Camp Quest OH, 2011

After giving up my head and leg hair to raise money for Camp Quest they were nice enough to let me come down and be event staff at Camp Quest Ohio last weekend.  I was very nervous, to tell the truth.  I could walk into a mega church and tell the pastor to his face he was full of shit and why without so much as batting an eyelash, but put me in the room with a single youngster and I get rattled.  I just have so little experience with them and had no idea how I would do.  For instance, I tend to use fairly academic language when speaking (also curse words) – would I have to change that for the kids in order to communicate?

I arrived Thursday night and found the whole camp in the mess hall.  At this meal, there was a lesson on Mormonism being taught by Katie Hladky.  In explaining Joseph Smith’s beliefs, she asked the camp if anybody knew what alchemy was.  Several hands shot up and Katie called on Harper, a ten year-old who answered, “it’s when you try to transmute two elements into another element.”

My jaw hit the floor.  These kids were smart.  Hella smart.  Probably smarter than me.  Going off that, I did not change my language use with the kids for the duration of the weekend.  The kids would simply ask what a word meant, I’d explain, and we’d move on, and I think they appreciated that I treated them like my equals (though I did abstain from cursing for the duration of the weekend :D).

That night was the talent show.  One of the counselors, Caroline, who has a degree in dance, choreographed a dance to a Carl Sagan monologue.  It was extremely touching.  For the talent show I performed Empty Chairs at Empty Tables from Les Miserables.  Another young lady sang a song for the contest.  I could tell immediately that her voice, her very excellent voice, was untouched by a trainer.  I said to CQ Executive Director Amanda Metskas in the middle of her song that I would kill to get a hold of her voice as a teacher!

As fortune would have it, the young lady came bounding up to me afterward and told me I was a great singer.  I immediately took her outside the rec hall and gave her a brief voice lesson and promised to give her another the following day.  I was told later that it was all she talked about that night.

I began the following day by holding two sessions in which I talked to the older campers about starting Secular Student Alliance chapters in their schools.  They were receptive, but after about twenty minutes of the thirty minute sessions I noticed some eyes start to look elsewhere, so I took the opportunity to make everybody play heads up, seven up – which I’ve not freaking played since elementary school.  Loved it.

Afterward I learned how to play the amazing sport of gaga ball.  (As always, click to make the pictures epic-size!)

Later that day I taught a workshop on magic.  One camper quickly picked up one of the more difficult tricks in my repertoire, one that took me a couple weeks to learn.  I think she was twelve.

Afterward, I made good on my promise to give the young singer from the talent contest her voice lesson.  To my surprise, several campers wanted to come along just to watch.  I so felt like the cool kid!  She improved dramatically in a very brief time!  Everybody had a good time, I think.  She promised to keep in touch with me on her vocal development and we hope to work out some Skype lessons.

The experience is one I will carry with me for a very long time.  The kids were phenomenal.  The counselors were welcoming and very helpful to a newbie like me.  I hope to remain friends with Nick, Rachel, Katie, Annie, and others for a very long time.

And I hope to see them all again next year when I’m a full-fledged counselor.

Thanks to John Welte of the Free Inquiry Group for all the photos.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • http://www.twitter.com/jubydoo Andrew Juby

    It’s been a while since I did it, but I was a counselor at a music camp in western Kansas for several years. Nothing feels quite as wonderful as realizing you’ve made a major, positive impact on a child’s life!

  • John Welte

    So glad to hear you will be a counselor next year. I think you’re gonna love it.

  • Chelsea

    I am glad you had a good time while at camp! I can’t wait until next year when you can join us for the whole week.


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