In lieu of a Tuesdays with Topher post this week, I’m proud to present guest-blogger Taylor Eveland.  Taylor does a great job introducing herself in the first paragraph, so I won’t say anything more other than, we’re abundantly thankful that Taylor plays an integral role at Camp Gray!

By: Taylor Eveland

Greetings campers, parents, alumni, staff, and the never-forgotten but always appreciated web-surfer who happened to stumble upon this post! Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Taylor Eveland, and I am a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in Secondary English Education. I was a member of the kitchen crew at Camp Gray last summer, and will be returning this summer for my first year as a counselor! Of course, I am beyond excited—the position of counselor is something that has been on my mind ever since my wary, twelve-year-old self stepped onto Camp grounds—so I am counting down the days until Summer Camp 2012!

You may be thinking to yourself, “Self, who is this girl and why is her experience at camp important? Why is it applicable to me?” It’s a valid question—I’ve only been on staff one summer; before that, I was just a young, naïve camper. Why do I have importance? What makes me stand out from the thousands of other campers that have rolled through CG in the last decade? Well, to be honest, nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. I am just a regular camper—representative of all of the campers in your life. I’ve experienced Camp Gray. I’ve trudged forward on a stream hike on the purple trail and just missed catching Walter in Lake Jake. I’ve cleared dishes quickly enough to get Table Number One and have emerged victorious and war paint-stained from Capture the Flag. I’ve eaten asphalt on the basketball court and eaten apple crisp with just my face. What makes me stand out? Not much, other than the fact that Camp Gray has completely changed my life.

At the risk of sounding completely cliché, I’m just going to throw this out here: I have no idea what my life would look like had I never gone to Camp Gray. People say things like that all the time—but I honestly can’t imagine it. Camp has been intrinsic in my development as a person and has spilled over into so many other parts of my life. Of course, so many of my best friendships have stemmed from Camp, but it’s more than that. Camp helped me realize what’s important to me. It’s where I realized what kind of person I wanted to be and it’s where I learned the faith that has become such an integral part of my life.

These words, by themselves, don’t mean much. To really understand how much Camp has influenced me, we need to travel back: back to a time in which Justin Bieber was just another Canadian schoolboy and Joseph Ratzinger was just settling into his position as Pope Benedict XVI—to a time before YouTube had become a sensation and before the iPhone had taken over the mobile world. That’s right, friends, we need to go back to 2005.

There were early indicators that 6th grade Taylor - shown trying to color-up her wardrobe - would be a CG Staff member a mere six years later.

Meet sixth grade Taylor (pictured at right). She was an adventurous outgoing young girl who loved sports, country music, and making people laugh. One day, a friend of hers approached her about going to summer camp—an adventure that, of course, Taylor would not pass up. A mutual friend encouraged the girls to try out a place called Camp Gray, so with no prior knowledge, the two signed up.

And that’s how it all started for me. I got out of the car at Camp and was immediately whisked off into activities. I was apprehensive on the drive there—my friend and I were going to this place without knowing anyone; we had each other, but that was it. As soon as we arrived, however, everyone made me feel comfortable. I left any worries I had in the car and immediately jumped right in to the camp atmosphere, and I couldn’t get enough (I mean, what 12-year-old doesn’t want to cover herself in war paint and play a giant game of Capture the Flag?!). Camp Gray served up more fun than I had ever had—if you don’t believe me, be sure to check out the video made of the Cassidy Games, Camp’s newest evening program area, and I guarantee you’ll be convinced.

Now, don’t get me wrong—the fun is the main reason I started coming back to Camp. It’s the reason I immediately told my parents, upon getting picked up, that I’d be back for another year. But that’s not the reason I’m writing this post. No, I’m writing this because Camp has affected me in such a greater way than just through the goofiness and laughter that a typical camp atmosphere obviously provides—and that, my friends, is what makes Camp Gray so much different than other camps.

As I stated in the beginning, I don’t know what type of person I would be today if I had never gone to Camp. My faith is the most obvious and most prominent aspect of my life that has been affected. I started at CG in the sixth grade, just as we started diving deeper into our relationships with Christ in our religious education classes at church. At Camp, I was surrounded by college students who were incredibly fun and charismatic, but were also genuinely happy. They knew how to have a great time and appeal to campers but were also responsible, caring and genuinely conscious in all of their actions and decisions. Naturally, I wanted them to like me—so I started imitating what they did. I became more and more involved through my home parish and I developed a prayer life so that I could better imitate their happiness. This imitation soon turned into habituation, and the faith I sought out soon became my own personal relationship with God.

As I grew up and continued going through the programs at Camp, I found that I was never really able to choose a favorite. I know, I know, this is incredibly cliché, but it’s completely true—the programs are so well-tailored to the needs of each age group that I was shocked to find that I was enjoying each year more than the previous. There was one shift, though. The one change that really surprised me, more than anything, is what I found enjoyable. When I was younger, I went to CG for the fun. I went for the energy of the counselors and excitement of Capture the Flag. As I grew up, though, I went for the community and the opportunity to experience my faith in a new way. I think the shifting of programs really affected my priorities. They went from being centered on nurturing my own faith to teaching me how to be a leader for others’ faith. They taught me that I have so much to be thankful for, and they showed me that selflessness is the only way for me to really reach true happiness.

A mere 6 years after 6th grade, Taylor joined the Camp Gray staff, and she taught everyone that Christmas socks are cool all year!

I’m nearing the end of my freshman year at the UW right now. With almost a year of college under my belt (and summer camp 2012 quickly approaching), it’s humbling to look back on the year and realize what a huge impact Camp Gray has had on my life. I look at the organizations with which I’m involved, and nearly all of them wouldn’t be possible without Camp Gray. I’m in a bible study and regularly attend Mass and other events at St. Paul’s, the University Catholic Center; I teach a Wednesday night faith formation class at St. John’s in Waunakee; I nanny for a family just outside of Madison three times a week. Each commitment feeds back into an attribute I learned at Camp—faith, leadership, and love of kids! Add 16 credits on top of that and it gets a little hectic. Again, though, this is just where Camp has come in to help me even more. Camp has provided more than just references—it prepared me for these positions.

Last summer, I was in the kitchen crew. That meant we woke up before the sun rose and went to bed well after the sun set. We worked all day in a fast-paced environment, constantly working hard to maintain community and get things done in a productive, efficient manner. This has done nothing but help me since I’ve come to school. It has taught me what hard work is, which—at such a highly ranked university such as Madison—puts me at a great advantage. It taught me to keep my priorities in check, that sometimes a good night’s sleep is more important than a few extra hours of studying. It taught me time management and how to work with people. More importantly, though, Camp Gray taught me how to serve people. It taught me how to make servant-leadership the most important thing in my life, and to be constantly aware of how others are doing. It’s the reason that I’ve spent nights consoling a friend in the laundry room, hours of the day planning religious education classes for tenth graders, and countless spare moments writing down new devotion ideas. It’s the reason that I chose my major—Camp showed me that teaching and serving is what I’m passionate about, and that’s what I plan to do.

I’ve stated this over and over again, but I can’t emphasize it enough: my life would be completely different had I never gone to Camp Gray. I wouldn’t have the same friends; I wouldn’t have the same priorities; heck, I might not even have the same career choice. I’d love to say that it’s just a camp thing, but I know it’s not. No, there’s something different about Camp Gray. No other camp has the Holy Spirit so vividly expressed in every aspect of its outreach. It so cohesively binds “faith, friends, and fun” that campers can’t often distinguish between the three. As a former camper, I can attest to this. We spend time with our friends, having fun diving deeper into our faith. I’ve been asked many times if I would recommend Camp Gray to families, and I always have the same answer: just recommending this camp doesn’t do it justice. Just hearing my life story, the Camp Gray experience won’t make sense. If people don’t experience these grounds, they’ll never understand. Camp Gray isn’t just a camp—it’s an exciting, joyful way to experience a true Catholic community.

So, what makes me qualified to tell you all of these things? I am a Camp Gray camper. I have laughed, cried, and experienced an outpouring of love on these 225 acres. I have observed some of the most kind and holy people doing what brings them joy, and I have learned what it really means to be a servant leader. I received things from Camp Gray that have made my life so much more abundant. What makes me qualified to receive these things? Nothing. All I had to do was go to Camp Gray.

Would you like to share your Camp Gray story on the CG Blog?  Email Topher at bigfun@campgray.com

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