Write a post about the CIT program, she says. Sure, I say. Of course.

This should be easy, right? After all, I ran that program for… 8 years? 9? And then oversaw it for another 3? 4?

But where do I start…? How to capture a program that remains, more than 15 years later, one of my proudest projects? Where do I start with a story that runs through my veins to this day?

I lived in The Galaxy cabin before it had a name, and the first group of girls who lived there with me covered the walls in glow-in-the-dark stars, and thus, it earned its title.  Before that magical night, I had wanted to call it The Orphanage, because when we first set it up, and the beds were not bunked, they filled THE ENTIRE CABIN and it looked like a scene from a Romanian orphanage.

I slept on the porch, not because I had a huge drive to commune with nature, but because that’s where there was ROOM.

I slept on that porch for seven summers.

And one night, one summer, there was a sudden rainstorm, and the girls (bless them) moved my bed inside right to the very middle of the cabin, and I slept there like a little island, safe and dry and surrounded by the girls I loved (still love) so much.

Before there was Lynne’s Pond, before there was all-camp outpost, the CITs outposted on our own, on a night chosen at random. And on one of those nights, I stayed up until dawn with 3 of my CITs, telling scary stories until we were all too afraid to go to bed and turn our backs on the firelight. And somehow, in our sleep-deprived silliness, we picked up a big stick (to protect us from the mountain-lion-clown-aliens lurking in the shadows, obviously), and called it The Ugly Stick, and brought it back to camp, and each of us cut off a little piece and made Ugly Stick necklaces, to remember our night of giggling, terrified, togetherness.

On the back porch of The Galaxy, there is a very worn sign, nailed down to the floor. I don’t think it is still legible, but when it was painted, it read “Tu Roches Mon Monde;” a literal translation of “You rock my world,” and an expression that remains an inside joke between me and those girls (now women), 15 years later.

Before the Brothaship was built, the boy CITs lived in the Battleship before it had a porch. BEFORE IT HAD SCREENS. And we all crowded onto the front steps – the stoop – to hang out together.

There were always CITs on the earliest morning van to the airport, and so we ALL got up ridiculously early on closing days, to hug and cry in the grey dawn….

And make no mistake, there was crying. Big ugly crying, not just from me and the girls, but from 17 year old boys who towered over me, shaking with sobs because it — the magic, the music, the mayhem of camp — was over. Because they had to leave a place where they have a 10:30pm bedtime; and 8am breakfast is mandatory; and they have to help set and clear the table; and cell phones, iPads, laptops are forbidden; and their cars must stay at home; and a trip to grocery store in a teeny tiny town is considered A Big Outing.

They cry when it’s over. That’s how powerful it is.

As I type this, the whole camp is playing Capture the Flag, crashing through the underbrush in the last streaks of daylight. One of the players is a teenaged boy, dressed in neon yellow tights and an equally neon pink tutu. There are sixteen-year-old girls in head to toe camo, sprinting and strategizing and wishing for a win before we call the game on account of darkness. In a few minutes, they will come up here to the deck, smeared with dirt and facepaint. They will help us account for all the campers; they will pour water and settle excitable ten year olds, and breathlessly recap tonight’s game with the same glee as the seven-year-olds. They will go to bed by 10:30, snug in their sleeping bags. They will get up tomorrow and set tables for breakfast.

And maybe THAT is the story in all of this…. The role of a place so meaningful, so sacred, so SAFE, in the lives of teenagers. I work with young children, now, and we talk so much about safety, for little ones. But I think, maybe, teenagers need it even more. A place where the scariest thing that happens is an imaginary clown alien hiding just outside the light from a fire. A place where, every Friday night, you dress up silly and dance with your friends, without a mind-altering recreational substance in sight. A place where an adult will stay up until dawn, just hanging out with you, and where an inside joke can last forever.

A place where a teenaged boy plays Capture the Flag in a hot pink tutu and no one even bats an eyelash.

Yes. That is the story.

That is the CIT program.

Amy Murray, B.Ed., M.S. worked at Coppercreek for 12 years, as a cabin counsellor, then our CIT Director, Teen Leadership Director, Program Director, Assistant Camp Director, and Dean of Campers. You can visit her blog at www.missnightmutters.com.

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