Summer camp can lead to lifelong friendships.

According to Kelsey Ferretti, manager of camp programs at Achievement Centers for Children’s Camp Cheerful in Strongsville; Becky Parkin, assistant chief of outdoor education at Lake Metroparks’ Environmental Learning Center in Concord Township; and Amit Weitzer, executive director of Habonim Dror Camp Tavor in Three Rivers, Mich., friendships are an integral part of the camp experience.

“Camp provides a uniquely authentic landscape for creating and nurturing friendships,” Weitzer said. “At camp, we are our most authentic selves – free, empowered, active and creative. And it is incredible to make new friends who love us for who we are. ... Because when we’re at camp, we’re building our camp family. Camp friends play a critical role in supporting each other.”

Parkin added, “It is so important to have campers build those friendships because it feels like you’re in it for the long haul when you’re at a week-long camp as a kid. That’s the person you can sit on the bus with and talk or eat lunch with and when you’re working on activities, you have that instant friendship. It’s that comradery.”

At Camp Cheerful, which serves campers with special needs, friendship building is especially important.

“That is where they struggle in their day to day lives –building relationships and finding people like them,” Ferretti explained. “At camp, it is an inclusive environment where we focus on what they can do and how we can make these things happen for them. We try to give our campers an as typical experience as possible and that is centered around being with people your age.”

Friendships play a big role in how campers perceive their experiences.

“(Friendships) affect if you’re going to have a positive or negative experience at camp,” Parkin stated. “What’s nice is, for camp, you could be best buddies for the week. But if you had met this person in other circumstances, you might not have been friends. I think camp friendships are unique in that kids are really great at adapting to their situation.”

Weitzer added, “We build relationships through games, programming and conversation designed to build compassion and understanding. Additionally, we provide opportunities for campers of various ages to build relationships together.”

Ferretti said, “When campers build friendships, it changes the experience completely. I feel like they look forward to coming to camp more and they have that person they know will be there, so they look forward to camp.”

The camp representatives said their programs help facilitate friendship building.

“If you’re new to camp this summer, don’t worry,” Weitzer noted. “Camp counselors are especially good at helping campers create new friendships by facilitating team-building activities that focus on communication, cooperation and empathy. These activities and others help to ensure all campers make connections with each other and feel supported by the camp community.”

For Camp Cheerful, Ferretti said, “Our campers specifically struggle with that is appropriate and what isn’t, so we really facilitate what you’re supposed to do with friends and we facilitate games or conversations with each other.”

Parkin said, “One of the things we pride in is being all-inclusive. Although I want the kids to find that friend they can hang out with, everyone is still in it together. One of the things we try very hard to do is having them make friendships on their own, but also we try to build friendships where they are in different situations.

“It’s about getting campers to realize, that even if they wanted to just hang out with their first group, we’re all in this together. We should be happy as a whole.”

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