Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Echoes of Summer Camp Past ; It's about Old-Fashioned Goodness (and Giggles), Not Weight Loss, SAT Prep, or Computers

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Echoes of Summer Camp Past ; It's about Old-Fashioned Goodness (and Giggles), Not Weight Loss, SAT Prep, or Computers

Article excerpt

In the outside world, it was headed for a sweltering 96 degrees. But at Camp Matollionequay earlier this month, a breeze from the thick New Jersey pine barrens cooled the porch of the arts and crafts cabin. There, girls quietly strung beads into bracelets - for themselves, for a friend, for me, a visitor. Nearby, the morning lake was still, waiting to bathe parched campers later in the day.

Matolly, built in 1936, is as traditional as a camp can be, with log cabins and wooden screen doors, with songs and chants and rhythmic stomps that echo from mother's generation to daughter's. And there is the requisite boys' camp across the lake.

Why, in an often-cynical teenage world, would girls who wear eyeliner keep coming back to string beads at simple, cellphone-free Matolly? After all, if there is life to be mastered, can't it be done better elsewhere? At camps for perfecting foul shooting, for example? For shedding pounds? For web surfing, SAT prep or, at the very least, for practicing a little math?

"I come here to have fun," seems to be the Matollionequay mantra.

Fun.

"You can be yourself here," says Erica Ballard, 15, a counselor- in- training.

Be yourself.

"This is the only place I can act my age," says her 12-year-old tablemate Tasha Clicteur, elaborating.

The lineup of activities here is standard: Right a canoe. Hit a bull's eye. Explore an ecosystem. Sing.

But "being yourself" is more elusive. Here, it evidently involves the most important things you can't do in real life: Being silly or sloppy or off-key. Being klutzy or shy or mistake-prone. Being as loud as the lungs will allow on the occasion of a boy-sighting. Bonding time - often "very boo-hoo," as 12-year-old Regina Partlow puts it - is plentiful. With the makeup off, would-be competitors become friends.

All centers on four core values springing from Matolly's tradition as a YMCA camp: caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility.

In an age in which everybody has a values statement posted somewhere, the Matolly crowd's embrace of its values startles. Every camper knows them. Every counselor refers to them. Even the morning "thought" might be a two-minute story about carving a friend's kindness in stone, her hurtfulness in sand. If you break a rule, you'll probably be told how your infraction contradicted one of the four values.

"They ask, 'Am I in trouble?'" says Amanda Throckmorton, a chief counselor. "You don't get in trouble here. We just want you to understand why we don't want you to do it again."

The approach is a welcome relief from even well-meaning grownups on the outside, who may lose sight of the fact that pitching a perfect game is but one part of a good life.

"People don't yell here. They're calm," said Courtney Scantling, 13, though she did allow that, with a campful of girls, "we get moody sometimes. …

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