A “Guest Post” by Robyn Brilliant, sister of Alan Eisenberg.
My first experience at Summer camp was not a good one. The first two years I went to “overnight camp” I was bullied and teased by the other campers for various reasons. I was shy, small and skinny at 9 years old. The following year I had started “developing” in a somewhat lopsided way and got teased for that. I was uncoordinated and hated (I mean HATED) all team sports. I was not a good swimmer. At the camp I went to you had no choice you had to participate in everything – athletics, swim instruction, everything. The only activity I really enjoyed at camp was arts and crafts. As I got older we moved and I went to other camps where I was not bullied as much and I learned that summer camp could be OK. There were ways to avoid the things I didn’t like and there was more choice. Sometimes the ways I avoided sports and swimming instruction were against camp “rules” but I effectively got away with it and did not get into any trouble. When I was 17 and graduating High School, I decided to take my chances applying for a job working as a counselor at summer camp I had never been to as a camper. I was hired for the summer, without an interview. I arrived at camp eager to work with young girls and requested to work with 9 year olds. They assigned me to a bunk full of 11 year olds. 11 year old girls can be very cruel and there was a girl in our cabin who was overweight, teased relentlessly and did not want to stay at camp. Her parents had signed her up for the whole summer. She did everything she could to get sent home, including swearing and hitting adults. Her parents finally agreed to let her come home from camp after 4 weeks, but the damage had been done. Seeing what happened to her stirred up those horrible days of teasing, but that was nothing compared to what was done to me by the adults in charge.
As a counselor, I also had to provide some leadership/support for camp activities. I asked to have my hour off during Athletics, but was not granted that wish. I explained that I was really not fond of or good at sports, but nobody listened. I accepted that I would have to do some kind of athletics with the girls, and at least I had a choice, so I chose “New Games”. That meant leading about 30 girls in games like Red Light, Green Light or silly races. I could handle that. Plus I had 2 other counselors to help – or so I thought. Turns out the other two counselors had their day off on the same day and I was left alone with 30 girls one day a week. The girls were coming from various activities including horseback riding, some of which were halfway across camp. So two weeks into my first experience as a camp counselor, on my first day alone with New Games, I was patiently waiting for all the girls to arrive before I started a game. The athletic director of girls camp saw me with a bunch of girls standing around. She did not ask me for any explanation of why we hadn’t started, instead she screamed at me in front of the girls, called me “Incompetent” in front of them and said they all could go to the gym for aerobics. Everything from my time at camp, my lack of coordination at sports, being teased and picked last welled up inside me. In front of the girls I yelled back at her “You BITCH”, at the top of my lungs. And it seemed time had stopped. I believe that was the first time in my young life that I stood up for myself. It felt good.
What happened next was, of course, I got in trouble. The unit leader of 9-11 year old girls added to the accusations that I told all the girls in the unit to call her “Jabba the Hut” (yes it was the summer that Return of the Jedi came out at the movies). I told her that the girls came up with that themselves, which was true. She was mean and yes, overweight, but I would never have told 9-11 year olds to tease or bully an adult. I was brought to the director’s office with the intent to fire me. I stood up for myself, threatened to have my mom withdraw her money for my brother to attend second session as a camper, and in the end they decided well, maybe they were wrong. They found me another job at camp where I didn’t have to be a counselor. In fact, I ended up having a great summer working at the camp store. All the kids loved me because I was the one who handed out candy and popsicles. I was not invited back to work there again.
You would think after that I would not send my kids to overnight camp. But I do. Both of them have had much better experiences than I did. Maybe it’s the particular camps I sent them too or maybe its a different time. What made me want to share this story, though, is that yesterday at my daughter’s camp they did something amazing. Every girl painted their pinky fingernails blue and took a pledge against bullying, “I blue pinky promise to stand up against bullying, No matter where I am, No matter what I do, I will always be there for you!” I finally have some hope for Summer Camp.