My High Rocks life began in 2014 with New Beginnings camp. Then I was 13, still somewhat timid and naive about the world, and unsure of what I was walking myself into. Two weeks in the Appalachian mountains in a county I’ve never been in, with adults I didn’t know so well, and girls I’ve never met. Of course my older friends told me that this place was incredible, and if I went I’d be glad if I did. I was shaking with both excitement and fear.
I remember my mom giving me lectures the entire ride to the grounds. “You know that bugs are awful this year, and you have plenty of spray.” “You know how you burn you’d better uses lot of sunscreen.” “Remember if you ever feel uncomfortable, you call us and we’ll come back.” I took all of these words in, not knowing if I’d have to use them, but, just in case. (I never saw it, but my grandmother likes to tell me that my mother cried when she returned home from dropping me off.)
The campground felt overwhelmingly big the first time I came into it. Open fields, lots of walking pathways and classrooms. And buildings that I would later learn were our sleeping arrangements, our “pods.” I checked the list of names of the girls to see who I’d recognize. There were several names I knew, and they all stayed in the same pod as me. My counselor was a friend I’d known since childhood. There were other adults there, many between 18-22, and they introduced themselves to all of us. Once I set up my living space, I was invited to join the rest of the group in name games in the middle of one of the open fields. My fear lessened and my excitement grew.
I spent the next two weeks doing things I never thought I would do. Dancing in the rain, enjoying learning about science and nature, hiking, getting my nails painted, horse riding, swimming in the river; there was never a moment that I was bored. When we weren’t learning, we were creating, or telling stories, or dancing, or cleaning the campground, making up new games and songs for ourselves. The books I packed with me were left unread, and my voice was left hoarse after singing at the top of my lungs for two weeks. Never once did I think about calling home.
I still remember those campfires. My FIRST campfire: learning all the songs, deciding who to sit by, trying to avoid the smoke coming off the fire. All the adults in the campfire were whispering back and forth, deciding what songs to do next. Someone would laugh and wouldn’t tell us what about. The Junior Counselors taught us the “special dance” we do around campfire, and we all danced together for the first time. Everyone always had something they wanted to share or read. The best part was singing “the camp lullaby” and waiting for someone to say goodnight. It’s our most special tradition to this day.
I opened up so much in those two weeks. I became less shy, I sang louder, I danced harder, I acted with people the way I acted by myself. I was so terrified to do that for so long. I quickly learned that the adults that were there were some of the best people I’d ever meet in my life. They were caring, they listened, and they did everything in their power to help you. I became comfortable enough to tell them everything about myself. Things I never talked about before suddenly came up in general conversation. And I was able to learn that feelings are okay. If you need to cry, cry. Laugh, scream, bawl your eyes out, sing, ball your fists up and release them until you’re not angry anymore. Feel, as much as you need to. I spent that two weeks releasing everything I’d held in, and they were always there to help me out. I still confide in them, and they’ve always been my rocks.
As all things do, that two weeks ended, and our parents came to pick us up. The day we all went home was filled with hugs and songs and exchanging phone numbers and addresses. As we left that day, everyone was glad to see their parents but also sad to go. There was a line of all the counselors and interns and staff members waiting to give hugs and say goodbye. Sarah Riley hugged me and said “Remember, you can’t drive yourself crazy trying to be perfect. Don’t be such a perfectionist, that’s my job.” And every bit of composure I had was gone. I did what I had been told for week was okay – I cried. I bawled my eyes out the entire ride home. Of course I missed my parents and was excited to see them, but I couldn’t leave this place that had let me grow so much in such a short period of time. It was another home, a sanctuary, a perfect place, how could I leave it? The adults sang “the goodbye song” as we exited the campground. “Goodbye Skyler, Goodbye Skyler, Goodbye Skyler, we hope to see you soon…”
I will graduate in May 2019, and this thought has made me consider my past and things that have been a part of my life. This will be my last year as a High Rocks girl. I look back at that girl who started there five years ago and how much we’ve both changed for the better. I have made so many memories and connections with High Rocks and its members and I am forever grateful for that opportunity. If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be to not be scared. This is going to be such an incredible experience for you, and you are going to march through this, and everything else. I wish this kind of experience, whether through High Rocks or anything else, on
every single girl. To give them the confidence they need, to give them another family, to let them grow and make memories, and cherish it for as long as they can. I already dread the day when I have to leave High Rocks as a girl. I can already hear my last goodbye song. Goodbye, High Rocks, I know I’ll be back soon.
Written By: Skyler McCallister
Date: Sunday, October 7th, 2018