By Eric M. Robbins
Most of my “superpowers” come from having been a camper and staff member at sleepaway camp. I’m totally serious.
Over eighteen summers at Camp Barney Medintz I learned countless “soft” and human skills that have benefited me my whole life. And because it all happened so seamlessly and joyously at camp, I didn’t even realize how much I was learning.
At Camp Barney Medintz I learned how to really be a friend. When you live in a bunk with 12 other guys, you learn how to get along with, and eventually, how to love people who aren’t exactly like you.
I learned how to be leader. At the age of ten I put myself in charge of coordinating our cabin at clean up, cookouts and even sneak outs!
I learned how to make my bed. Admiral William H. McCraw, a Navy SEAL, wrote a book called Make Your Bed: Little Things that Can Change your Life … and Maybe the World. He calls bed-making the way to start your day with a task completed. I agree!
I learned how to be a better communicator. As a camp counselor, I had to be sensitive to all the voices and opinions in my bunk. I had to evaluate each kid’s maturity level and respond appropriately. I couldn’t lose my cool. Sometimes I had to be a disciplinarian, sometimes I had to be as diplomatic as King Solomon. Learning this as a teenager set me up for a lifetime of good listening.
I learned about hard work. Being on the kitchen crew, helping turn out three meals a day, and cleaning up after hundreds of kids, taught me everything about showing up and pulling my weight, even when the work is tedious. To this day I consider mastering the kitchen’s Hobart dishwasher one of my greatest accomplishments.
I learned to be brave, to try new things. Ana and I recently had a little dispute over whether or not there was a rope tied to the boat when we went tubing at Camp Barney, or if we just held on to the skiing handle. (I think there were two ropes.) Either way, having a boat pull you on the lake was a thrill that took courage for a little kid. There were plenty of other scary things that I found the freedom to try, and even to fail, at camp.
I created my first network. As a kid from Pittsburgh, attending Camp Barney was my introduction to Jewish Atlanta. The kids I met at camp and the staff members who believed in me, became my Atlanta Jewish mishpocha. It’s no accident that one day in Pittsburgh, I literally dropped out of my local college, drove to Atlanta and registered at Georgia State and made this city my home.
I am grateful for all these profound moments of growth that shaped me into the husband, father, and community leader I am today. For all the kids who are having a blast at overnight camp this summer, someday you’ll discover, as I did, that camp teaches deep and lasting life lessons.
A version of this piece previously appeared on Eric’s blog for the Jewish Federation for Greater Atlanta.
Eric M. Robbins is President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. Eric came to Federation after leading Camp Twin Lakes (CTL), a network of camps for children with serious illnesses and life challenges.
This piece is a part of Foundation for Jewish Camp’s summer blog series “Because of Jewish Camp.” Each week, we will be featuring personal reflections from camp parents, staff, and alumni exemplifying the ways that Jewish camp impacted their lives. Follow along all summer long, and share how Jewish camp impacted your life! Tell us your story in the comments, on Facebook, or tweet @JewishCamp using the hashtag #JewishCamp.