An Uncalculated Career Move

As a kid, I learned to swim at camp, make new friends at camp, even kissed my first girl at camp! Looking back, the many years I attended summer camp had such a positive impact on my development as a person, both as an individual and as a member of the community as a whole.

I have now been a recreation professional for the better part of 10years--but my real recreation career began when I was at Penn State finishing up my bachelor’s degree in Political Science. On a whim, I took a job at the Bethlehem YMCA as a summer camp counselor.

That first summer, I had a 10-year-old camper named Mikey Rodriguez. Mikey was unlike many of the other campers, he barely said a word, but spoke with his actions. When I asked him to turn left, he would turn right. When I asked him to run, he’d walk. He was openly defiant at every opportunity—and boy, what a challenge! I looked at his camp file, and of course, he was scheduled for every camp day, all summer. To me, that meant I was either going to get through to this kid, or there were going to be fireworks all summer! Slowly, as the summer progressed, and Mikey felt more comfortable in the ebb and flow of camp, he changed ... dramatically for the better. I could see his confidence among his peers grow and his sense of self-identity emerge—he said, “Jason, someday, I’m going to become an architect." Wow! To see the transformation from openly defiant to “architect” was amazing! By the end of summer camp, Mikey was stuck to my hip, helping me with every aspect of the camp, and I think we were both sad to see the last day arrive.

During the last day of camp, Mikey ran up to me, kind of nervous, and said, “I have a present for you.” I was fully expecting a card, or letter, something thoughtful yet commonplace in that setting. He pulled from behind his back, a dirty, old, stuffed bunny. I said, “Wow, Mikey, thanks.” I thought, as any 19-year-old would, that it was kind of a peculiar gift. Mikey ran off to play basketball and his mom quickly came up to me and gave me a big bear hug. I told her thanks, but that I couldn't accept the gift. She said, “You don’t understand, that bunny is what he had in his crib as a baby, it’s his most prized possession, you changed his life, you need to keep it.” 

Nothing tells the story of the power of summer camp better than that. He gained confidence in himself, and I knew what my true career path would be ... and it wasn't Political Science.

And the bunny sits on my desk to this day...

Jason Lang, CPRP, MS, is the Director of Parks and Recreation in East Goshen Township. Reach him at jlang@eastgoshen.org.