Article written for Programming Magazine – Sept/Oct 2018
In the summer, I work as the program director of a residential summer camp in Maine. It’s located on a big clear lake and is beautiful. Counselors and campers live in rustic cabins, with the buildings connected by a maze of paths through the pine tree forest. All day, campers run from activity to activity along these trails, eager and excited to get from one event to another. They jump off big rocks and leap over tree roots as they scramble and race their friends to the next activity.
I was walking along one of the paths early in the summer and noticed one of our new campers walking slowly in my direction. He did not appear to be lost, as he wasn’t looking up and around, searching for direction. He was just plodding along, scuffing his feet along the path, looking down, and moving very slowly. He would kick a pinecone, pause, and watch it bounce until it stopped. He was in no hurry.
When the gap between us closed to a speaking distance, I greeted him with a big, “Hi Shane, where ya’ headed?” He lifted his arm out straight in front of him and pointed past me down the path and quietly said, “I’m headed that way.” Immediately, I knew something wasn’t quite right. After a brief conversation, I learned Shane was homesick and missed his dog and little sister. What a bummer. I knew exactly how he felt. I, too, had been a homesick camper my first summer at sleep-away camp. I had been “in his shoes”.
I told Shane the story about my first summer and my own homesickness and the things I did to help me get through. I talked to him about other counselors and older campers who had also been homesick when they were new campers. I let him know it’s OK to be homesick; it’s normal. I also talked to him about how helpful he was going to be someday helping out other first-time campers, as he was now an “expert” in homesickness. This made him smile.
Over the next few days, I checked in with him to see how he was doing. I let other older campers and counselors know about Shane and they all did a great job keeping him busy and having fun. Soon, he was bouncing along the path and running from activity to activity. Shane will be a great help next summer with our new campers as they experience sleep-away camp for the first time. He has now “been in their shoes.”
On your campus, in your residence halls, in your student center, walking across campus, there are students just like Shane. They may not be homesick but they may have some other challenge and could use your help and mentorship. After all, you are a student leader, an advisor, a counselor, a peer mentor, or one of the many other amazing people I’ve met through NACA®. That’s why you’re reading this magazine. It’s not your first day of summer camp!
But, you were once a new student. You overcame challenges and struggled through events. Your ability to share your unique story and connect with others is one of your most important jobs as a leader on campus. Your willingness to share your story with others is what makes you an influential life-changer to those you meet. You’re able to help so many new students simply because you have been in their shoes and are able to lend an ear or offer some insightful advice. You do not need a title, name badge, or a counseling degree to change someone’s life. You simply need to be yourself and be willing to listen to someone’s story and let them know they are not alone.
There’s a 98.7% chance you may have helped someone in a peer mentor role and not even realized it. Have you helped anyone find a tutor, make an appointment with the health center, register for classes or deal with homesickness? Have you given advice on time management or explained where to get a parking sticker? All of these actions put you in a mentor role. And the list goes on and on. You’re helping your friends and new students every day. You rock!!!
So, I offer up a big THANKS to you for giving back to your school through your service as a friend and mentor to those in your office or residence halls, in your clubs or Greek organizations, and even in the parking lot. You are influential everywhere on campus. Thanks for taking on that responsibility and accepting your role as an influential “I’ve been in your shoes” leader on campus. Keep up the great work!!!
Jason LeVasseur lives in Nashville, TN, and is one of the most awarded music performers in campus entertainment. He’s also a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator, summer camp counselor, husband, father, and the creator of “The Rock Star Project.” Visit www.jasonlevasseur.com.