Notes From Big John – End of Summer 2019

by Andrea Wackerle

As I write this article, the last student is just leaving our Balsam Base Camp here in North Carolina and it will become ever so quiet. We will have to wait nine more months to fully function in the capacity for which the Base was designed: To bring joy and growth opportunities to the dynamic campers we serve! With that being said, however, the campers will return next year to a facility that has significant upgrades to the dining hall and kitchen.

As I look back over the summer, one of the most incredible opportunities we had was a chance to experience the number of former students returning as staff to invest in “giving back” to the program that means so much to them. Three of our GAP year participants returned this summer to work in both North Carolina and Wyoming, two Academy graduates did the same, and two alumni summer campers returned to serve for second and third years respectively. The sense of commitment and pride these staff have had for the chance to enrich the lives of other campers was profound.

I want to thank all staff who worked so hard this summer to provide unique and special experiences in all of the locations: The Adirondacks, British Virgin Islands, California, Florida, North Carolina, Peru, and Wyoming. We backpacked, canoed, caved, climbed, fished, rafted, rappelled, sailed, SCUBA dived, sea kayaked, snorkeled, surfed, and spent a fair amount of time on horses. Goals were met, friends made, and we all learned just a little more about ourselves.

Big moments and little moments too comprised a summer that made a difference. As we rafted down the Nantahala river, one student, Eli, thanked me for giving him the opportunity to work on how he handles frustrating moments, saying: “This made a real impact on me that I think may change my life”. And, I will leave you with a smile that was given to me by a nine year old in our Llama Trek program. She approached the dining hall with her team for lunch one day and said to the director: “I believe we have a reservation for eight.” Not to be out-done, the director responded: “Why yes you do, I have your table waiting for you,” then sat the team.

Even though the last camper just left, I miss all of you already!