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Only Complaint This Camp: It Was too Short

July 10, 2017

Being a Junior Camp Director I don’t often get to work as many senior camps as other staff, but this year I was assigned to three. The first senior camp I worked this summer was our second senior camp, for grades 7-9 at Wesley Acres Camp. It is only our second year having senior campers at Wesley, and although it is our smallest senior camp, it is one of the most fun in my opinion.

The junior campers are always begging to do the zipline out at Wesley. Due to safety and time restraints, we don’t take our junior campers ziplining. That just gives them one more incentive to continue to senior camp. Now that we added a senior camp at Wesley, it offers us the opportunity to take our kids ziplining, which is always a highlight for staff and campers. Check out the Farmers Union Facebook page for pictures and videos from our adventure.

Another reason I like senior 2 is that having a smaller group allows you to really get to know each other, which is something a lot of the kids mentioned was their favorite part of camp. We tend to do things a little differently with groups that size, for example we skipped the dance one night to watch Moana (great movie, would recommend). Less kids means they get to know each other more, and we get to know them more.

One thing that was really special for me was seeing some of my junior campers from last year get to come to their first senior camp. Senior camp is one day longer, has two theme nights instead of one, and has sports tournaments, which included the new addition of a water chugging contest (let’s stay hydrated). That extra day allows us to do a lot of fun stuff and create more memories. Even with camp being a day longer now that she was a senior camper, one of my girls was so sad to leave and told me to make camp longer next summer. I asked how long she thinks camp should be and she suggested a month. If that doesn’t show how much she loves camp I don’t know what would. Another camper told me he can’t wait to be a counselor someday, and that I can expect to see him as a junior counselor next year. There’s not much better than seeing kids as passionate about Farmers Union as I am.

However, my absolute favorite thing to see at camp is friendships being formed. And during senior two, I got to watch that happen a lot. Just from the beginning of the week to the end of the week I saw kids who didn’t know each other become super close, which of course reminds me of all the friends I have made at camp. My favorite friendship to watch was between two campers who were at senior 2 last year. I remember them meeting last summer, so to see them come back and be basically inseparable was really cool. It was a boy and a girl, and so many things they did reminded me of how one of my friends and I used to be when we went to camp. We too met at camp one year, became close over the school year, and were really close for the remaining years we went to camp and then for a few years in college. I loved watching the campers interact because it brought back fond memories of my friend. It makes me excited to know my campers are forming friendships that will help them get through good times and bad, create memories, and keep them coming to camp.

I loved seeing the campers of senior 2 grow in friendship and leadership and make memories throughout the week. If you haven’t been to our Wesley Acres site, I recommend you come check it out. To the campers of senior 2, thank you for the fun, and see you next year!

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“You make camp feel like home.”

June 26, 2017

“I love being here, you and Emily make camp feel like home. You’re like my big sisters,” Savanna told me the second day of camp. A returning camper from last year, Savanna and I bonded over our shared love for the endangered vaquita porpoise, as well as pillow pets and giraffes. Her words warmed my heart. I view my campers as little sisters, so to hear that at least one of them thinks of me as a big sister was so touching.

When the campers of our second camp at Wesley Acres arrived, I was happy to see how many of them I recognized. Some of them I even had for the last two years. A lot of these campers hold a special place in my heart. I don’t have favorites, but if I did some of those girls would be in the running. Not only are the kids from LaMoure, Dickey, and Stutsman county fun, but they are also respectful, kind, interesting, and caring.

One of those kids is Gracie. You can tell from the way her and her sister act and talk that they are being raised well. Neither of them have social media or use make-up, and they don’t have cell phones. I can respect that, parents who let their kids be kids. Gracie is easy to talk to, very likeable, and smart. She followed me around for most of the camp and I didn’t get annoyed with her once. I truly enjoyed hanging out with her, especially chilling with her and the other girls on the swings singing along to country music cuddled in blankets.

Aside from the great kids at this camp, we also had a 10/10 week because of the amazing people on staff this summer. I always think we are funny, but this camp we were really on the top of our humor game. When I walked in for roll call the first day, Preston had left a plunger that he found in a prop closet on stage. The kids asked me what was up, I answered the first thing that came to mind. “This…this is Preston’s girlfriend,” I said. Thus began a week full of amazing jokes about Preston dating a plunger. The joke from the previous camp about Heather eating her boogers resurfaced, which also is comedy gold. Add in ridiculous banquet decorations, hilarious bonfire skits, and a top-notch talent show, and we spent a large majority of our time laughing.

It’s camps like Wesley 2 that remind me why I love my job: the jokes, my co-workers, and most importantly, the kids. It’s camps like this that have brought me back three years in a row. It’s camps like this that create the memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Campers Teaching Staff Valuable Lessons

June 22, 2017

Sometimes at camp, the roles get reversed and campers teach us things. At Wesley Acres Junior Camp 1, one of our campers, Paul, taught all the boy counselors a valuable lesson, and that is how to be an absolute gentleman and ladies’ man.

Paul came up to Preston and me while we were selling camp sales and asked to buy an $18 Farmers Union Camp blanket. I said no, because he only had $13 left. Turns out he wanted to buy it for the girl he likes to ask her to banquet, and he was really bummed. Preston and I told him to buy a beach ball and a sharpie instead and ask her to banquet by writing on the beach ball. He thought it was a good idea and went for it.

Now when we gave him this idea we imagined he’d just write “Will you go to banquet with me?” on it. But Paul is a real romantic. “I love you. You’re the best. Will you go to banquet with me? Please. Take me into your loving arms and kiss me under the light of a thousand stars.”

Wow. How can you say no to that?

So of course, she said yes. Banquet rolls around and we look out our cabin window and there Paul is, waiting for his date to come out. 20 minutes later he’s still out there waiting while we are getting ready. One of the girls went out there and asked if she should tell his date to hurry up. “No,” he replies, “she can take her time.” WOW WHAT. WHO RAISED THIS YOUNG MAN.

His date finally comes out, he walks over to her, and puts his arm out to escort her to the main building. We played “Thinking Out Loud” for them that night and they slow danced together. SO CUTE.

So, to Paul and the rest of the Wesley Acres campers, thank you for everything you taught us, and thanks for the reminder about the beauty of young love. What a cute way to start our summer at Wesley Acres.

First Camp is Going to be Hard to Beat!

June 19, 2017

We knew we would like the campers at our first camp of the year when 4:00pm rolled around the first day and no one was there yet. After a summer of kids arriving way earlier than we were ready last summer, it was refreshing for kids to not show up an hour before registration. And once they got there, they did not disappoint. The campers of Heartbutte 1 were funny, energetic, and outgoing. Our camper quote sheet that we have at each camp quickly was filled with funny things the kids said to us throughout the week.

From the moment they got up in the morning until they went to bed at night, the kids kept us entertained but were also incredibly respectful. I couldn’t imagine a better group of kids to start the summer with. The best part of having well-behaved campers is that we get to do more fun things. I’m not sure if any other group of girls would be able to pull off the prank we did, cause I’ve never had that many girls stay quiet long enough to hide in the boys’ dorm and scare them when they came in after campfire.

One of my favorite parts of camp is girl time in the dorm. I love hearing the girls’ fun stories, answering their questions, and reminiscing on the day. My favorite question is to ask who the cute boys are at camp. Winning my heart once more, these girls were uninterested in boys and were much more interested in talking about food. My kind of girls.

I think the memory that will last with me from this camp with be the fun we had yelling things back and forth with the kids. I’m not sure how it started, but throughout the week every time a counselor said “Lucas!” the kids yelled “Stinks!” “Lorenzo!” “Rocks!” “Preston’s!” “Cheap!” (we still aren’t sure how they came up with that reply), and my personal favorite, “Don’t!” “Drop that thun thun thun!”

So to the campers of Heartbutte 1, thank you for the fun, the girl talk, the memories, and most of all, an amazing start to the summer.

We’re Back! And Adventure Awaits

June 13, 2017

Summer’s here and you know what that means: Farmers Union Camp is starting soon. Yesterday, actually. And I’m back, blogging live from Heartbutte. Quick intro, in case it’s your first time here, it’s been too long, or you just never really knew who wrote these things. My name is Lauren Vetter, and I’m a third year summer staffer for North Dakota Farmers Union. This will be my second year as director of camps at our Wesley Acres site. I grew up in the camping program, going to camp since 3rd grade. My sisters, cousins, parents, aunts and uncles, and even grandparents went to camp once upon a time as well. I grew up in Fargo, ND, and currently live in Grand Forks where I attend the University of North Dakota (go Hawks) for Communications and Nonprofit Administration. I’ll be a senior in the fall.

The last week and a half summer staff has been out at Heartbutte getting ready for camp. We have been getting to know each other, work together as a team, and create friendships that will last a lifetime. Along with that we’ve been preparing the camp site, planning project and theme nights, and teaching the first years the ropes. We’ve got a great staff this year, with Adam and Lucas back as directors, Macey, Rachel, Bailey and Mikey returning to be our assistant directors, Alex and Abby directing the SYAC, Carter, Lexie, and David are back on staff, and our new staffers Heather, Emily, Mikaylah, Preston, Tanner, Daniel, and Lorenzo. Jay and Evelyn are back in the kitchen, and Kaycee is back to be caretaker with her new assistant Tim.

We’ve gotten a lot of things done but it hasn’t all been hard work. One tradition we have here at camp is that the graduating campers get to throw magic dust into the campfire. We get this dust from Heartbutte, a local landmark that gave our campsite its name. We’ve been using an old stash for a while, and last year we used it up. That only meant one thing: we had to climb Heartbutte. So on a sunny Monday morning we hopped in our cars and headed over, set with fanny packs of sunscreen, bags for the dust, and plenty of water.

It’s a steeper climb than you think, but according to Carter who filmed it, it took us about 12 minutes. Once we were up there we took a few minutes to enjoy the view, and then took some pictures. After that the directors did what we came there to do: collect the dust. Don’t worry campers, we got plenty for the whole summer.

I am so excited for this summer. I’ll be working our first junior camp at Heartbutte, as well as all the junior camps at Wesley, and senior camps 2, 4, and 5. Stay tuned for more stories from camp, and I can’t wait to see you all here. Adventure awaits 🙂

Countdown to Summer Has Begun

February 1, 2017

Most people like summer- warm weather, sunny days, no school. But I don’t know ANYONE who loves summer as much as my coworkers and I do. Think I’m wrong? I literally dream about summer- being back out at camp, early morning flag, swimming in the lake, dancing all night. I constantly think about summer and plan for it, and I start a countdown for summer literally the second it ends the year prior. I’m not alone-most of my conversations with my best friend, Bailey, who was on staff with me last summer, consist of reminiscing about camp, planning for the coming summer, or talking about our mutual camp friends.

I think the reason I look forward to camp so much is the people. While Lake Tschida and Wesley Acres are on the top of my “happy place” list, I wouldn’t go out of my way to be there without the rest of my NDFU friends. If you’ve ever gone to camp, you may notice the counselors seem pretty close- that’s not just for show, we truly are. I know more about most of my coworkers from the past few summers than I’d really care to admit, but that makes for the best kind of friendships. They’ve seen me at my best (you never look better than at banquet on the last night of camp, where you finally do your hair and makeup after a week of barely looking in the mirror), and they’ve seen me at my worst (let’s just say getting woken up at 3am for a tornado warning wasn’t my best moment). Summer staff is so close that even my friends who never went to camp know we all get each other better than they will ever understand.

The friends I’ve made on staff have been a huge blessing in my life. They’re always there for me when I miss camp and need someone who gets my inside jokes, when I’m frustrated and need someone to vent to who won’t judge, and when I need an adventure buddy. No one else quite understands the true awkwardness that is seeing a camper in public and not being able to remember his or her name, or how excited I get when I find out the theme nights for the summer. Chris never judges me when I show up at his house looking like a mess (he’s seen worse), Kyle somehow tolerates me even when I’m annoying myself, and Amanda is always there when I need someone to talk to.

Now there’s a point to all this bragging about how awesome my friends and summers are: if you’re a college-aged person who has no idea what to do with their summer, join me at camp. You’ll make the best memories of your life in the best place on earth with the best people you’ll ever meet, all while gaining valuable experience that will help you in your future career. You’ll learn about teamwork, problem solving, leadership, and time-management.

I’ve never had a more rewarding job. Our campers are the best. Even the ones who misbehave will make their way into your heart. My room is decorated with things the kids give me-cards, drawings, stickers, pictures, etc. When I’m having a bad day, I read some of the things kids wrote me and suddenly I feel like I’m the best person ever. If nothing else, campers make up for at least half of my likes on Instagram (do it for the ‘gram?). They also leave cute comments on how much they miss me and can’t wait for camp. Honestly, what other job can give you that kind of unconditional love? We have the rest of our lives to be adults and work in the “real world”- spend your summer like a kid, playing in the sun and making friends that last a lifetime. You don’t need to have gone to camp in the past to apply for staff. Kids not your thing? Apply for a job in the kitchen or as caretaker! Check it out here, and send in your application today!

Camp wouldn’t be possible without summer staff. However, there is one other thing we need-campers! If you’re on the fence about signing up for camp, do it! I promise you won’t regret it. Perhaps you think you’re too old for that, you’re going to be a senior in high school, you’re busy! Take a week out of your summer and give camp a try – you might just meet your best friends, your future spouse, decide your college major, or realize you want to be on summer staff next summer.

Maybe you’re a parent and you’re worried to send your child to an overnight camp for the first time. I promise you, we will take good care of your child. All of the counselors are trained to deal with anything that could possibly happen. I’ve dealt with a broken arm, kids fighting, kids with disabilities, allergies, and lots and lots of homesickness. I treat every camper like a little sibling, and there’s nothing l love more than seeing my campers the next year. Camp changes lives; it changed mine. Help us continue the biggest camping program in North Dakota by sending your kids, grandkids, friends, and cousins. Sign up for camp here!

Already signed up? Invite 100 of your closest friends (plus you get cool prizes for referring people:Check out the Camper Incentive Program on this page here for specifics.

I can’t wait to see what this summer has in store. I can’t wait to meet with the staff to plan camp, and I’m so excited to be back at my favorite place. I’ll see you there!

 

This is the End, For Now

August 31, 2016

Exit 110. You take a left, and drive 3 miles over some train tracks until the intersection. You take a right and roll into Glen Ullin. Keep driving straight. You’ll hit a stop sign towards the end of town. Take a left, and keep going for 22 miles. The road turns and there are some hills. You’ll pass Heart Butte on your right, and go over the dam. About a mile past the dam you’ll see a sign for Farmers Union Youth Camp, and you’ll take a right. You don’t go very long on gravel before taking another right, the first one you can, again, at the sign. You’ll drive about three miles now, go down a hill, pass the cattle guard, and the road will curve right at the third NDFU sign. Follow that road and you’ll see the fourth sign and go left, and soon you’ll see the campsite and pass the fifth and final sign, welcoming you to my favorite place on earth, Heart Butte Farmers Union Camp. That butte you saw on the drive in? You can see it across the lake from our campfire site, the beach, and the cliff.

To the average person, the campsite might not look like much. There are five buildings in total, the dorm, main building, staff house, co-op store, and the garage. The merry-go-round and swings have probably been there since we bought the campsite. Our basketball court could use an upgrade and our mini golf course has seen better days. Alumni may notice some upgrades though, like our new picnic tables, our nice sand volleyball court, the rock wall, new floor in the main building, and the bathroom addition added to the dorms about 5 years ago.

But the campsite is so much more than just the buildings and features that you see when driving in and walking around. To me, camp isn’t a place – it’s a feeling. The feeling of excitement I get pulling into Glen Ullin. The huge smile on my face I get when I drive by Heart Butte. It’s so hard not to speed on the highway to camp because you just want to get there so bad. Every time I get to camp, a peaceful yet excited feeling washes over me. Honestly, it’s hard to explain unless you’ve been on summer staff. The best way I can describe is it that camp is safe. It’s a place you can be yourself, be with the people you love, be at the place you love.

At the end of my second summer on staff, I came back out with Bailey, Rachel, Kaycee, and our boss Bri to clean up the campsite. I won’t go into detail on the horror that was the boys’ bathroom (the girls’ wasn’t the cleanest thing I’ve seen either). The dorms were empty, ready for some new flooring and the rest of the new bunks next summer. Although it was a dirty job, we had fun getting the campsite cleaned up and ready for winter. Anything can be fun with the right people, but it was kind of weird to be out there without the rest of summer staff and without the campers. It felt like being home, but not all of the family was there.

After we finally finished cleaning, mowing the lawn, and getting everything ready up for winter, I went around to each building to lock the doors. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little choked up walking around the campsite for the last time this summer. Instead of seeing things at camp, I started seeing memories. That spot by the patio where Mikey ate it chasing Adam playing ditch during LTC. The patio itself is where Kaycee, Forrest, and I took our first picture together years ago, in which Forrest is wearing a cheerleader costume and bunny ears. The cliff that I have watched countless sunrises on, including one with just Rachel the morning of the day Carter left, because he overslept it and missed it. The posts we stand on to watch the buses roll in. The flag pole that Lucas almost climbed to the top of once. The merry-go-round I spent two days painting last summer just for the paint to come off because it wasn’t outdoor paint. The main building, where in an attempt to get Chris back for putting us in the garbage can, Alex accidentally threw a bucket of water on me instead of him. And the staff house, where we discovered Mikey is really good at telling scary stories. The campfire is where Bailey and I sat a year prior and talked about how we couldn’t wait for this summer to be on staff together. The girls’ staff room, where I bonded with Alex and Abby at the first senior camp of the summer, especially when Alex had to help me get my banquet dress off. The grass next to the basketball court is where Lexie and I started to become best friends last summer when we both took a nap there. The mini golf course is where Kaycee caught a frog six years ago at camp and I encouraged her to scare our SYAC with it, which is when we became best friends. And the beach, where Bailey and I surfed on the lily pad one particularly windy and wavy weekend.

As I rounded the corner of the boys’ dorm to check that the final door was locked, I found a camper’s nametag on the ground. I picked it up and realized it was a kid I didn’t know from a camp I didn’t work. Some kid who probably had the time of his life and maybe met his new best friends. A kid who could someday be in my shoes, working at the best place in the world.

Thousands of campers have had the privilege of going to North Dakota Farmers Union Camp over the years. Thousands of lives have been changed, thousands of friendships made, thousands of leaders formed. And as I left camp for the last time and saw the “See ya next year!” sign, I didn’t cry. Because I know it isn’t the end of my journey with Farmers Union. What I did think about as I drove away is how thankful I am for Farmers Union. It has given me the best friends, the best job, and the best memories in the world. So see ya next year -Lauren

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