At this time last year, the world was my oyster. I was getting ready to graduate magna cum laude from Furman University with degrees in public health and Spanish. I had been accepted to the #3 school of public health in the world to pursue my MSc in public health starting in September. I had a great paid summer internship lined up. The end of my senior year of college was everything that it was supposed to be.
Fast forward to April 19, 2018. I was rear-ended while sitting at a stoplight by someone who using a cell-phone while driving. My car was totaled, I was left with a pretty nasty concussion, and suddenly, I was on complete brain rest. With graduation just two and a half weeks away, I needed to pass my exams to graduate, and I needed to graduate to be able to get my student visa to go to graduate school in London in the fall. To top it off, two days before the accident, I received a text message from my summer internship boss saying that due to some restructuring, the internship program had been cut. So there I was, at risk of not graduating on time and not being able to go to graduate school in the fall, with no summer job, no car, and a concussion—plus all of the psychological effects from the car accident.
McKenna and her fellow counselors at Camp WaBak
At that point, there wasn’t much I could control, but I knew I needed to find a new job for the summer. I was terrified of driving so my options were pretty limited. I put out a few applications to places that were within walking distance of my house or were near where my mom worked so that she could drop me off on her way to work, but none of them were jobs that really excited me. I started to dig a little bit deeper and get a little bit creative. I Googled things like “best summer jobs,” “meaningful summer jobs,” and “jobs for graduate students,” and camp counselor was on almost every list. I thought about it for a bit, and I knew I had hit the jackpot. At a residential camp, I wouldn’t need to drive, I wouldn’t be working in retail or the food industry (been there, done that), and I would have the chance to make a difference in the lives of young people. Plus, it sounded like fun! There was only one problem. With it being the end of April, the employment application periods for nearly all of the residential camps, both in my hometown of Roanoke, VA as well as in the area surrounding Furman, where I was currently living, had closed.
Finally, I found one: Camp WaBak, a residential Girl Scout camp in Marietta, SC. It was perfect. I was a Girl Scout from kindergarten until my high school graduation, before becoming a lifetime member of the Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Council. I had grown up going to Camp Dark Hollow in Catawba, Virginia, and even today, I remember not just the camp names of my counselors, but also the huge impact they had on my life. Flag ceremonies, creek hikes, and arts and crafts were the highlight of my summers. To be honest, with my concussion, I don’t remember much of my interview, but I do remember how relieved I was to have at least that aspect of my life sorted. By the grace of my university, the kindness of my professors, the patience of my mother, and my own perseverance, I passed my exams and graduated from Furman.
At the end of May, I began my job as a Unit Leader at Camp WaBak. We faced a lot of hardships last summer, from weather to staffing to sickness. But through those challenges, our staff became a family. We came from different states, different universities, and different backgrounds and circumstances, but we all had the same goal: to make sure the campers had a fun, safe, and enriching experience at Camp WaBak. Being a residential camp, we were together all the time, so we developed a deep commitment to each other as well. We knew about each other’s goals, dreams, and fears. We celebrated each other’s successes and commiserated each other’s disappointments. We laughed and cried together. We made each other food and kept each other company when sick. There is nothing I wouldn’t have done for my fellow staff members, and there’s nothing they wouldn’t have done for me.
In fact, one weekend during June, one of our WaBak staff even drove me to my best friend’s wedding. She was getting married in my hometown, and I had no way to get there. I was devastated at the thought of missing her wedding, but my WaBak family made it possible. We left Friday night after the campers went home, went to the wedding on Saturday morning, and drove back Saturday night to be back in time for WaBak on Wheels Sunday morning. That’s what being part of the WaBak family means.
At the end of the summer, when one of our staff members had to leave to go back to school, we celebrated by going out to dinner over the weekend. I was still afraid of driving, but I knew I couldn’t miss her going away dinner. The strength of our bond helped me to overcome my fear of driving and make it to that dinner. When I got to the restaurant, I was shaking like a leaf. We were all in tears that night—both tears of sadness because one of our WaBak family was leaving to go back to college and tears of joy for my being able to drive there. Since the accident, I have still only driven maybe a dozen times, but being able to get behind the wheel again that time was a huge step in the process of my healing.
The deep bonds that we formed last summer did not break when we left Big Boy and Baby Boats. We have group chats on nearly every form of social media, and we talk to each other almost daily. Living in London now, I’ve even had the opportunity to host two of my WaBak family while they were studying abroad. But what I think speaks most strongly to the longevity of WaBak friendships, is that when I came home for Christmas, I didn’t see any of my friends from college, but I did see five of my WaBak family, including our fearless Camp Director, who guided us and loved us throughout all of last summer.
I guess the “Song of WaBak” was right, “Friends are made along life’s path; some will stay and some will pass, but WaBak friends will always last.”
Does working with girls in the outdoors all summer sound like your dream job? We are hiring for a number of different camp positions right NOW for the 2019 summer camp season for both our residential and day camp. By joining our staff for the summer, you can positively influence the lives of girls across South Carolina and create bonds that last a lifetime.
Click here to view all open positions and apply today!