Do you have a happy place? Do you have special memories that will never leave you? How about experiences that shaped your life and gave you lifelong friends?

There are so many challenges we face—even on a normal day or year. So, it’s important for us, children and adults, to have moments of mindfulness and days or weeks of turning off work and electronics and taking deep breaths in our happy places with our loved ones (including those we haven’t met yet).

Right now, try hearing this song in your head—the one that starts, “Once I was seven years old, my mama told me go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely.” Well, once I was 12 years old and my mama drove me to Camp Tockwogh. I was nervous and almost went home, but so glad I didn’t. I met new friends, learned how to sail, ski, and make friendship bracelets, and had the best time of my life. So much so that I kept going back.

Once I was 14 years old, and a junior counselor in my village (groupings of similar aged campers) came bounding over to me, introduced herself, and started talking to me about swimming. She heard I was a competitive swimmer and wanted to get to know me.

Once I was 20 years old, and that JC, Amy Lessack, had become a very good friend of mine. As I was still working at camp, my friends and I would keep an extra staff bed in our cabin so she could come down each weekend and play with us and the kids.

Once I was 30 something years old and Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the course of the next year and a half she fought like a warrior and “beat” cancer. Or so we thought. Our camp friends came from far and wide for a survivor party.

Once I was 50 years old and my friend Amy said she was letting go of her cancer fight of 18 years. And 10 days later I had to finally face the reality that she was gone. I’ve not gone a day since without tears.

But with each tear I’m reminded of a happy memory. A large and wonderful laugh. A spontaneous adventure. A hug. An important talk. A lot of that happened at Camp Tockwogh but the friendship and adventures could not be contained and were year-round and all over the world. That was Amy, a global gift giver of love.

Amy gave so much of herself—her time, money, expertise, advice, and an abundance of love. Some of her gifts included teaching countless kids how to get up on skis, serving on the boards of

Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) and Camp Tockwogh, listening to friends talk about their problems and being present with them while doing so, hugging the children of her friends, and donating money to causes—especially to her happy place—Camp Tockwogh, so that others could be blessed with the experience of camp.

If you are still with me, I’m going to ask, in honor of my friend Amy, and so many other phenomenal counselors who have passed through camp, to please donate to Camp Tockwogh’s Keep Our Campfire Burning Campaign. Tockwogh (like so many others) took a big hit because of the pandemic. Tears flowed from campers, staff, and alumni who were not able to visit our hamlet of hope and happiness on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. They are still in great need of our help to bring to thousands of children (and adults, who’s kidding who here) the gifts of fun, new skills, confidence, friendship, and experiences they will never forget. Will you bless a child who otherwise would not be able to have this experience? Camp shaped my life and gave me so much, including a lifelong friend who God put on this earth to help shape the lives of so many others.

For Amy and the kids, please donate. Frankly, this last year stunk. Bring some light into 2021.

Donate Today to Keep Our Campfire Burning

“Soon I’ll be 60 years old, will I think the world is cold or will I have a lot of children who can warm me?”

I was recently asked to describe in one word a place that has been a big part of my life for more than 30 years. I didn’t have to think too hard before answering, “Friends.” But now that I’ve had more time to think, I realize there are so many excellent words to describe Camp Tockwogh. I know—it may sound silly to have such a connection to a summer camp but I’m guessing you are thinking about your own camping experience as a kid and saying, yeah, I remember how fun that was.

Last weekend I attended a 75th anniversary alumni weekend at Camp Tockwogh. It’s a beautiful 309-acre YMCA camp on the Northeastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. I saw some old friends, counselors, and campers I haven’t seen in awhile. The age differences between some of us may have meant a lot back in the day, but the wrinkles and grey hair were spread pretty evenly among most of the group of alumni staff at the reunion.

One of our group members is a professional cameraman and brought his equipment to film our stories. It  got pretty emotional for many of us—tears from good memories and thoughts of friends who aren’t with us anymore flowed as much as the laughter. It got me to thinking…

Tockwogh is quite a magical place. It’s beautiful and the activities are fun, but there’s more to it than the physical space. There is a special bond formed between the people who have experienced camp. Regardless of when you worked there or even if you went there as a camper, you can count on being part of a wonderful, talented, kind and fun group of people for the rest of your life. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen your friends for days, months, or many years, you pick up right where you left off.  You see, the songs may change, new buildings go up, new boats replace the old, activities change, and new staff come on board, but the essence of camp remains.

Everyone who goes to camp, young or old, can expect to find acceptance, kindness, encouragement, and support from the people there. And they can build new skills, grow their self esteem, and make life-long friends like mine.

There are a few things I think camp could improve—the beds are a bit hard on my back and the food is okay but I miss the old chicken slop and grilled cheese the way Rosalie made it—but here are a few things I’m glad have lasted and are perfect the way they are:

  • My first roommate Wendy. When I was a Junior Counselor I asked my village chief if I could live with Wendy for the summer because she was so fun and easy going. I am blessed to have Wendy as one of my best friends because every single time I see her she never fails to make me laugh. There’s a lot of other stuff too…
  • My first boss (my village chief), Amy, is also still one of my BFFs. With all due respect to his holiness, Amy is more popular than the Pope and looks better in a dress. I am amazed at her unlimited energy and glad she’s a fighter so we can have her around for many, many more years.
  • My first (one of) counselor, Kathy. Kathy has become one of my best friends and we still laugh at the fact that I was her camper and we used to sing Michael Jackson songs loud and without embarrassment. Kathy knows everyone in Delaware and if she ran for governor today, would win in a landslide.
  • All the other wonderful women I have become close with—some were adopted into the clan and others had my back when I needed to relieve myself in a cornfield—are amazing in their own rights. I am blessed to call them my friends and my sisters.
  • As for the men, sometimes I call them my boys but they are true men. I have always had a tiny crush on each one of them and have also considered them my brothers. These men were exceptional role models for the kids they guided, taught, played with, and protected. I saw them in roles of big brothers and dads before they were mature enough to think that way, and always knew they would be great fathers one day. Some days they teased me and brought me to tears but most days they protected and supported me, accepted me as their friend, and helped me become a better woman. I will always love them and each time they found love, became a parent, accomplished a milestone, or were rewarded for something great, I was overjoyed.

One word? I don’t think so. Here are some other descriptors I heard friends say in their interviews:

Family
Friendship
Love
Priceless

Tockwogh.

Before I leave you with this  poem that one of our alumni read at the campfire to honor our lost friends, I want to say that I’m going to write a book and include the stories I heard this weekend. Some of what was overheard included,

  • “And his hand was in a cast after he punched the horse the second time.”
  • “I had to think for a second, what do you wear to a fire?”

Oh yea, best seller for sure.

“So many things have happened
Since they were called away.
So many things to share with them
Had they been left to stay.
And now on this reunion day,
Memories do come our way.
Though absent, they are ever near,
Still missed, remembered, always dear.”
—Author unknown

This is a song that one of our alumni sang at the campfire. It was a beautiful honor to our friends.

And on to the evidence! Beautiful people, wonderful friends…

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