Camp Director Spotlight: Sadie Graham Waterfront Director
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018
We caught up with Camp Birch Hill waterfront director Sadie Graham to hear all about what she gets up to during the year when she’s not at camp making sure our waterfront is the best place on earth. Sadie leads a very interesting life full of adventure and travel and we are so excited to be able to share her stories with you all. We chatted with Sadie right as she was heading off on one of her greatest adventures yet with camp program director Louis DeAngelis to explore Central and South America. As we speak they are currently soaking up the sunshine in Belize. To keep up to date with their travels you can follow them on Instagram @shadiemayhem and @louisd217.
My name is Sadie Graham, I first stepped foot on Camp Birch Hill territory June 17, 2013. I began in Cabin C, then Cabin F, Cabin I, and then the lodge! I have been the waterfront director since session three, 2015. Back in the day at Westfield State University I studied Movement Science, Sport and Leisure Studies, gaining licensure in Physical Education teaching K-8 and a second concentration in Wilderness Leadership.
During my first few summers at camp, I was a physical education teacher, after school program coordinator, Cross Country and Ultimate Frisbee coach during the school year. Since 2016, I decided to put in for (extremely) EARLY retirement to do a little bit of a “spirit quest.” Camp evokes a spirit of individualism, as well as unity which sounds contrary but for the language of kids “it’s magical.” I now arrive at camp every early May and stay until Mid October. Camp to me IS magical, it is also the most consistent home I have had in a long time. Camp really is my home and so it leaves us with the question…so..what do you do when the off season comes? WELL with this magical spirit quest I am still on, in 2016 I left my position as a teacher mid year in hopes of a job in New Zealand. That didn’t work out, and I instead continued on my journey, alone. I traveled through New Zealand for about two months, and Australia for about two months. During this time I fostered my love for travel and discovered how passionate I am about seeing the world, meeting new people, and experiencing other ways of life. In some ways I am experiencing camp, but solo, in the great beyond of the world. I was able to see and experience the legendary Shannon Gregory and her BEAUTIFUL home in the Coromandel, meet her amazing family and be shown the Kiwi lifestyle. I also got to visit Sarah Ferguson whom I started with back in 2013. She always told me how much I would adore New Zealand and she wasn’t wrong. One of my favorite places in the world with no exaggeration was visiting the home she stayed in, built by the hands of an artist named Anna, whom I only had a few conversations with; but impacted me in a way that I would have never seen coming. I refer to these people as “Spirit Guides.” This was also the home of Te Henga beach which is incredibly gorgeous and I could have stayed there for another year and been in awe with the black sand, the wild rips of the Tasman sea, as well as the rugged formations surrounding the beach. Later I traveled to the northern most point of New Zealand, watched the oceans meet and was inspired to keep going. I made friends with a girl I met in a hostel and traveled the South Island with for a couple weeks. I left for Australia when the time came and I made friends from all over the world, I traveled with 13 different people over a span of two months and it felt like I had known these people my whole life. (Similar to camp). I met another spirit guide named Pete when I was in Alice Springs (the centre of Australia basically), he had survived a shark attack, and shared his life story with me, asked me about mine and gave me the honour of signing his surfboard which only influential people in his life would be allowed to leave a message. I saw spiders the size of my hands, I saw crocodiles older than my grandparents, I fed some chubby wallabies, I saw endless sunrises, and my life was forever influenced to keep on keeping on, until I feel fulfilled by something other than travel.
This year, I have been on a mini road trip, trekking from NH> MA> CT> NY> NJ> DE> VA> NC> SC> GA> and FL Mostly to visit friends, grandparents and the men the myth’s the legends Rich and Rudy!!! I will also catch up with some Floridian counselors, and then … drum ROLL!!!!!! LOU AND SADIE”S BIG ADVENTURE!!!!!!! I am meeting Lou in Cancun where we will work our way down the coast and through Central America for 6 weeks! We have been brushing up on our Spanish and hopefully Louis has found a sound remedy for bus sickness! We are so excited to have a brief vacation before the madness begins and I get to travel with one of my favorite companions. If we could have brought Toby we would!
I think summer camp is an important experience for children as well as counselors. Especially coming from the perspective of teaching and having a passion for working with kids, it is incredible to see the light of the world lit within these campers as they come and go, every year growing and evolving. I never went to camp as a kid, but had I, I would have figured myself out a lot faster and easier in some ways. I wouldn’t have been so shy, judgemental, anxious, and probably would have gained a much higher self esteem and level of confidence. Within child development and schooling, children aren’t necessarily given the life skills that camp gives them. The independence, as well as the need to rely on each other; similar to travel. When I plan trips alone, people often ask me if I get lonely, if I am ever afraid, or homesick. When thinking about these questions with children at camp, they are in some ways forced by the nature of camp, to be open and to rely on others. This isn’t something naturally learned in school, how to work together is, and as much as we foster talking about feelings at school, during camp every experience is heightened. Each day feels like a week just whizzed by, a week feels like a month of growth, a session feels like a summer and a whole summer at camp feels like years have etched into who you are and who you are becoming. I think its beautiful, I love seeing growth, and I love seeing kids try new things, and learn that they are capable of doing anything and everything. Its really liberating. Voices are heard, and supported, it feels like another world, a safe space where kids learn to authentically be themselves, whomever that is, as different as it may be, they are loved and accepted. The same is true for counselors, we tell them that camp is magical, it is an experience unlike any other, it is selfless, and at the same time we see so many people becoming whole.
Another really cool program CBH offers is Teen Adventure. We have run two separate programs that have brought some LEGENDARY counselors to the team. Lou and I began with a trip to Acadia National Park where we planned taking our Adventurers hiking, rock climbing, white water rafting, star gazing, sleeping in tents, learning how to cook basic meals with basic supplies, and you get to cram 10 teenagers into a van with Lou and Sadie! It’s great!! The kids love it!!!! Aside from the Acadia trip we have a loop through northern Vermont, and the Adirondacks of New York. It is really amazing to see people like the D’Aneri twins who had never pitched or slept in a tent before TA and now they are well seasoned adventurers. I cannot attest that it is only because of TA but it had to evoke something because those brothers have had some amazing adventures since, and it is so cool to watch. It’s like a proud parent moment except Lou and I are more like ‘wise’ elders.
I wanted to be a camp director when I realised that I was a Camp Birch Hill “Lifer.” This is a term the upper staff use for people that spend an extended amount of time at CBH. It didn’t take long for me to realise how much of an impact I could have but how much more the spirit of Camp has on everyone involved. To this I realised I wanted more, I wanted to be less of a outward/on stage figure and more of a backbone. I knew that I had strong “transferrable” skills from being a PE teacher, to being a college lacrosse coach, to being a captain and a teammate, to experiencing travel, organising field days etc etc I knew I would be able to apply those skills. I’ve always been an aquatic being and I wasn’t even originally hired as a lifeguard. I was hired specifically as a boat driver and adventure staff. I spent the off season training to be a lifeguard, a water safety instructor, and utilising many years spent on a boat to now overseeing others leading those program areas. If you ever have an in depth conversation with Rich Morell, he always says “it’s so funny how things happen, to how we get to where we are.” I can attest to that, a few google searches and happenstance welcomed me to be apart of a Family at our CBH Home Away From Home.
The biggest question “what do you guys have in store for us this summer?” Lou and I as well as the upper staff have been scheming ALL YEAR, via google drive new R day plans, S day ideas, new EP’s and overall building the excitement as the time comes nearer. The amazing thing about Camp is aside from the things we can control and plan, you never know what amazing things will develop, most of the influential moments of camp come from the campers, they keep camp alive. I reckon it is going to be another unforgettable summer, what do you think? YAAAAAAAAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO