By Olivia Ritter
There aren’t that many places in the world that you can leave for a year and completely remove yourself from but still return and feel like you didn’t miss a beat. Camp Harlam is one of those places, through and through. My name is Olivia Ritter, more commonly known at camp as Liv, and I am an alum of Camp Harlam.
I started at camp as a Carmelian; wide-eyed, nervous, and really confused. In the summer of 2018, I ended my camp career as a second-year staff member; unsure of how to go from this world of Mirp’a’ah visits and nights out at Wawa to commuting to a New York City office everyday. How would I wear professional clothes and not tank tops and sports shorts? Who would braid my hair everyday? I figured it out though. I’m currently an intern for the New York Police & Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for families of fallen first responders. I interview beneficiary families, research potential donors, and I run errands to the bank. Though working for the organization is entirely different than being a cabin counselor for 12-year-olds, somehow, I use things I learned at camp every day.
This all became very apparent to me when I pulled in the Camp Harlam gates to staff Rookie Day, a special program dedicated to showing potential new campers a day at camp. This day has it all; the lake, adventure, sports, arts, and, of course, a chaotic meal in the Chadar Ochel. I drove on 209, racking my brain about how in the world I was going to be a counselor again. What do I do if the kids get in a fight? What if a child has a food allergy that I don’t know about? I asked myself these questions over and over, until 21 children under the age of 10 were in front of me, uncertain of this new place and these new people. However, I surprised myself. It’s like I had never left this job or this place.
I have always been scared about leaving camp for good. All I had known every summer since I was nine years old was Kunkletown, PA, and my “camp friends” and Shabbat on Chapel on the Hill. I had only known camp food and obeying my counselors. After working at camp as a counselor, I couldn’t see myself doing any other job. My mom, a Harlamite from the 70s, always told me that returning to camp feels like you’ve never left. However, I never believed her. How could I ever get away from the place I met my best friends, my boyfriend, my role models?
It became very real last summer, my final full summer at camp, when my incredible Arava campers tearfully asked me if I would be returning in 2019 and if I could be the Galil assistant unit head. As a notoriously bad liar, I told them that I wouldn’t be coming back. Being a Journalism and Film and Television major, I told them, I need to find work in the real world. Little did I know, my “real world” job would only remind me of everything camp taught me.
Although I left camp feeling like I was missing out on this incredible place, I was also enlightened of how much more prepared I am for life because of it. While I was talking through homesickness on the porch and writing programs, I questioned what I would ever do with any of these skills. Of course, being a camp counselor is an extremely unique job. I’ll never go day time bunk hopping ever again and I highly doubt I will be decorated as a horse by a bunch of 12 year olds.
So, somehow, without returning to Kunkletown for two months at a time, I’ll never leave camp and camp will never leave me.
Olivia Ritter is from North Caldwell, New Jersey. She will be a junior at Boston University in the fall, studying Journalism and Film and Television. She spent 10 summers at camp.