It’s not until you give yourself up, that you truly give.
Over the past six years, this little but powerful phrase has been engrained not only into my brain, but also into my heart. For a child, overnight camp is a chance to pull all-nighters and eat as many s’mores as possible. For me, overnight camp was a chance to spend my summers feeling completely normal, laughing about things that would usually make me cry, and eventually, giving back to the place has given me so much. For five summers, I left my small Chicago suburb and headed to North Oxford, Massachusetts to attend, and later work at, Clara Barton Camp. The camp gave me so much; a home away from home, some of my very best friends, and, most importantly, it taught me the importance of giving.
Founded by and named after Clara Barton, much of the camp centers around her life and legacy as the founder of the American Red Cross. The camp’s location in New Oxford is actually where Clara Barton was born and raised. The barn she visited daily is where we host our annual summer talent shows, her classic white home was transformed into a place where campers can buy postcards and camp apparel, and her pond is one of the best places for an afternoon camp swim. Clara Barton is the “it girl” at our camp, her dedication to others is what we, both counselors and campers, strive for. When I was hired back as a counselor at the camp, I went to my closest American Red Cross on West Harrison Street to get CPR/First Aid certified. I can vividly recall looking at the walls in the building and seeing photos of Clara Barton. It was the same Clara Barton that was on my camp key chain I had purchased the summer before with my cabin mates. Seeing her photo allowed me take a step back and realize not only how much I appreciate Clara Barton Camp, but also how impactful Clara Barton was as the founder of the American Red Cross, a truly spectacular organization.
At the end of every camp session, the entire camp comes together to read “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. The book ends with the little boy, who is now an old man, returning to the tree. The tree explains that he has nothing left to give the boy because he already gave the boy everything he had. The boy explains that all he wants is a place to sit, and the tree, which is now a wooden stump, gives him just that; “and the tree was happy.” The tree did not simply give; he made giving his mission. At Clara Barton Camp we follow that giving mission, the same mission of the American Red Cross.
Written by: Aubrey Woolford