By Lily Oyer
Lily Oyer joined the Marketing and Foundation teams this past summer as an intern and wrote this essay prior to returning to college as a reflection on her staff role with Adventure Unlimited.
Four summers ago, I was a CIT (counselor-in-training) at the A/U Ranches. After attending Youth Camp since I was seven years old, I was pretty excited to continue going to camp, in a new role. I started off strong, ready to tackle this new job and have fun at my favorite place on earth.
Throughout the summer, challenges arose that I wasn’t ready for. I struggled with taking initiative, I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job, and overall ended the summer not wanting to return the following year. Camp had always been where I felt a sense of home and pure joy, and suddenly I didn’t feel the same way anymore.
One summer went by without camp. After what had happened the previous summer, I didn’t even consider returning. The following year, when I was a freshman at Principia College, one of the A/U Ranches camp directors and the ranch director visited the campus to interview students for summer staff. I thought about it a little, did an interview, but then backed out.
I backed out because I hadn’t been feeling like myself lately and didn’t feel like I was ready to return. This time, it wasn’t because of my sour feelings about camp. Those feelings vanished because I realized that it wasn’t camp that made me feel that way. It was my own thinking. As a 16-year-old, I didn’t realize I could have been taking more initiative and responsibility in my position. I didn’t realize I could’ve been more receptive to the feedback I was receiving from my superiors. But even though I didn’t have those negative thoughts about camp any more, it just didn’t feel right, so another summer went by without camp.
Skip forward to winter break during the next year. I was lying in bed when the angel message came to me to apply to be a staff member at the A/U Ranches. My year had been going really well, and I finally was finding my true self. I found myself filling out an application.
This time, there was no fear or doubt; I felt it was a right idea. I started to remember how happy camp used to make me and how I appreciated all the experiences that helped me to grow spiritually, socially and physically. I felt a newfound love for camp in a way I hadn’t conceptualized before. This was why I wanted to go back. This time, I wasn’t in it for myself. I wanted to help nurture this type of growth for campers, just like my counselors had done for me.
I was hired to be the Explorers program head, and I couldn’t have been happier. I had a life-changing summer, gaining skills as a leader, making memories with young campers, learning how to take feedback respectfully, and cultivating harmonious relationships with other staff members. I shifted my mentality from what could I get out of the experience to what could I give.
A focus for the organization that year was “living generously,” and it was a very helpful reminder to focus on giving instead of getting. This shift in my mindset led to a conversation about an opportunity to serve Adventure Unlimited in a different role the following summer. I knew that I wanted to be serving the organization in whatever way I could, since it had done so much for me. Throughout the process of making an internship that would fit my academic needs while helping out the organization, my thought was focused on trusting that God had a plan. Placing my trust in God and turning away from any fear or stress made this process harmonious and seamless.
Now, I’m writing this from my desk at Adventure Unlimited’s headquarters office. I have been working on projects for the Foundation and Marketing departments that have been full of positive growth. At the beginning of the internship I was given the book, Relationshift: Revolutionary Fundraising, which beautifully articulated a unique approach to fundraising that Adventure Unlimited uses. I was so moved by the idea that meaningful relationships with donors can be attained if the focus is on sharing the powerful impact of their gifts through storytelling. This showed me how pure and genuine the organization’s motives are related to fundraising and helped me understand the importance of my role in capturing stories.
As a result, my focus during the internship was collecting stories from participants of Adventure Unlimited programs – an eye-opening and fulfilling experience. As someone who’s spent a lot of time at the A/U Ranches, I know there is always an abundance of healings and stories that take place, but to be able to capture them is awe-inspiring.
There was a moment that really touched my heart. While attending a Round-Up Ranch (high school campers) testimony meeting, I heard a camper share an amazing story about overcoming physical limitations through prayer at camp. His story was about going out of his comfort zone, which at first was really challenging for him, but through the support of his staff members and fellow campers he found himself actually verbally saying, “I love this!” mid-activity. His experience had completely shifted because of his understanding in Christian Science. He attributed his growth to the atmosphere that the A/U Ranches provides. Hearing him speak about what a huge impact this experience had on him was so inspiring, and it’s what camp is all about.
I am overflowing with gratitude for the impact this organization has had on me. I don’t look back on my CIT summer and feel frustration anymore. Instead, I view it as another layer of experience that’s helped me develop life skills. I’m grateful for my summer as program head for the leadership skills I learned and the opportunity to understand better the power of giving. Lastly, working as an intern has challenged me to believe in my skills and feel more confident in taking on several projects at once.
Adventure Unlimited has played a huge role in my life, and even though I stepped away for a couple of years, I found my way back. Now, I have a new appreciation for what the organization offers and incredible memories full of growth and joy.