Erin Gray Talks About Summer Camp

Summer camp has always been an important part of my life. From attending camp as a child, to becoming a counselor in training, to being invited onto the staff team as a teenager, and taking on leadership roles the older I became. I thought that summer 2014 was my last summer involved in camp; I was on track to graduate from college and needed a job, so I applied for a management position at a hospital in rural Maine as an Aquatics & Fitness Program Coordinator. My major in school was Mental Health and Human Services, but I still didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with that. Since I was familiar with aquatics having worked at camp for 5 summers on the waterfront staff, managing a pool seemed to be a good first step to launching myself into the work force.

My first summer working at the hospital was brutal. I was inside watching people swim laps or participating in aquatic therapy with some of the best physical therapists I’ll ever meet. The temperature in the natatorium was always set to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, with 75% humidity. I was used to being outside on a dock all day either teaching swim lessons to girls aged 5-18 years, or lifeguarding. I would spend my mealtimes with an assigned unit, I would make dinners over a fire pit for “pack-out” nights, I would entertain the campers with camp songs and silly stories, and I would sleep in a platform tent with 3 other counselors. Being inside and commuting 45 minutes to and from work each day wasn’t what I wanted to keep doing with my life.

On a Wednesday evening after working a 12 hour shift at the pool, I hopped onto and found apposition available at the Boothbay Region YMCA. I was instantly excited, as I had rented the Emery Pool in the past to teach American Red Cross lifeguard courses for camps local to Lincoln County. I e-mailed Andy that evening and was scheduled for an interview that Friday. Saturday I was offered the position, and Monday I accepted. I was excited to work for a YMCA as I had dreams of being able to bounce around and get to learn new things and take on new responsibilities. Since joining the team in 2017 I’ve been lucky enough to head up not only the aquatics department, but have been able to dabble in marketing, child care, safety, and now summer camp!

In November of 2019 I proposed taking the director position for Camp Knickerbocker alongside a dear friend and co-worker of mine, Lindsey Senecal. We met at summer camp and worked together for a few summers starting in 2011. Lindsey had finished up with school in 2017 and was looking for a job when one opened up in the aquatics department here at the Y. With Lindsey’s background, she was offered a split position in aquatics and child care, taking on leadership of the Fit Kids After-School Program. In the summer months, she took the lead on the waterfront at Camp K, and this year she served as our Assistant Camp Director and Nurse.

Camp Knickerbocker is a wonderful place for campers and staff alike to learn safety and camp related activities. It provides the opportunity to grow together as a community, as well as practice self-discovery. It is a safe place for families to leave their children for the day and not have to worry about what they’re doing. It sits on 65+ acres of land, including our Baldwin Center and the island that we can stay physically active on. We sit on a beautiful lake where we can learn how to canoe, kayak, fish, and swim. We have counselors who continue to support our community by coming back year after year and remembering campers from previous summers and forming strong relationships with them. We have YMCAs nearby that provide additional support when we need it. We have innovated leaders who are constantly coming up with new program ideas so our campers don’t get tired of doing the same activity day in and day out (2020 brought us nutrition, gardening, STEM, biking, fishing, and outdoor cooking)!

We are meant to teach our campers the values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. We are meant to teach them how to be safe with themselves and around others. We are meant to be strong role models and to teach our campers how to be leaders as well as how to work as a team. We are meant to provide a safe space for campers and staff. We are meant to educate our campers and staff through our extensive programming. We are meant to be present, to listen and to provide emotional support.

Camp Knickerbocker might be a place that our community sees as a growth opportunity for their families, but really, the community helps Camp K grow year after year. Without the support of the community, we would not be able to offer free, healthy meals for breakfast and lunch each day. Without our community, we would be unable to utilize our spacious property to house our after-school program this year due to COVID-19. Without the community, we would be unable to open each season. To some, camp might be seen as just daycare or a place to leave campers while their caregivers are working, but Camp K is more than that—at our core, we are here for everyone, and everyone is here for us.