By: Allison Malek
When I began to tell friends and family that I was heading out to Wisconsin for the year, the responses typically included two words: cheese and cold. And while cheese is my favorite food group (tied with potatoes), I have been ecstatic to find that there is so much more to Wisconsin than just cold and cheese.
Truthfully, up until this past September during orientation, I had little understanding about what a year on the Servant Leadership Team (SaLT) here at camp would look like. When people would ask me what I would be doing for my SaLT year, my response always sounded something like this: “Yeah, I’ll be doing summer camp and then camp has year round retreats so we’ll be running retreats and stuff.” It was a pretty noncommittal answer.
If I had such a small understanding of what was to come, I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who has been confused about what the year-round exactly looks like here at Camp Gray. I’m going to tell you a bit more about SaLT, and I would like to title it “Not just cheese and cold: What else I’ve found in Wisconsin.”
So I was right, there are retreats involved- three in fact. During the year round at Camp we hold three different types of retreats: Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP), Confirmation, and Teambuilding & Leadership. This past fall we had a retreat group here almost every day for one of those three retreats. The amazing thing is that even though there’s only three “types” of retreats, each day is completely unique and new.
With 225 acres, each day has countless opportunities to teach about and experience God’s creation. In any given day we might find ourselves pulling on boots and heading out into Harrison Creek, measuring the circumference of trees and learning about forest management, or checking out the compost bin after discussing recycling and landfills.
I’ve found that more than teaching about the Lord, or the environment, or how to work as a team, working on SaLT means we wear a million hats a day. For example, this past Sunday I began my day setting up for breakfast and doing dishes, then heading over to give a talk to the Confirmation group, then playing guitar and singing at Mass, then cleaning Camp after the group left. One amazing benefit of being on SaLT is that not only has Camp helped me to grow in my ability to speak to large groups and facilitate small group learning, but it has helped me gain a plethora of new skills.
Even though I had only gone fishing once before coming to Camp, I’m a boss at fixing fishing poles, teaching kids how to cast, and taking off fish (okay, Bass are still difficult…). I can set up both sides of the rock wall by myself in twenty minutes without breaking a sweat (which I’m impressed by…). I’m a pretty speedy dishwasher in the kitchen, and I’m pretty close to knowing where all the different pots and utensils go in the kitchen. And I’ll just say, I’ve unclogged a lot of toilets.
SaLT has given me opportunities and confidence to do things that might be outside of my comfort zone. Leading a small group on a two-hour informational hike through nature was a daunting task at first, but now is one of my favorite ESP activities. And, while I was nervous at first to play guitar and sing at Mass, with the opportunity to do so, I love the opportunity to praise our God in that way. Jumping in on the spot to lead a game, activity, or song has become second nature, and giving my testimony to a group of high schoolers has become a welcomed activity.
The support and joy of our team has encouraged me in all of these growing experiences. When I led my first evening Vesper I’m pretty sure I did not make eye contact with a single retreatant, I found myself looking between my notes and the encouraging faces of my fellow team members in the back. The genuine love and support I’ve seen from my team has allowed my talks to improve, both in content and in delivery. And even though camp is amazing, not every day is a dream come true. There are the rough days when you flub your talk or something goes wrong in your activity or you didn’t sleep well and you need a little more patience. The laughter and love I’ve found from those I work with is what keeps me positive and joyful in those moments. We love to laugh together, and as we spend more time together, we are learning how to better build each other up. Our prayer life as a team has enabled us to grow closer to each other as we grow closer to God, and for that I am infinitely thankful.
So back to my title, “Not just cheese and cold: What else I’ve found in Wisconsin.” I’ll admit, I had to go shopping for new jackets and mittens once fall hit and I’m addicted to Culver’s cheese curds. But I have found so much more. I’ve found that many Wisconsin stop lights are horizontal, not vertical. I’ve found that I make a pretty good nature tour guide. I’ve found that I love leading evening Vespers and speaking to hundreds of diocesan youth about how they are made for greatness. I’ve found that adding pulled pork and BBQ sauce to leftover mac and cheese makes leftovers feel brand new. I’ve found that walkie talkies are not just functional, but a fashionable accessory to any outfit. I’ve found that after living with the same nine people for five months, it’s easy to notice when they buy a new shirt. I’ve found that the “If I were not at Camp Gray” song can still make our team laugh, even after 70 campfires. And I’ve found that deciding to be a part of SaLT was an incredibly rewarding decision, even if I had no idea what I was walking into.
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