North Star Camp for Boys

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Black Lives Matter at Summer Camp

 “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion.  People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." - Nelson Mandela

Today marks a Summer Camp Day of Action for Black Lives Matter. North Star unequivocally supports the Black Lives Matter movement. As we were gearing up to begin pre-camp orientation this summer, the world began responding to the killing of George Floyd. North Star has always valued diversity, equity, and inclusion, but we wanted to do more this summer to instill those values in our campers and staff. While we are proud of the steps taken in 2020, they are only part of an ongoing effort to ensure that North Star remains an inclusive environment where everyone can be their true self at camp regardless of their race, religion, or sexual orientation.

During pre-camp, one of our first-year nurses Molly told us that she wanted to lead a Privilege Walk. The Privilege Walk was an activity that highlights how people benefit or are marginalized by systems in our society. We gathered on the athletic field and stood in a straight line along the 3rd baseline of Dan’s Diamond. Molly began by reading a series of statements and every person either stepped forward, stepped backward, or stood in place, depending on whether they agreed or disagreed with the phrase. For example, two of the statements were “If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to fit in more, take one step back,” and “If you have always assumed you’ll go to college, take one step forward.” At the end of the Privilege Walk, the exercise generally resulted in white males being further ahead than other groups, an unfortunate yet also unsurprising reality to the systems deeply rooted in racism within our society. Certain privileges are woven into the mainstream fabric of society that it is often hard to even recognize them, which is exactly why we were proud Molly wanted to lead the Privilege Walk during pre-camp. Unless we are able to recognize our unconscious biases or understand that there are societal norms that provide roadblocks to marginalized groups, we cannot begin to make the changes needed to make society more equitable and fair to everyone regardless of race, sexual orientation, or background. The most powerful part of the evening was our debrief discussions afterward. We broke into our pre-camp pods and discussed how certain statements made us feel, what statement made us think the most, or how it felt to be at the front/middle/back of the pack. It was empowering to sit on the athletic field and look at the debrief groups, seeing how serious everyone was taking this exercise. It set a tone for other similar discussions throughout the summer.

One of the staples of the North Star program is our Friday Night Services. Every Friday, we gather at the Council Ring to reflect on the week. There is always a theme to the service such as “Overcoming Mistakes,” “Character,” and “Grit and Perseverance,” to name a few. As soon as the George Floyd protests began to take place, we made the decision to put together an Anti-Racism themed Friday Night Service. Many of our staff this summer were passionate about racial inequality and volunteered ideas and support for the service, including sermonettes, readings, and musical selections. We had readings from Michelle Obama, Civil Rights Leaders including Malcolm X and Coretta Scott King, and excerpts from books like “How to Be An Antiracist.” The musical selections were particularly moving: Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind” which has been described as an anthem of the civil rights movement. “Blowin’ In The Wind” went on to inspire “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, which was another musical selection that evening. “A Change Is Gonna Come” was written about various personal events in Sam Cooke’s life, most prominently the experience of being turned away by a white-only motel in Louisiana. In the song, Sam sings, “it’s a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.” The song was written in 1964. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to be done. The final song of the evening was “All Some Kind of Dream” by Josh Ritter, a 2019 song that takes a stand against anti-immigration policies and offers hope that human compassion will win out in the end. It was a powerful evening.

We did a similar activity to the Privilege Walk in our fall camp orientation, where one of our counselors read statements about North Star and its culture, and staff members went to one side of the tennis court depending on whether or not they agreed or disagreed with the statement. Example statements were “A person from any walk of life can thrive at North Star” and “The ways in which I am different are valued here, not just tolerated.” Despite only being a few days into knowing each other, it was powerful to see so many staff members speak so passionately and openly about why they felt the way they did. The exercise was an incredibly moving session and part of our ongoing effort to learn about our culture and what we can do to continually improve upon making sure North Star is inclusive and promotes equality to every member of our community.

Following that session, one of our new counselors, Karson, shared some of his personal experiences growing up as a black child in a predominantly white community. He shared how he was once told that he was hired for a job to be the “minority hire”. One of the more powerful moments of Karson’s speech was when he shared a conversation he had with one of our other black counselors, Shay. Karson went up to Shay during pre-camp and asked him why he loved working at North Star and why he had returned this year for his second summer (and then also came back for fall camp). Shay replied, “when a kid gets off the bus, I want them to see someone who looks like them and know that they’re not alone.” Sometimes the best way to learn and understand inequalities is to hear stories from people who have experienced them firsthand. Karson helped spearhead plenty of thought-provoking conversations during fall camp and we thank him for having the courage to share them with the rest of the fall camp group.

                                 Karson and one of our Fall Camp campers

Camp is a better place when its people are diverse, and when tolerance and empathy are pillars of the camp culture. Every year, we work hard to ensure we are hiring as diverse of a staff as possible to help instill those values in our campers and fellow staff members. Diversity comes in many shapes and forms - cultural, racial, religious, sexual orientation, etc. At the end of the day, we want to hire great counselors who will be excellent role models for the campers and help them appreciate that differences amongst each other are good things. Accepting others for who they are is incredibly important, both in our camp environment and in life itself.  

North Star is also a proud founding member of Camp For All Kids. Camp For All Kids was established in 1997 to facilitate racial diversity at summer camps by sending kids from under-served communities to overnight camp. Our partnership with this organization simultaneously makes North Star a better place and helps instill the values of inclusion and anti-racism in all of our campers as they seek to make the world a better place. Every summer, through generous charitable donations raised from alums and other donors, we have Camp For All Kids campers at North Star to provide them with an opportunity to grow and learn life skills at camp, experiences that they otherwise would not be able to have. To date, Camp For All Kids has given thousands of camp years to campers since its inception. If you are interested in donating to the cause so future campers can attend North Star and other Camp For All Kids camps, please consider donating here.  

Standing up for racial equality has always been in North Star’s cultural fabric, dating back to our original founders Lou and Renee Rosenblum. The steps we took this summer were positive steps in the right direction, but achieving the level of diversity and inclusion we strive for is very much a work in progress with plenty of room for improvement. Today we stand with the summer camp community in their support for Black Lives Matter, and we vow to work hard every day to make North Star more inclusive, diverse, and equal for all campers and counselors who come through the North Star arches in the future.

Friday, October 30, 2020

2020 Reflections Video

"In a year where nothing was normal, North Star was normal and it just felt like we won the lottery." - 2020 Camp Parent

With the help of some campers, counselors, and staff, we look back on the unique and very rewarding summer of 2020.


Monday, September 14, 2020

First Day Of School!

Today our campers did something at camp that we have never done in our 76 year history: they went to school.  After getting settled this weekend, our boys were up bright and early to begin their first day of school at camp.  We’ve arranged camp so that every camper has a “classroom cabin” located next to their regular cabin.  Each classroom cabin is equipped with tables and chairs to create a desk space for each camper (and picnic tables right outside to use for when it’s nice out).  Of course, we’re also encouraging the boys to get outside to attend their classes around camp if that environment will not be distracting for them.  Most of the campers opted to do school for their first day in the cabins, but I did see a few virtually learning from some of the hammocks around camp!

Each school day, we will have to “Recess” periods, which are modeled after our summer Organized Free periods. Today, we had riflery, arts and crafts, waterskiing, and a few other activities open for the campers if they didn’t have class and needed a break from doing schoolwork.  I mean, has there ever been a cooler recess period than going waterskiing in between math and science class?!

At 2:30 PM today, we rang the bell to officially open the Fall Camp Cafe for the first time ever.  The Fall Camp Cafe will give the campers a chance to take a break towards the end of their school day and grab a snack.  It will be open every Monday through Friday at 2:30 PM (and closed on weekends -- aka camp days!).  There was quite a selection of snacks to choose from today: bags of pretzels, popcorn, cookies, string cheese, and some homemade Rice Krispies treats.  And since it was a perfect fall day today, we also had some hot chocolate for those with an even bigger sweet tooth.  Everyone at the Fall Camp Cafe could relax at the picnic tables with their friends, fill out a First Day Chalkboard to get their picture taken, or listen to the tunes being played on guitar by one of our awesome counselors, David.

After the Fall Camp Cafe closed and homework was completed, we went right into a jam-packed afternoon of camp activities!  Once school is over, our goal as much as possible is to get the boys out around camp, moving around and having fun.  First up was “After School Activities” which gave the campers the options to go sailing, swimming, or biking today. Next up was “Club” time where we had Arts & Crafts, Disc Golf, Chess, and Fishing open.  Lastly, before dinner, we had “Evening Program” where the younger boys went on a Nature Hike along the nature trail and the older boys played a game of speedball on the athletic field.  We finished up the day with a delicious make-your-own taco bar.  

Tomorrow is supposed to be beautiful weather outside (a high of 80 degrees!) so we expect to see a lot of the kids doing their remote schooling outside and taking advantage of the waterfront during their recesses and post-school activities.  The first day of school was a great success today; we’re looking forward to what tomorrow brings!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Fall Camp: The Adventure Begins

The first weekend is in the books and it has been a huge success. Over the last two days, the boys have spent time getting to know one another and getting settled into our Fall Camp routine. Today was filled with dodgeball, softball, riflery, archery, climbing, waterskiing, kickball and more. The boys had the opportunity to shoot some hoops in the Fieldhouse and watch some football outside of the Lodge. All of that only came after we took time to set up the study cabins and test our hotspots, as well as our introductory health checks.

And we are feeling ready for tomorrow. All of the remote learning schedules are mapped out to allow not only for the boys to get their studies done, but for them to have opportunities for “recess” during the mornings and afternoons, followed by “afterschool activities” at 3:30, their clubs at 4:30 and an all-camp program at 5:30. Our education coordinators have the boys prepped and ready for this “first day of school” at camp. Most importantly, it has been so great to see the boys so happy and relaxed. While we’re getting used to the slower paced experience at camp (and seeing technology here), the campers and counselors alike are expressing their gratitude for being able to be here. I’m feeling that way too.

Whenever I have to travel away from Laney, even if only for a day or two, it always looks to me like she’s changed so much when I return. I know that the reality is that she changes gradually over time, but having that break allows you to see it in a different way. I went down to Chicago for the pickup there and it was the first time I had really seen the city since the beginning of May, and in a way I had that same feeling about my city. While I have been reading all of the news about how Covid and protests have changed the city, seeing it for myself was jarring - shops boarded up, some open like nothing had happened, some streets completely quiet, others with full traffic, some people wearing masks and face shields and gloves, and others wearing none. Most of all, it was filled with a tension that I have not gotten used to. Being up here for the whole summer and most of the spring, I haven’t had the chance to learn to tolerate all of it.

So returning to camp with our Fall Campers filled me with joy and gratitude. While we’re figuring out a great many things about what this new program will look like, this adventure here is filled with laughter and cheering and active, happy, socially engaged kids who are getting to still be kids. Thank you so much for trusting us with them during these wild times. With the first weekend of Fall Camp in the books, and the first day of school in the morning, we can’t wait to make the best of every day with this group for the next six weeks.

Chairs up, pencils down,


Monday, August 10, 2020

Laundry Day and Guten Gallop!

You’ll be happy to know that we shipped off laundry today for one final round before packing day this Thursday. Counselors helped their campers check under their beds, in their cubby areas, and on their clotheslines for any dirty or wet belongings that need to be washed before returning home. We sent in staff from the Leadership Team to each cabin to give their final stamp of approval before the bags could be sent off to the laundromat. If there were unchanged sheets on the bed or even loose socks in the middle of the cabin, all the boys had to wait to take out their bags. We’re hoping this will make packing day a little easier (and cleaner) for campers and counselors alike! 


Today we had one of the final Organized Free periods of the summer, and the boys enjoyed activities such as climbing, archery, riflery, swimming, and disc golf. The J-Village boys really love fishing, so they got fishing as an activity for two days in a row! The I-Village got their turn in the Arm & Hammer to make their cabin plaques, and on Wednesday, the S-Village will have time to finish theirs up during the final Organized Free period. There won’t be Organized Free tomorrow, as tomorrow is Camper Counselor Day! 


Tonight’s Evening Program was the Guten Gallop. This is a race against oneself - each camper predicted the time it would take for them to get from the Council Ring to the middle of Boys Camp Road and back. Counselors time each camper, and whichever camper predicted their time most accurately wins. Boys dressed up in goofy outfits for this program, and while most boys chose to walk at their own pace, some did jog at times throughout the path! The campers are really glad we could still put on this event this year. We’re ready for the amazing Camper Counselor Day that’s headed our way!

Today’s Grace:

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

-Thomas Jefferson


 Be seated.

North Star Games and Sunday Smiles

As crazy as it sounds, today was the last Sunday of camp for the summer! After a very busy day of North Star Games yesterday, the boys had the chance to sleep in for an extra 30 minutes today and went back to a normal camp schedule. The campers got extremely into North Star Games, especially since activities for the competition started back on Thursday and scores remained close between teams. We tried to switch up a few activities from UN Days - canoeing without oars was definitely a fun one to watch during North Star Games, as well as leg wrestling on the ball field. We have some incredibly strong guys here! The evening ended with ice cream for dessert and cheers from all four teams, and then final scores were announced. Orion came in first place, followed by Pegasus, Lynx, and Taurus. Although the competition is fun, the boys know that at camp, win or lose, It Just Doesn’t Matter. 

Every year, cabins have the opportunity to create cabin plaques with everyone’s names on them. Nearly every cabin wanted to make their own plaque in the Arm & Hammer, so each village has a day this week to go in during Organized Free and put the plaque together. Today the J-Village got their turn!


Although we’re heading into the last week of camp, there’s still so much fun to be had. Tuesday is camper counselor day with round two of Espionage in the evening and Wednesday is Lazy Day. Today, Pine Manor boys had their own schedule to replace the trip to Duluth that happens every summer. The boys had a cook-out breakfast (omelets, those lucky guys!) and got to do activities as a big group, such as waterskiing and a movie night. They have day two of their private schedule tomorrow, and they will finish by Tuesday morning so they can participate in camper counselor day. We’re looking forward to another great, warm day at camp tomorrow! 


Today’s Grace:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “what are you doing for others?”

-Martin Luther King Jr. 


Be seated.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Final Friday Night Service

 It’s hard to believe that tonight was the last Friday Night Service of the summer. The theme for this evening was “Character,” led by Wyatt Zirlin, who read the call-and-response statements, quotes, and passages related to building character. To give you a glimpse, the Service started out with the following reading: 

Have you ever watched a tree swaying in a storm? A tree that stands rigidly will never win a battle against the wind. Trees that bend with the wind are those that survive. Like a tree, you can bend and sway as life batters and blasts you, then bounce back again, supported by your strong, deep roots. When you’re resilient and you have grit, you can survive almost anything: being hurt, frustrated, let down, losing friends, making mistakes, and much more. Remember the image of a tree in the storm. You can learn a lot from nature. Let’s let nature’s simple wisdom help us live our true nature. 


Our incredible I-Village Director, Micah Jona, gave the sermonette for the evening, and talked about how camp has helped him build character through the connections he’s made and the responsibility he’s earned. He discussed the sacrifices we’ve all had to make this summer to keep North Star Covid-free, and how hard some days were when he felt like he was constantly reminding his friends to wear their masks. Even through these difficulties, he understood that holding his peers accountable for the benefit of the community is where his true character formed and shined through. We know our boys each grew in their own ways this summer, and thanks to the incredible leadership of our staff, the campers were able to learn how to help their peers in times of need, take educated risks, take ownership over their mistakes, and take time to reflect. 


After Services, campers enjoyed the formal Opening Ceremony to North Star Games on the ball field, where each team gathered before fireworks shot off on the opposite end. Earlier today, teams competed against one another in specific water games during fourth period. First, there was the innertube race, where the campers had to sit in a tube and use their hands and feet to paddle themselves to the other end of the dock. Next, the senior campers competed against one another in a very intense game of water polo, where the first goal scored of each game was crowned the winner. Tomorrow is the official day for North Star Games, which we will all wake up 30 minutes earlier for to get the activities rolling for the day. 


Today’s Grace:

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”

-Joseph Campbell


Be seated.

Work Worth Doing

Tonight kicked off North Star Games with cheers from all four teams: Pegasus, Lynx, Orion and Taurus. Each team is named after a different constellation, and just like UN Days, the teams compete against one another in unique activities and games. Although the main competitions don’t start until Saturday, the energy is already in the air. 

When cabin J-1 returns tomorrow from their camping trip on the Mighty Namekagon River, we will have concluded all of our cabin camping trips from this summer. Each cabin has gone on a cabin camping trip, from our youngest boys doing their overnight river trip to our oldest boys spending 9-days in the Boundary Waters. Many of the boys love the trips, and some of the boys are nervous and scared, but all of the boys grow a great deal from them. The trips are opportunities to not only teach environmental and adventure education, but they also serve as a tremendous bonding opportunity for the cabins. The trip program is set up to push the boys outside of their comfort zone. Each trip is designed to be something that the campers doubt that they can handle, but we know that they can, and we support them in doing so. And in doing so, we are working to raise resilient young men who have the confidence to take on new challenges. 

And we continue to talk openly and honestly with the boys about the new challenges that life will bring as they leave our bubble at the end of the summer. Last night we spent some time as a camp talking about the things that will be different when they get home. We talked about our responsibilities, having been lucky enough to have this camp experience, to go out into our communities and be leaders in setting up new routines. We talked about remembering to “mask up” wherever you go and reminding others to do the same, even when it’s uncomfortable. The boys asked amazing questions about trends, testing, medical treatments, vaccines, school plans, and what the future brings. From the Junior Village campers to our college aged staff, they asked detailed, thoughtful questions to make sure that they feel equipped to make good decisions and take action as they return to the world outside. It has been an important motivation for us all along to get this right so that every kid has a chance at a camp experience next summer. And we remain motivated to give our kids the skills and experience to go back to their own communities and lead them through whatever may come their way. 

Yesterday’s Grace:

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

  • Theodore Roosevelt

Today’s Grace:

“Good morning, Mister Zip-Zip-Zip,

With your hair cut just as short as mine,

Good morning, Mister Zip-Zip-Zip,

You're surely looking fine!

Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,

If the Bell doesn’t wake us,

Then the Counselors must,

Good morning, Mister Zip-Zip-Zip,

With your hair cut just as short as,

your hair cut just as short as,

your hair cut just as short as mine.”

Be Seated.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020


Check out this awesome sermonette on environmentalism from counselor Reese Borlin:

After Andy asked me to do this sermonette on environmentalism last afternoon, I spent the rest of the day thinking about the direction I wanted to take it. I had several ideas, and as I wrote down some notes, I remembered something I learned in a community sustainability class I took this past spring. 

So far, while talking to you all, I have used the word I or me 8 times in just two sentences. And I used it again just there. And there. In the English language, we use the words I and me constantly. When we express ideas, we express them in relation to ourselves. “I am excited for today,” rather than “today is exciting.” “I think that is a good idea,” rather than “that is a good idea.” It permeates our language, and therefore, permeates our culture. Western society is incredibly self-centered. We think of the individual first, then the individual’s role in the group. Yes, it has given us a great deal of individual freedom – however, the consequence is that we think of ourselves first and all of humanity second. I think of my own wants over the needs of the planet. That, right there, is why a climate crisis is upon us.

I read a book recently on the lore and history of the Lakota – a tribe of native Americans who live primarily in the state of Washington. One incredibly small yet impossibly big difference between the English language and the Lakota dialect is that there is no word in Lakota for “I.” To me and you, that seems impossible. How do they not have a word for I? How do they express their own ideas, thoughts, wants? The answer is that language and culture are so intertwined that the Lakota do not need to use the word I. They view the universe through a lens of “we.” “We are,” not “I am.” “We” includes the land, the brother tree, the sister lake, the brother eagle, the sister sky. A great Chief of the Lakota Tribe, Chief Seattle, wrote, “Man does not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

It is no question that we need to get away from the me, me, me of our world and move towards the global view of “we” to sustain our planet for future generations. Stating this is easy, but how do we move towards this goal? There are two answers. One is easy, one is not.

I will start with the hard one. We need to change how we live. If you do not see why, let me explain.
There are websites you can visit that will calculate the number of earths it would require if everyone alive lived like you do. It asks questions like; how much do you fly? What kind of place do you live? How much do you drive? How much meat do you eat? How much do you use heat or AC? All these questions determine how much energy and resources it takes to sustain your lifestyle.

In the United States, the average is about 4 earths. This means that if everyone on the planet lived like the average American, it would take 4 earths to sustain all of us. You may wonder how the planet still exists, and the answer is that we are using more than our fair share while others use less. I have met people whose number is 6 earths if all lived like they do. I have never met someone in the United States whose number is less than 1 earth. The way we live here is neither sustainable nor fair. Those who live in third world countries use as little as 1/100 of an earth.

How do WE fix this inequality? How do WE live a more sustainable lifestyle?

A Norwegian philosopher by the name of Arne Naess created an idea called “deep ecology.” In this deep ecology, we adapt our lifestyle to the needs of the planet, rather than adapting the planet to fit our lifestyle. There is a Norwegian word he uses often, the word is “Noysomhet.” In English, this word means, “to be content with frugal yet adequate situations.” We must change our culture of “want” to a culture of “contentedness.” 

Some, as in all of us sitting here, will have to use less so that others can use more. To be satisfied with using less, we must change our values. To modify our values, we need education. And this is the second answer to sustainability. Yes, school. Education is the helm of the climate movement. Education destroys ignorance. Education destroys hate. It is each of our most valuable tool to helping change the course of our planet.

As I wrap up this sermonette, I have a few challenges for each of you. One – try to go as long as you can without saying the word I. As you go through this, think of life in terms of “we.” Second, apply noysomhet to your life. See where you can be content with less. Third, educate yourself. Read books, watch reliable news, and listen to your teachers.

In their legends, the Lakota describe the white man as “witches.” They believe that the planet will go through a period of drought, famine, and suffering caused by the greed of these witches as they cut down the forest, overfish the rivers, and use up the land. Are they correct? Maybe. However, after the difficult times, the Lakota say that a group will come together to save the world. They call this group the “rainbow warriors.” Today, I interpret this legend of the rainbow warriors as a group of environmentalists from all backgrounds, all cultures, all colors, all languages, all ages, and all coming together with the goal of making the world livable once again. This task falls on all of us here. I consider myself a rainbow warrior. I look before me here at North Star, and I see a group of people who could join the rainbow warriors, and my final challenge is that each and every one of you make a commitment to do so. 

Thank you, and noysomhet. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Great & Glorious North Star Party!

Happy Sunday! And it always is a happy day - because as always, Sundays come with a Half Hour Later (capital letters well deserved in the campers’ eyes) start to the days. We’ve had so many wonderfully hot days up here this summer, it was actually nice to break out the sweatpants and sweatshirts for a cooler morning today. Finally had a chance to try out the new flannel gear we ordered this year!

Today, as you most likely know, we wrapped up our last round of parent phone calls for the summer. Thank you so much for your flexibility and patience as we planned out the call schedule. A real tip of the hat to our office staff for managing all the logistics of getting hundreds of calls out like that when so many are time dependent. As I’m sure you’ve realized, I was pretty nervous about these phone calls, but it was so great to see the smiling faces on the way in and out.

And as far as calls go, if you would like to talk with your son about Fall Camp, please let us know so we can get that call set up in the next few days as well. Our office staff certainly are already warmed up for it I would say! For as much as the campers are having a blast at North Star, we also recognize that the thought of giving you a hug in less than two weeks is extremely exciting too. And with the schooling situations so in flux right now, we realize so very much is in the air for what might be the right decisions for you and your kids - so by all means let us know if another call to hash out those kinds of choices makes sense for you.

But while the outside world might be in flux, here in the Northwoods it is full steam ahead, as tonight was our annual North Star Elections for camper president and vice president of the Great and Glorious North Star Party. (Think like a class president, but you know, instead of lobbying for more recess at school, it’s lobbying for more cabin pizza parties.) Eight separate President-Vice President pairs spanning all our villages ran for the nomination, complete with the goofy spectacle of a debate last night and the hard hitting punditry the people deserve: live reaction “tweets,” a real time “press box”, questions from the audience, and a Wolf Blitzer impersonation, naturally. And I’m happy to announce that with all precincts reporting, no hanging chads or recounts, we have a new administration for the 2020 summer! Ollie Katz and Cameron Beltzman of our eldest cabin, Pine Manor are the new camper President and Vice President of the Great and Glorious North Star Party! As is custom, winners were inaugurated by being tossed in the lake in celebration.

I for one look forward to hearing their proposals on candy selection. Democracy in action!

Today’s Grace:
“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
                         -Franklin D. Roosevelt

Be seated.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Rainbow Warriors

At our Friday Night service tonight, our ecology project head Reese gave the sermonette and spoke of the Lakota tribe. In the Lakota tradition, they speak of a period of darkness for the environment. But that ultimately, a coalition of people will save our planet, and be stewards of the environment - in their legends, they are called the “Rainbow Warriors.”

For all the talk of bear protocols, sometimes we need to take a step back and appreciate just what a natural paradise we live in up here in the Northwoods. To have these kinds of flora and fauna is such a treat for a bunch of campers, staff members predominantly hailing from urban and suburban home environments. It’s a big part of why we have campfires every week, why we send cabins off on canoe trips, and why we spend as much time outdoors as possible. And this week, it was the theme of our Friday Night Service: The Environment.

In a given summer, we only have so many weeks for Friday Night Service, and there are just such a huge amount of worthy themes out there, that of course we can only get to so many of them each year. But one that has a permanent spot every year, is our Environment service.

The land that North Star is built on, and all of the region actually, was home to the American Indian tribe of the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe. And many still live on reservations and in the surrounding towns up here. As such, our Environment service in many ways is also intended to pay homage to the American Indian stewards of this land; those who’ve traditionally had a much more symbiotic relationship with the land than our own Western cultures.

It’s important for us at North Star to instill in our campers not just a sense of fellowship, of fun, and of community, but also a sense of respect and responsibility for the care of our environment. Because as we run around in the ball fields, or play disc golf, or compete in College Days (which, by the way, the College of Staten Island Dolphins team officially was announced as the winners today!), it’s all only made possible by this pristine slice nature up here in the Northwoods. And what better place for kids to be appreciating that than in a beautiful place like the Council Ring. As Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods wrote, “Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.” May we all help raise a few more Rainbow Warriors.

Today’s Grace:
“He who knows not, and knows not he knows not, he is a fool - shun him;
He who knows not, and knows he knows not, he is simple - teach him;
He who knows, and knows not he knows, he is asleep - wake him
He who knows, and knows he knows, he is wise - follow him.”
- Anonymous

Be seated.

Friday, July 31, 2020

College Days Dancing & Singing

Da Bears

When you receive a letter home talking about how your son saw a bear, or they start telling a story when they get home about how there were bears walking around camp, that’s because it’s true. The black bears that we have up here in the Northwoods of Wisconsin generally want nothing to do with people. They’re just loitering around looking for food and in search of sweet smells. So while they are generally harmless and actually pretty cute to look at, we’d prefer they stay away. The presence of bears prompted us to ask again for candy, food, and Crystal Light packets that the boys had in the cabins, and lo and behold, a fair bit was quickly turned in.

Since we can safely assume that our boys weren’t doing a lot of grocery shopping on their own prior to camp, we’d like to take this opportunity to remind you as parents that we ask for your partnership in supporting our camp policies and help set our staff up for success. Our counselors work very hard to take great care of your kids and confiscating their contraband is neither something that they enjoy doing nor is it something that helps facilitate a strong relationship with your son.
The bear may have walked in tonight because of the delicious smells coming from the College Days cookoff. The final event each year of the 3-day College Days is a campfire cooking competition that has each team create an appetizer, entree and dessert to be judged by a panel of culinary experts. Apparently the scores were so close going into this evening that the outcome of College Days may rest on the winner of the cooking competition. Today the senior boys participated in football, leg wrestling, an outdoor skills race, tennis, floor hockey, tug-of-war, cheer writing, plaque making and created their own human mascots. It was a great final day of what has been an action-packed and fun series of events.

While the seniors have caught up in College Days, the Juniors and Intermediates have seen their trip schedules go into full swing. I-3 returned today from their canoe trip on the Lower Flambeau River. We have 4 more trips returning tomorrow: J-4 from the Nam/St. Croix, J-6 from the St. Croix, I-5 from the Lower Flam and I-6 from the Superior Hiking Trail. Tomorrow we will see cabins S-3 and S-4 take off on their hiking trips as well.

Today’s Grace:
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”
        - Dalai Lama

Be seated.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

It's The Big Ten

It might could is! Last night, we celebrated Ross Krantz, Oliver Borstein, Noah Byck, and Jared Marcus with their Big Ten ceremony. This is for members of the North Star community who are here for their tenth summer! All four of these boys started as campers in the J-Village, and are now incredible counselors.

Right in the middle of Open Mic Monday, one of our white vans drove up with staff dressed in funny costumes to give the big reveal. The first time the van drove around, the staff popped out blowing whistles and running between tables. They unscrolled a poster that said “It might could is...Open Mic Monday!” and ran back into the van after fooling us all. They waited around five minutes to play yet another prank, and it wasn’t until the third time they drove around and hopped out of the car that they revealed that last night was the Big Ten. Each of the four boys were called to sit in chairs next to each other on the J3 porch, and some of their closest camp friends told funny stories about trips or nights off from past summers. While marble cake was passed out to everyone at camp, we watched pre-recorded messages from family and friends of the four boys who couldn’t physically be here to celebrate with us.

Today was a big day at camp. The J-Village went to Cornucopia Beach on Lake Superior for a fun day of swimming and beach games. They had lunch and cooked out dinner before heading back to camp for the evening. I3 and I6 headed out for their 3-day hiking trips, while the rest of the I-Village stayed back for a relaxing Cruiser Day, and the S-Village had their first day of College Days. This is a 3-day program where the oldest boys at camp play competitive games against one another. This year, the four college teams are The University of Puerto Rico Tarzans, The Colorado State University-Pueblo Thunderwolves, The College of Staten Island Dolphins, and The Knox College Prairie Fire. Scores are extremely close between teams at the moment...we will have to see who is in the lead by tomorrow night!

Lately on Cruiser Days, cabins have asked to take a pontoon boat to Butternut Island, just a short ride from camp property, to do their evening cookouts. Tonight, I2 had their turn! No matter the location, all campers made pita pizzas over the fire for dinner - these are always a huge hit. We can’t believe there is only one more Cruiser Day of the summer, but we will continue to make the most of every precious moment up here. The boys know that the peace of mind at camp and the beautiful nature we live in are not to be taken for granted. We’re looking forward to what tomorrow will bring!

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Return of Pine Manor

A typical Sunday means there’s one thing that everyone’s always excited about…30 extra minutes to sleep in the morning! We give it to the campers every Sunday, but each Saturday night the chants will begin “Half Hour Later! Half Hour Later!” to coax us into “granting” them the extra sleep (as if we wouldn’t necessarily be doing it anyway.) Well, once again, their cheering won the day, and it turned out especially well timed today as we had a few drizzles this morning that we thankfully got to sleep through most of.  

What the rain did mean was one of the few times we’ve eaten a meal inside this summer. Due to Covid-19 concerns of course, all our meals this year are outside: with each cabin’s picnic table separated from each other, each cabin coming one at a time for handwashing and being served food, and each camper’s mask on everywhere but their own table. And not that the rain was a welcome start to the morning, but it was indeed nice to see our bad-whether meal protocols working so smoothly for breakfast. Keeping the lodge only half full at a time to maintain distancing, half the camp at in a first shift, and half the camp ate in a second shift - sanitizing tables down between them. Each cabin stays dry before coming up to the lodge to wash hands and then being called up individually to pick up food to maintain distance. The kitchen staff truly has been nothing short of amazing in executing these protocols, because for how much extra work it takes to make indoor meals appropriate for social distancing procedures, even with a half hour later start to the day, our activity periods started right on time today after breakfast. And they deserve a ton of credit for helping keep our bubble as safe as it’s been this summer.

And that seems a good place to post this study that came out this week from the University of New South Wales in Australia that I thought I would share with you all. Or more precisely, a video from it, which I’ve found to be a great (and succinct - at 1 minute 49 seconds) visualization of the importance of masks - here at camp and everywhere:

For me, it’s certainly impactful to see how even talking, not just sneezing and coughing, can spread droplets and aerosol without face covering - and conversely how very effective face coverings are! And it’s affirming to know we’re doing all we can for our kids seeing studies like this to maintain our bubble.

And to that point, we did indeed have some people rejoining our bubble this week after spending 10 days in their own isolation out in the wilderness (though of course we still checked all their temperatures coming back in!). I mentioned how on a typical Sunday we look forward to a little extra sleep...Well this Sunday we had something else to look forward to: the return of our eldest campers, Pine Manor from their trek in the Boundary Waters on the Minnesota-Ontario border. We were overjoyed to have them back from this capstone experience after years of cabin trips leading up to it. Tired, with some trail dirt still on them, and certainly some rather ripe clothing to be sent to the wash - but with a belly full of celebratory pizza - they showed up just in time for the rest of camp eating dinner.  And then, naturally, they promptly headed off for a well deserved rest. Just kidding. They instead led the entire camp in cheers for the next 15 minutes straight! Whooping and hollering like men who came out of the woods deserve.

It’s tremendous to have them back safe and sound in our bubble. And it’s equally tremendous to have their personalities, their leadership, and their enthusiasm back at camp once again - really driving the energy of the camper population. It’s a great group of kids, and we’re all the better for their return. Good to have everyone back together again!

Today’s Grace:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Be seated. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Why we’re still in pods and masking

One of the biggest questions that we are still hearing is why are we still in pods and why are we still wearing masks. Everyone has tested negative twice at camp and at least once beforehand and we are in a well contained bubble here on camp property. While I love that we are largely able to shelter the campers and staff alike from the news of the outside world, I continue to read the stories of outbreaks and record numbers around the country. And as I do my best to keep tabs on the latest news and science, I am reminded the importance of not only continuing to always prioritize the health and safety of the boys, but also that we are working to prepare our community for life after camp as well.

While we continue to have no cases of Covid-19 at camp, we are neither metaphorically nor literally out of the woods yet. By continuing to mask and distance, carry on our sanitation protocols, and remain in village pods, we are taking the steps necessary to limit the transmission of Covid-19 should it find a way into camp. There are food deliveries, too many packages, camping trips and even a few trips to the clinics and hospitals. While we have strong protocols in place to mitigate the risk in these instances, mitigation is not elimination. Though we’d love to play a game of All-Camp Capture the Flag instead of by village or let the whole staff play a big game of Speedball, I know that if Covid were to sneak into camp somehow I would be grateful that we continued to take steps to stop it from spreading.

One of the most impactful moments of the summer continues to be when one of the 12-year-old boys asked me in front of camp when the world would go back to normal. I didn’t know the answer then and I still don’t know it now. But I do know that our boys are going to go home at the end of the summer to a world that looks different. If they go to a store, a restaurant, or even if they have some in-person schooling, they’re going to be wearing masks. They’re going to be going into a world with re-opening plans, gating protocols, and two-week quarantines every time somebody in their class, their school, or on their team tests positive for Covid-19. While I’d love for everything just to be “normal” here at camp, there are 70,000 reminders a day now that life is not normal outside of our bubble and I am grateful for the sense of normalcy that we can still provide, even with pods and masks.

And man are we still having fun! Today we had  Challenge Games during their last period of the day, where one cabin challenges another cabin within their village to a camp activity. This could be anything from water volleyball to dodgeball to tennis to basketball and anything in between. Today, the J-Village took over the field house and the cabins took turns playing basketball against one another, while the I-Village took over the ball field to play a few games of tennis baseball simultaneously, gaga and 9-square-in-the-air. S2 challenged S4 to a game of basketball on our outdoor court and S1 challenged S3 to competitive sailing, which was perfect with today’s wind. I can’t think of a better way for the boys to adjust to whatever the new normal might look like.

Today’s Grace:

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

                            -Winston Churchill

Be seated.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Learning from Our Mistakes

Tonight, once again, was our weekly Friday Night Service.  And perhaps all the more appropriate given the amount of tumult in the world outside our bubble at North Star, the theme of the evening was learning and growing from mistakes and failures. Or more succinctly titled on our packets tonight: “Mistakes are Opportunities to Learn.” Jared Marcus gave a fantastic sermonette about failing the right way and growing at each turn, and spoke to his own mistakes here at camp and at home that have led to new passions and new successes.

This is actually one of my favorite services of the summer, because what better place than summer camp is there to make mistakes? Try a new sport you’ve never tried before, miss the archery target 10 times before finally getting it, spend all summer signing up for climbing trying to get to the top of the challenge wall, finally getting up on water-skis after falling over and over again.  It’s a pretty rare place in life to get to try, and fail, at so many new things: socially, physically, athletically, an environment free from the judgments or eyebrow raises of the outside world.  

Today wrapped up our last day of the current series of campers’ activity picks before they move on to trying a different set of projects tomorrow.  That last day is always filled with the sounds of campers striving to reach personal milestones via our Objective Based Programming I mentioned in our last post.  It’s really the culmination of the activities and games and skills through the 3 days on a project.  But whether they hit all the targets they need to move up a level in riflery, finish the rocket they were building, get a handle on fielding ground balls or not, the joy is in the trying and growing.  Or hey, sometimes just in the goofy fun!

So before moving on to our next round of picks, it was nice to close out the week with this message tonight.  Try something new.  Fall on your face.  Laugh it off.  Get up and try it again.  And we couldn’t have picked a better night: a beautiful sunset, perfect whether, a nice breeze off the lake through the trees at the Council Ring.  If there’s a bubble to be in while the world learns from mistakes around us, we sure could do worse than this one!  

I for one can’t wait for the next week of successes, failures, growth - and most of all fun - up here in the North Woods.

Today’s Grace:

The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.

- Vince Lombardi

Be seated.

Hot fun in the summertime

It’s been nothing short of a great week here in the North Woods.  We’re right in the middle of our new activity picks now and “Regularly Scheduled Program” never sounded so good!  Everything still feels so fresh, for both the campers and the counselors, because really it’s only our second set of activity picks since the quarantine phase ended. This allows the kids to really dive into their individual choices.  To hear the cheers and laughs around camp from waterskiing, climbing, tennis, name as good a soundtrack as you could want for a summer.  It’s just great to see camp look so normal during what are very not normal times.

Our regular program also means the boys can work towards their goals through our Objective Based Programming. At every project area, each boy has at least one goal that they are working towards as part of our curriculum. Introductory goals include learning the safety rules and the procedures of the program. Then from there the boys learn the first steps of the activity like how to hold the bow and arrow or how to get up on skis. From there they work towards more advanced skills and techniques. This works great at the traditional sports as well where the boys will have different objectives for the different skillsets. At basketball, for example, the boys will have shooting, dribbling, passing and defense objectives. At each activity the boys will know exactly what the next objective is that they are working on. This keeps them motivated to improve and grow individually, without using competition against other campers as the motivation. 

But normal days always leave fun for goofy nights of course.  With last night being our first ever PetCo night.  Which was about as goofy as it gets.  If you’ve ever seen a dog show, well, we’ll do you one better.  Pet Rock Show!  (And you thought Fido can sit and stay?)  Each cabin, designed, named, decorated, made a backstory for - and ultimately presented their Pet Rocks to the camp.  Think a cabin mascot if you will.  But, you know, a mascot that doubles as a paper weight.  It was goofy.  It was silly.  It was camp.  

And tonight, the campers are excited for breaking out a classic for the first time this summer, which again, now feels fresh after the quarantine wait: Capture the Flag! By Village of course to maintain our village pods.  Can you really call a summer summer without a game of Capture the Flag?  Great to have it back!

Today’s Grace:
“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”
-Vince Lombardi

Be seated.