Every June, young women and girls across the country pack their bags, hug their families and head to Camp Ogichi Daa Kwe in Minnesota. During their time at camp, they learn about supportive community living, learn new skills, and take risks. Each camp experience also includes a wilderness trip, where campers learn to deal with the unknown, function as a team, and appreciate their surroundings. As they learn to navigate both Mother Nature and human nature, campers’ insights, confidence and friendships flourish. And by teaching gratitude, flexibility and a positive attitude, their counselors equip campers with the skills to handle adversity and build strong spirits.
As a strong supporter of Ogichi’s mission and work, we here at MyChelle wanted to share a story from Kelsie McVeety, an Ogichi camper and counselor. Kelsie’s words describe the full impact of her experiences at Ogichi and how important the organization is to building strong women who understand how beautiful they are!
Kelsie McVeety, Ogichi Daa Kwe camper and counselor:
It is always terribly difficult deciding to come back to camp. In high school, spending any amount of time away from your friends can be excruciating. You have to consider what you’ll be missing out on—school opportunities, social developments, romantic interests. In college it can be even harder. The twelve short weeks of summer can be dedicated to family, friends, extra classes, internships, study abroad, etc. My decision last year was especially strenuous. The spring term of my freshman year of college was filled with difficult classes, an ill family member, and struggles with emotional wellbeing. On top of all that, I was being bombarded with opportunities for internships in my field. Freshman year was anything but easy, and I knew that being a counselor at Ogichi would mean a good amount of hard work. But there’s a reason we refer to the three quarters of the year spent away from camp collectively as “winter.” There’s a reason that we all talk of being “camp sick.” There’s a reason that so many of us return, year after year, and never regret it. We carry Ogichi Daa Kwe with us, and we just can’t let go.
I’ve learned so much from my experiences at Ogichi that it’s hard to tell what kind of woman I would be today without it. Of course I’ve learned the basics—fire building, portaging, paddling—but it’s deeper than that. My first year of camp I learned that bruises and scars can become memories. I found that the friendships you forge through true pain, through darkness and rain, can be as strong as family. I saw how one can find peace in mist coming off a lake, and joy in the sight of laughing girls running to breakfast. I found that simple pleasures like smelling dinner on the table, hearing loons call, and watching the stars come out can be more rewarding than any movie or computer game. Over the next few years camp taught me to save lives, to run an office and to appreciate my body for what it can do. I learned to stand up for myself, and to stand up to myself when my mind was the enemy. When I became a full counselor last year, I learned to put the well-being of young girls before my own. Their resilience and enthusiasm showed me how to truly appreciate my own experiences. And at the end of every summer, I learn the same thing: leaving camp feels like tearing your own heart out, and coming back makes you whole somehow.
The winters I have spent away from camp have been wrought with long days and sleepless nights, tears and tribulations, and seemingly insurmountable piles of homework. Every day can be a portage, with its own cliffs and muskeg. But it’s because of camp that I know how to deal with each curve in the trail. And it’s because of camp that I know that it’s not about reaching the end as much as the little triumphs and joys along the way. You see, we all return to camp because it reminds us of these lessons, and how to carry them with us everyday. We carry the weight of the Duluth pack on our shoulders, we carry the scent of campfire in our clothes, and we carry the memories of Ogichi in our hearts. We are forever entwined with camp, and we can never fully leave it—we carry it with us.