have gained, the things that make you who you are, are valuable. You are worthy, significant, and lovable. You mean something to someone.
I think these three things, as simple as they are when spoken to a child, hold great meaning and purpose in shaping us. I think about all the kids who come to camp and how impactful our counsellors and CITs are to them. We have a single week with them, it is vitally important that our messages (whether implicit or explicit) be good ones. Kids are faced with some tough things. Some have never been told they are loved. Some have ideas that have never been acknowledged. Some feel as though they have nothing good to offer because they believe they are stupid. Many kids who come to camp are not the “cool kids”. So we strive to make the one week we have with them as meaningful as possible. We strive to let silliness be the new cool while they are here. After all, isn’t that the best part of being a kid?
In fact we often find that camp is the perfect home for those who are silly, creative, weird, and outrageous. It is a place where all can come to thrive because we, as staff, are silly, creative, and a little weird too. We love the ridiculous and all of our programs are aimed at creating a solid foundation for kids to build from. It is incredible to watch campers and staff move through Valaqua and discover that they are kind, they are smart, and they are important.
If we as staff work hard to accommodate these three fundamental truths for each camper that is entrusted to our care, I think we can say that we have accomplished our mission statement.