Friends for life: Camp can create strong bonds

Melissa Erickson
This article appears in Summer Camp magazine 2019.

Elizabeth Much’s summer camp days are long behind her, but the friendships she made 30 years ago are still going strong. What is it about summer camp friendships?

“Summer camp is a life-changing experience,” said Much, chief executive officer of East 2 West Collective, a public relations agency with offices in Los Angeles and New York City. “Living in close proximity with other girls your age in a small cabin is intense. It’s like a female lifeboat. It’s all about friendship and camaraderie.”

From ages 9 to 14 Much spent weeks of each summer at Eagle River, Wisconsin’s Chippewa Ranch Camp, a classic girls summer camp set under a canopy of red and white pine trees alongside a clear, sandy-bottomed lake.

“The experience defined my life,” Much said.

Summer camp is a transitive experience where children are freed from parental supervision yet safely contained and watched over by camp counselors whose aim is to create meaningful, memorable moments.

“Summer camp creates a special bond between friends. It’s a special place where kids can develop close friendships as they experience new things together,” said Louis Lasko, assistant camp director of Camp Laurelwood in Madison, Connecticut.

For many kids the new experiences are not just horseback riding or water skiing.

“At camp you really get down and dirty. Your parents are not there to do things for you. You have to work together to do linens, pitch the tent, clean the cabin, start a fire,” Much said.

Living in such close quarters brings kids together and makes them more well-rounded and self-sufficient, Much said.

“I think sharing memories for eight weeks — meals, activities, being homesick, laughing, etc. — allows you to grow with friends,” said Samantha Wenig, vice president of London Misher Public Relations in New York City and alumna of Camp Robindel in Center Harbor, New Hampshire. “We were in bunks with 20-plus girls so it was also really nice to learn about everyone’s family, traditions and stories. I was also lucky that a lot of my best camp friends live close to me during the school year so we were able to see each other prior to the next summer.”

Even if summer camp friends don’t live near each other they often stay in touch and share special parts of each other’s lives, such as standing up in each other’s weddings, Lasko said.

In summer 2017, Much attended a Chippewa Ranch Camp reunion staying with three other alums in a cabin.

“It was like time had stood still. We felt like teen girls again. That’s the intensity of the feeling,” she said.

Reigniting friendships, they spoke of marriages, divorces and illnesses. “It was very powerful,” Much said.

They spent the days enjoying the trees and nature, riding horses, waterskiing and canoeing, then winding down around the campfire at night.

“Everybody remembered every word of the campfire songs we sang,” Much said.

As an adult many of Wenig’s camp friends are still a part of her daily life.

“Good friends are forever and will love you no matter what. … Pretty amazing to have these special bonds that were all made within eight weeks at camp,” Wenig said.

People who have made long-lasting camp friendships are often inspired to have their own children attend the same camp so their kids can also be friends, Lasko said.

Wenig’s mother, Jody Berger Wenig, also went to Camp Robindel. “I loved seeing her name written in the bunks,” Wenig said.