How Camp Grew My Independence
Three years ago, a woman I camped with as a Girl Scout at Camp Andree Clark in the 1960s and 70s organized a reunion with fellow Girl Scout alums. While the event was made up of just a couple dozen women, both former campers and former counselors, the experience was one I’ll never forget.
When the last woman arrived, she saw the group of Girl Scout alums gathered together, put her bags down, and sighed happily. “It was at Camp Andree Clark that I found lifelong friends, an appreciation for the outdoors, and self-confidence,” she announced, adding as she sat down, “This is the place where I could be me!”
We all looked at one another—and realized we felt the same way.
When I attended camp as a child, I was coming from my apartment in New York City, as were many of us. Girl Scouts is where I learned about the outdoors. And as a girl growing up in New York City, I knew my parents were worried about where I was all the time. Everything was done for me; I don’t remember having chores, and my mother always had a full day planned for me.
So although many of these Girl Scout alums also came from sheltered environments where everything was done for them, at Camp Andree Clark we cooked our own meals, prepared and cleaned up everything, cleaned the bathroom, mopped the floors, and planned everything we did. I remember singing and clapping in rhythm with the other girls as we sang song after song while washing up our dishes in big buckets in the dining hall.
It was at camp that I found I was good at building fires and gathering firewood. I was a shy girl who never stood out at home, but at camp these were things I stood out for being good at. At camp I also learned to swim, row a boat, and paddle a canoe. I mastered lashing a table and rescuing myself when a canoe tipped. After my first visit, I not only felt proud of my new independence but also like I knew how to survive wherever I went.
I was ten years old when I first went to camp in 1963 (you had to be a junior to go to Camp Andree Clark). And, to be honest, when they first passed out the registration forms at a troop meeting, I didn’t take one. I never thought my mother would let me sleep somewhere else overnight. But I learned when I got home that night that Camp Andree Clark was where she had gone to camp—and she signed me up right away.
That first experience was a two-week session. I went for two weeks again the next year; I wanted to stay longer, but the spots filled up too quickly. So the next year, the day that camp registration opened up, my mother and I took the subway from Queens to the Manhattan Girl Scout office and filled out the paperwork right away. (We also went to the Girl Scout Shop and got camp supplies.) That year I went for a month. The next three years I went for the whole summer. After that I worked at the camp as a counselor.
At our reunion, we all shared memories of the ways that camp had given us confidence in life. When we went to college, we felt prepared because of camp. We watched the other students struggle and realized that Camp Andree Clarke had made us self-sufficient.
Camping has changed very little through the years, though we’re more environmentally conscious now than we were back then. I believe it’s just as important today as it was then for girls to have this experience. It’s not as hard to get a spot at most camps as it was back then—perhaps because girls are less willing to unplug from their technology or get out of their comfort zones. And while knot tying and fire building may feel quaint today, my reunion at Camp Andree Clark reminded me that the importance of learning to be self-sufficient will always be a critical one for turning girls into confident, independent women.
This year, Camp Andree Clark in Briarcliff Manor, New York, is celebrating its 100th anniversary! Camp alums are currently organizing an exhibit to share memories of the camp. If you were a camper, please share your stories and photos at CulturalAssetsRequests@girlscouts.org.