Cam was working as a kitchen assistant at Silver Lake Mennonite Camp at the beginning of July 2022. It was his firstever week on staff. He’d had a lot of experience cooking, but it doesn’t take long for one to understand that the Silver Lake kitchen is a different beast.
Enter JP and Annika, third- and fourth-year staff members at the time, who grabbed aprons from the hooks, ready to preheat the ovens and give Cam a warm welcome. They had been counsellors back when Cam was still a camper, but they struck up conversations with him like he’d been on staff for years. Suddenly the kitchen wasn’t so intimidating anymore.
“Immediately it was just, ‘Oh, we both share a connection to the space,’” Cam said. “We’re both here to have fun. We’re both here for the kids. We’re all here for the kids. We’re all here to make delicious food. It just clicked.”
Of the thousands who attend Silver Lake every year, no two people are ever the same. But there is one thing every person there has in common: they’re connected to camp. “Anybody that has a connection to Silver Lake, you can form a connection with them very easily,” said Cam. That simple, shared trait has built a sense of community strong enough to keep campers, staff and volunteers returning every year.
The concept is not hard for new Silver Lakers to pick up on. Nick, another staff member, was sitting with his young cabin in the front row of the last campfire this past August. Every final campfire is led by the fifth-year staff, most of whom don’t return the following summer. Nick’s campers had only been at Silver Lake for a week, but they already understood the importance of the night and the community the fifth years had built throughout their time on staff. Those campers were emotional, perhaps more so than the fifth years themselves.
“It was pretty special,” Nick said of his campers.
Camp activities allow everyone to build and share experiences of community. Staff members Seth and Max are from Ghana and Ukraine, and Cam found common ground with them on the Silver Lake basketball court. “Camp is just a space where you can very easily break the ice,” he said. “You can very easily connect with people and find people that you want to connect with outside of camp.”
With many common, densely populated areas across the property, community at camp is inevitable, and something that many never take for granted.
“You just kind of have to appreciate the space for offering those things, for making it so easy in some ways,” said Cam. “I think [community] is one of the things that always sticks out to me in the summer. I go, ‘This is the best. I wish this could happen all the time.’”