This morning I completed my 5th year as the Head Men’s Counselor and Dorm Dad for Camp Zenith. Zenith is geared for 9th-12th grade students. Every year I come to camp with a desire to learn something from the kids I am serving that is meaningful. I have never been disappointed.
Most of the lessons I glean are not new. They are just not so subtle reminders of what teens really need from adults. Every year there are students that bring stories of brokenness with them. This year I bumped into a camper who lost his mother when he was 5 years old. I told him late one night when I was checking dorms that I was present at his mother’s funeral 9 years ago. And I reassured him that she was indeed a really good person. Kids who have lost a parent just need to know that. And that is especially true for a young man who barely remembers his mother.
Another camper I dealt with was referred to me by his college age counselor. At camp I function like the assistant principal who handles discipline at school. This particular young man had been blatantly disrespectful. I spoke to him in terms where very little was left to the imagination. I described my expectations in very clear terms. My tone was direct. And then when I finished, I told him that I knew he had the ability to be the informal leader of his group. I perceived him to be a natural leader. I just gave him the kind of lecture that Vince Lombardi or Tom Landry or any other old school coach would give a player who is not using his full potential. I was not prepared for his response. A kid who towers my 6’ frame had tears in his eyes. His youth minister later told me the next day that no one had ever conveyed such a message to him. And when I heard that, I had tears in my eyes…
I also watched a young man from my home church just blossom during the week at camp. He is one of kids that just showed up on the doorstep at the church building, because we host an after school program on Wednesdays. That kind of program is very labor intensive. Some of the kids we get are very troubled. And they are not always respectful! We have been so tempted to shut that effort down at times. This week I was reminded what a huge mistake that would be for our church. In a few weeks, this particlar young man will be engaged in basic training for active duty military service. And to think that could have ended a program that really touched his life.
Sunday night at camp I held a meeting with all of the boys in my dorm to go over the rules. It happened to be Father’s Day, so I told the boys: I am your dad for the week, and don’t forget today is Father’s Day! We enjoyed a good laugh, but I did not expect what followed. During the course of the entire week those boys called me “dad.” During one conversation I referred to something my son was going to do, and one of the campers said: I thought we were all your sons! I turned around and told him: you are…And I was reminded again that I have a lot to learn about teens.