Fitting in or Belonging?

Posted by on February 02, 2023

For many parents, one of their biggest fears is that their children won’t ‘fit’ in, either at school, extracurricular clubs, or summer camp. For many first-time campers we hear them say, ‘will I make friends?’ These are such natural worries and fears for both parents and children to have. No one wants to feel excluded or left out. At some point in all our lives we have experienced it to a greater or lesser degree and it is not nice.

For many young people, they change their behavior, their attitude and their looks just to be accepted by a group of people that they feel is the right group of people to be seen with. We have heard stories from students who have groups at school called the ‘relevants’ and the ‘irrelevants’! Can you imagine your child being classed as ‘irrelevant’ by their peers? Young people can be terribly cruel to each other if their face doesn’t fit.

girls playing at Camp Waukeela at dinner

A leader of any institution, whether it be a school or a summer camp, is charged with the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of its students or campers. Emotional and psychological safety should be of paramount importance, indeed, as a starting point, it really must be the most important priority. The culture of any institution starts with the leaders, they create the boundaries within which the organization functions.

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How Camp Waukeela Culture Promotes Belonging

In my experience, the very best schools and camps are the ones that prioritize emotional wellbeing, mental health, and psychological safety above everything. The best camps are the ones in which the new kids arrive and don’t have to fit in, they just instantly feel a sense of belonging to the community. For one hundred years Waukeela has opened its gates to young people from all walks of life to create a sisterhood that lasts a lifetime. Once a camper passes through our gate, they instantly become what we affectionately call, a Waukeela girl. No need to fit in or be accepted, you become a Waukeela girl.

The culture at Waukeela is one of acceptance, one of respect, one of community, one of love. As Camp Directors, my wife Gill and I insist that these ethics and values are instilled into every aspect of our camp life. It starts with our staff onboarding process when we talk to new staff about these values, it pervades every minute of our ten-day staff education week before campers arrive. On both our opening days, we spend our first afternoon in our Community meetings in which the entire camp comes together to pledge our support for one another.

We are parents to four wonderful grown-up kids and we treat every member of staff and camper as family. We model compassion and empathy, patience and love and this demonstration through actions has a domino effect on every person in our community. We know we are role models to many impressionable young staff and campers and we lead by example. The impact that this modeling has on the culture of our wonderful camp leaves a legacy year after year. 

The culture at Waukeela is very much one of belonging as opposed to fitting in. We are intentional and deliberate with all our actions and programs to ensure inclusion is immediate and authentic. Each new camper is assigned a ‘big sister’ who will reach out to new campers via email or letter before camp starts. Once they arrive at camp, the big sister will look after their new friend and show them around and introduce them to the wider community. We work tirelessly to identify and break up cliques so that no camper ever feels left out. A summer at Waukeela is truly a journey of self-discovery in which our campers experience a sense of community and sisterhood that lasts a lifetime.

Graham Moore


Want to learn more about our all girls camp? Contact us today and book your child’s spot for the best summer of their life.