CAMP NO COUNSELORS

[ 0 ] November 9, 2017 |

GAYS AND LESBIANS AND QUEERS, OH MY!

It’s Not Just Child’s Play

~by joel martens ~

How many who are reading this, didn’t have a great camping experience when they were a kid? Being gay for many of was already like being lost in a proverbial forest of the straight and narrow, so it stands to reason, that being queer and camping in the woods might not have always been a joyful experience.

Stories of unhappy childhood camping experiences were just one of the many surprising things about the Camp No Counselors weekend getaway I attended recently, one of many that the organization does over the course of the year. To be specific, they hold as many camp weekends as possible in 16 different locations across the U.S. and Canada, sometimes with multiple running simultaneously. Though inclusive of all, Camp Hughes this past October, was their first specifically targeted to the LGBTQ community, though, as they are quick to point out, not exclusive to…titling it the “LGBTQ and Friends” weekend.

As to how the larger organization got its start, the story goes that founder, CEO and “head camper,” Adam Tichauer was searching for an opportunity to disconnect from his job and reconnect with his friends. He decided to rent out a summer camp over Labor Day Weekend and invited all of his closest friends to join. Those friends invited more friends and it eventually turned into 90 career-driven adults letting loose, being silly and disconnecting from the stressors in their everyday lives. After that initial amazing weekend, Tichauer knew he was onto something special, seeing not only the business opportunity, but also how important it was for people to get away from “adulting.” A weekend where they get to go back to being a kid and make new friends and not based on what they do for a living…from this, that Camp No Counselors was born. That and a later appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2016 cemented the idea, even though in the end no “deal” was reached with the show’s investors.

Jacob Lawrence, CNC’s program director, was on hand for the inaugural LGBTQ weekend and had this to say about the timing of this particular iteration of Camp No Counselors. “We believe in the magic of camp and its ability to bring people together. Camp No Counselors is an inclusive, open and safe environment for people to explore who they truly are. It’s encouraged to be silly and unique and it’s a place to just be you. We have conducted around 70 camps as a business and we have had hundreds of people in the LGBTQ community come to our camps and always tell us ‘You HAVE to do a camp for the LGBTQ community!’”

“We spent months talking with a number of our past LBGTQ campers to find out what they loved about their experience at CNC, how we should approach this camp differently and what camp as a kid meant to them,” said Lawrence. Echoing the aforementioned not-so-happy experiences, he went on to say, “We found out that many of our LGBTQ campers actually didn’t have much fun at camp as a kid, but then had the time of their lives at camp as an adult. So ultimately, we wanted to empower those people who had a negative experience as a kid to reclaim that memory as a positive one. On top of all this, we also thought that it would be really fun! Camp is LOVE.”

He detailed his observations about the weekend and the adaptations they considered for such a specific group. “The overall blueprint of the camp weekend actually remained the same from our standard camp to the LGBTQ camp, based on feedback from our past LGBTQ campers saying that no major changes in the schedule were needed. However, we tried to make smaller adjustments based on feedback and recommendations such as having an extra mixer at the bar, rainbow flags hung around camp, offering plenty of dodgeball and kickball, and some other smaller tweaks.” Extra opportunities for liquor? We can’t imagine why they thought of that one!

The weekend was filled with tons of activities, there really wasn’t a moment for those of us participating to be even remotely bored. Between the crafting (yes, crafting), painting and friendly competitions (beer pongesque), opportunities for hiking, kickball, volleyball, zip lining, climbing walls, a rope course (not for the faint of heart for sure, as I came to realize once reaching the top of a 40-foot pole climb, only to cross another 20-footer to the other side—seriously DO NOT look down—thank the gods I don’t have vertigo!), it is everything you could imagine a camp experience could be. The exception being perhaps, the proliferate liquor that’s available to grease the wheels of camaraderie. Certainly not part of the childhood camps I went to!

We wondered if there was anything that surprised him about the weekend and specifically the LGBTQ campers, Lawrence observed this, “I would say the most surprising (yet amazing!) thing about leading this weekend was how quickly everybody meshed from the very beginning. From the start of night one, it felt like one big group of happy campers, as opposed to multiple, smaller cliques of campers.” It’s an interesting thing to note, especially when you consider how as a group we tend to seek each other out. What’s the old adage? “Safety in numbers,” the idea that by being part of a large physical group, an individual is less likely to be the victim of a mishap, accident, attack, or other bad event…Imagine that.

In the end, as Lawrence talked about what they most like people to take away from their experience at CNC: “At the end of the day, our product is fun and silly. We hope to deliver that to everyone who attends a CNC weekend. We want our campers to leave feeling like they were able to be the truest versions of themselves during the weekend. Additionally, when we see the friendships and relationships that form out of a weekend, it’s very rewarding for us. Letting your guard down and subsequently making some amazing new connections with people in a genuine way, that’s the magic of camp.”

From personal experience, I can say that they were entirely successful in their goal. I am one of those aforementioned campers who absolutely did not enjoy the experiences I had as a teen at, god help me, “confirmation camp.” Mornings filled with, “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory…” still echo in my head, as sung by one particularly creepy pastor. Thankfully, I can say without a doubt, that Camp No Counselors LGBTQ and Friends Weekend changed that negative experience to a positive one.

All analogies aside, Lawrence (who by the way is straight) summed up the experience with his favorite moment from the weekend. “Sometimes as a staff member at camp, everything is moving so fast that you miss some pretty amazing moments that take place. At the LGBTQ camp, I was actually able to take in one of those magical moments: I was on the dance floor late at night with rainbows painted down my arms, surrounded by another dozen or so people who I had only met 48 hours prior. We were dancing our hearts out, without a care in the world, to Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” and I thought to myself, “This is what camp is all about: people coming together.”

I couldn’t conclude my story in a better way. Seriously folks, not to be cliché, but it really was a transformative moment and I will probably return again next year for another spin around CNC’s gay campfire.

For more information about Camp No Counselors, a schedule of weekends and all the information you need about what to expect and what you’ll need to bring, etc., go to campnocounselors.com.

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