What if I told you there was a place where No man is an Island? Where the joy of each man was the joy of mine. What if I told you there’s a place where everyone can shine and everyone can support? What if I told you that a 26-year-old man accidentally found his home away from home over 5 years ago.
A much-needed jump-start came into my life when I applied for a summer job back in 2015. You see, I was substituting part-time my second year out of college and tutoring on the side. I had very little income and my life was going seemingly nowhere in a hurry. I was 26, unmotivated, uninspired and just looking for something to give my life some reason and meaning. Then, innocently enough, I saw a job for a camp counselor at Carthage College. The camp is a theatre camp called Harand Camp, and Carthage College is about 20 minutes from my house. After filling out the application, I got a call from one of the directors about 2 hours later. Answering a few questions about my history and all that I was told by Janice that I got the job. I then asked “When do we start?” and she said “This coming Tuesday!”, it was Saturday before we were supposed to start and I had to pack life into a few suitcases and try to set out on something that I had no reference level about. Being a man that goes with my gut a lot, I threw caution to the wind and went after it with full gusto.
I remember my head swimming after a few days of orientation and familiarizing myself with the camp norms and expectations. Then Samara dropped a shocker the staff: you have to dance and sing for the kids’ welcome number. At this point, I have only sung privately and never have taken a formal dance class in my life. To be blunt; I was not feeling it because I didn’t want to look like a fool. My soon-to-be dear friend Nick put it to me in plain words: “Nobody is going to care if you can’t dance. The kids are gonna excited to see you up there giving your all for them. They have no idea who you are and this is your introduction to them.” With that in mind: I learned the dances or tried to at least, sang the songs and tried my absolute best to show who I was. By the end of the welcome number my first year (as well as every year after that) I was dripping in sweat and out of breath.
The concept of “No Man is an Island” was new to me. It was the motto was the mantra of the camp and laid the foundation of every interaction that we had with campers, staff, and others outside of our little family. “No Man is an Island” is the idea that people are able to be better when they work together and support each other. At first, it sounds odd because theatre in most cases means theres two or three leads and then ensemble is the rest of the people. “Everyone at Harand,” Samara would say, “has the chance to have their moment in the spotlight and to take a step back in the ensemble. It made no sense to me and I tried to understand it but here’s how it basically works: the kids share parts. I thought that would be a huge turnoff for kids coming to the camp, but they bought into the idea. You can take a group of 12 kids and put on a production of “Oklahoma!”, you can take six kids and do a 15-minute musical revue section of the works of Rogers and Hammerstein all because of this concept of No Man is an Island. Seeing this in action, helped me make start making sense of my life. If children can learn all of this in a matter of 2 and a half weeks, why can’t I use this in my everyday life to try to help people achieve their full potential?
As the days went on into weeks I finally started seeing some more of what makes this place unique. See, many summer camps have some sort of color wars competition within the entire camp, and Harand is no different. Media Madness is Harand’s take color wars and it works much of the same way: the entire camp is split into teams and they compete for a prize. The thing that makes Harand different is that not all of the competitions are athletics based (this is theatre camp after all). You have some intellect based competitions, you certainly have singing, performing based competitions. But always remember, there are no winners at Harand Camp, just teams who didn’t amass as many points as others. It’s kind of an odd way to look at the competition, but I think that’s okay because Harand is a bit of an odd place.
It’s okay that Harand Camp is odd because you have to be odd to stick around for now 65 years. You have to be an odd place where you get your daily announcements to read on lunchroom napkins. You have to be odd to know what to do if Vandy is coming. You have to be odd to know who is in SoutTasticksLine. You have to be kinda odd to know where the Sadness Crakers are kept in the Costume Shoppe. You have to be odd to know the rules of Nickball and Very Soft Ball. You have to be odd to understand “Who is Kim McAfee for this scene” and it makes sense. You have to be odd to understand why nobody swims in swim class. You have to be odd to know that while its 70% of rain, you still are going to go to the beach. You have to be a little odd to know that line comes after “Let justice flow like a river” BUT THAT’S ALL OKAY BECAUSE WHEN YOU’RE ODD YOU STAND OUT. For so many years prior Harand I was afraid to stand out and to be noticed for being odd. I wanted to blend in and be accepted for being just like everyone else. But I was not created to be like anyone else, and neither were you! Harand Camp as a whole showed me how being odd, standing out is really the only way you can be true to yourself. I was blessed to see so many people within that camp unapologetically being who they are without the fear of judgment or caring if they were judged.
At the end of camp each year, all of the campers gather together dressed in their best and attend a banquet. Awards are presented and performances from activity classes are put performed. Then the three co-directors; Judy Mooney, Nora Gaffin and Janice Gaffin present pendants to campers/staff who have attended camp for 5 year anniversary, after revealing the sacred handprint quilt. Coming in with no reference level to the banquet or this presentation of quilt and pendant, I was understandably overwhelmed with emotion. I find big emotional gatherings of people and traditions so incredibly fascinating and wonderful and now to be apart of one that I take so much pride to be a part of. This past summer, I was able to receive my five-year pendant with 4 other wonderful people that began this Harand Camp journey with me five years ago. It was one of the proudest moments in my young life knowing the work and commitment I poured into a place I love was able to be celebrated with people I care so much about.
Harand Camp has many traditions and norms that outside of camp make no sense. One tradition that I truly believe that makes the most sense is celebrating the successes of others. Not every kid that comes to the camp is going to be Broadway or Hollywood bound. Not every kid that comes to camp is going to be the star in their school’s show. What camp does strive to do is give the campers’ confidence to know that those goals are possible. What the camp aims to accomplish is instilling the importance of supporting and valuing each person’s unique talents and gifts. What the camp hopes to achieve is telling the human story through the means of musical theatre. What this camp did achieve is showing an unmotivated, uninspired late twenty-something that there is much more to life than what you’re comfortable with. You can stretch yourself as a person and try something that you may fail at, and still be considered a professional. You can support and show up for those who support you. Overall what Harand taught me is that when you are able to be who you truly are without fear of judgment, people can and will buy into who you are and what you mean to them. Harand taught me to show up for those who you love, try new experiences, love like crazy work hard and be a decent person.
I didn’t know who either Irving Berlin or George Gershwin was before I started at Harand. I didn’t know how to do a padabare or a time step prior to Harand Camp coming into my life. I didn’t know how it was possible to fall back in love with musical theatre before Harand Camp. I didn’t how much love my heart could hold until I started at Harand. I certainly didn’t know how much an odd place like Harand would end up meaning so much to me. I have gone on record many times saying how the debt I owe to Harand Camp is insurmountable. I could not possibly try to payback how Harand has helped shape me into the man I am today. I cannot try to comprehend how different my life would be if I didn’t apply on a whim to Harand. The hundreds of people I have interacted with through this camp in some way has shown me the importance of a place to call your own. If you’re keen on your theatre knowledge, you know that the title comes from the iconic show “West Side Story” where Tony and Maria sing of hope for a place where they can live without the constant danger and strife that comes with their relationship. In society today, there’s a need for people to know that they have a place to call home. Somewhere people can feel loved and secure. For a lot of people, myself included, Harand is that place. My dear friend Nick said it best, “Harand is like the Island of the Misfit Toys we all come for different walks of life with different backgrounds but for six weeks, we live together as a family.” I don’t expect many people to share my zeal for the camp, and that’s okay. I want to express my appreciation for what literally is a place that changed my life. My only hope and prayer is that I continue to live in a manner that makes Sulie, Byron, Pearl, Sam proud that I attach my name to this place.
The 20th-century philosopher and former South Pacific summer son of mine, Elliot Lewis, once famously said: “Harand Camp is wonderful because everyone is medicated and that’s what truly unifies us”. And that unity among others is what gives Harand its appeal. Is it perfect no, but it is a place for us odd folks.
Thank you Harand uniting me and giving me something to believe in.
To Haranders: young, old, new, experienced, first years or 65th years and everyone in between: please understand my undying love and appreciation for who you are and who you have allowed me to be. I promise to continue to lift you all up, support you and yes, come see your shows. You’re my family and hope that this post shows my true feelings toward our home.
We need one another so I will defend, Each man as my brother. Each man as my friend
Bless this Camp, oh Lord we pray. Make it Safe by night and day.