My name is Sam Wheeler and I am a bunk counselor in Hwang as well as the stage manager for this summer’s production of Fun Home. This is my sixth (WOWZA!) summer here at Acting Manitou and this place, so full of all of its magic and beauty, continues to become more amazing and more filled with love every single year. Having the privilege and opportunity to attend summer camp is an incredibly important experience for the camper and being a part of building that world for them is the best part of my life.
My campers are my heroes.
I often find myself saying to my friends from school that “my campers are my heroes”, which is probably one of the truest sentences I have ever said. I am constantly in awe of the talent these wonderful humans possess and I am always learning from them. They teach me what it means to be kind, to live authentically, and to be the best version of myself possible. Every summer I have this incredible opportunity to make connections with our campers and to have even the smallest piece of the pie that helped to shape them into who they are. When camp has only been happening for a few days and you have had campers run as fast as they can on arrival day to jump into your arms for the best of reunion hugs, when you’ve had campers who were in your bunk last summer ask to have breakfast with you and insist on hugging you goodnight after Power Down, and when you’ve had the campers from your bunk this summer squeal with excitement when they realize that you are their counselor, you know that you have done your job right. Being a camp counselor is one of the things in my life that makes me feel the most like myself, and that is what makes the decision to come back each summer so easy.
I have three favorite days each session of camp: Camper Arrival Day, Dress Rehearsal Day, and Show Day. While the energy at camp is high and contagious every day, these days in particular have something special laced in there. This excitement and love that we have bursting at the seams on the days that bookend our sessions is enough to keep me fueled with our Four Ghost Lights throughout the year, and here’s why:
JOY: The rush of love you feel when campers see the “Acting Manitou at Camp Eastwood” sign. The first hugs after a long year apart. The moment everyone cheers and claps on Dress Rehearsal Day after each show when the cast enters the next room for the first time after performing. The pride you feel as you watch every camper do their thing on show day.
CREATIVITY: The way the campers hang up their fairy lights around their bunks. The amazing lives and stories and art they all have to share with us. The magic they make on and off stage.
GRATITUDE: The look on their faces when they fully absorb that they are truly back at camp. The way they let themselves lean into this home we create together. The moment when they take their bow and you feel so unbelievably lucky to know them.
COMMUNITY: The excitement every camper feels to see every other person when they first come home. The first meal together (it’s always spaghetti!). The way they applaud after every performance of every show louder and more beautiful than anything you’ve ever heard before.
I know in my heart that this choice I keep making will end up being the best of all my life’s choices.
These are the reasons, among infinite others, that make my choice to give back to this community the easiest of all my choices in life. As a former camper, turned staff member, turned camp enthusiast, I know in my heart that this choice I keep making will end up being the best of all my life’s choices. I thank you all for giving me the space to make that choice and for allowing me to be part of your child’s life. I am so grateful for all of it.