Danielle Sandler

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256 Macopin Road - An address that will be embedded in my memory for the rest of my life; and although that address may not be 123 Sesame Street or 42 Wallaby Way, it means so much more. And it’s not just an address either. It’s home. 

For the past 12 years, Camp Vacamas has been my summer getaway. Every single year, come January, I would begin the countdown to camp. I would make sure my grades were in check and nothing would get in the way of me coming to camp, and then, in late June, I would be off to a place I call home.

It all started when I was 6 years old. My older sister dragged me by the hair and told me I was coming to camp for the summer. Not exactly thrilled at the idea, I packed my things and my parents drove me to the middle of nowhere, hugged me goodbye, and left me at a place I would not soon forget. That summer I cried every single night for the first 19 days. All I wanted was to see my mom and dad, even though I had my sister working at camp. I will never forget the amazing staff members that took the time to help me get through my homesickness; the dedicated counselors, Amanda and Danielle, who stayed up late every night just so that I could fall asleep; my first division head, Texas, who made sure every activity I did would keep my mind off of wanting to go home. 

Needless to say, I came back the next summer. And the summer after that. I climbed the ranks starting as a tiny, little prep and making it to LIT. Camp Vacamas has done so much for me throughout all of those years. I was given amazing opportunities that I know I wouldn’t get anywhere else. I was able to make friendships that I still hold onto dearly today. I was able to canoe the Delaware River, hike the Appalachian Trail, rock climb beautiful rocks in New Jersey, and bike through Pennsylvania and Amish Country. I was able to complete a program that taught me how to be a positive leader and use these skills in the outside world. I went on numerous hikes and started more fires and swam more laps than I can count. How many people can say they've done all that? My fondest memories happened at that camp. I owe my whole life to camp.

The outgoing, caring, and fun loving person I am today is all because of Vacamas. This camp has helped so many children- of all races, nationalities, and especially financial backgrounds- blossom into strong individuals. Sure, everyone needs to know how to do basic math and young children learn how to read in grade school, but what about life skills? That’s what camp is all about.

Campers, including myself, come into camp knowing little to nothing about working as a team or surviving in the woods, and leave knowing how to build fires, solve the human knot in under a minute, and how to build relationships with people who are different from them.

I used to get asked all the time as a camper, “Dani, why do you keep coming back? Isn’t it boring doing the same thing over and over again?” And the answer is simple. No summer is ever the same. Of course some of the activities might be repeated, but the people always change. People come back and new people join the family, but each and every trip is different and special. The counselors make everything enjoyable, and I can still remember the names of those outstanding people that dedicated their time to make sure I had the best summer ever, every year, and I know they are always with me, always offering a helping hand no matter where I am in life. 

This past summer I was given the incredible position of a counselor at the camp. I can honestly say that it is the most rewarding job a person can have; to see those kids faces light up every time they learn a new skill or do an activity they love is the best feeling ever. Everyone should have the chance to go to Camp Vacamas, a chance to sing camp songs early in the morning, view the beautiful views from Bald Rock, linger a little longer, and say goodnight and not goodbye to all of their camp friends. Every child deserves the opportunity to be free and cared for.

Vacamas means so much to everyone that goes there, regardless of how much time they spend at camp. I’ve met amazing people from all over the world that come together and enjoy being together, making memories and changing lives, and it just would not be the same anywhere else. Camp Vacamas is home to everybody that comes. It may not be luxurious with air conditioners, yachts in the lake, or even indoor plumbing in some areas (Teen campers, you know what I mean), but it is home nonetheless. Whether someone spends one summer at camp, or an entire lifetime, we are all Vacamas family.

Honorable Mentions and special thank you’s:

• My amazing sister, for introducing me to this wonderful place and showing me that it’s okay to be loud
• Amanda and Danielle, my first counselors, for staying up with me night after night and making sure I was having fun.
• Texas, Crunchy, and Emmanuel, for being wonderful (and my favorite) division heads
• Elly, for being able to be both a scary and extremely caring camp director
• Mike Lluesma, for the countless laps that made me go from perch 1 to stingray
• My LIT counselors, G-Bear, Naomi, and Matt, for believing in my abilities as a leader and recommending me for a counselor job
• Aidan, Fran, and Andy for pushing me beyond my comfort zone and helping me get through the toughest challenges I’ve ever faced
• Every staff member of 2016, for the constant love, laughter, and support
• And last but not least, all of the friends I’ve met at camp, I love you all.