The Gift of a Lifetime

by Alexis Simmons

I never thought my family was poor, I was just aware that we didn’t have extra spending money. I knew not to ask my parents for unreasonably priced gifts or things I didn’t need. A kid could dream, but my reality was different from my dreams.

If I’ve learned anything from working at Tecumseh, I’ve learned that kids are insanely smart. Regardless of age, they are perceptive, curious, and have important opinions. The 8-year-old versions of Kevin Davis, Rachel Naylor, and myself were no exceptions. We all knew that our families weren’t made of money – paying the bills was the financial priority, not summer camp.

“Growing up, I knew that my parents didn’t make a bunch of money. They are missionaries for Cru (an international ministry organization mainly found on college campuses), so paying for camp was going to be a struggle,” Rachel shared.

The campership program is important and necessary. It is a scholarship program provided for families who may need financial assistance to cover the cost of camp. Camp alumni serve as mentors in their communities: seeking out kids who may benefit from a week at camp, aiding them in the registration and campership application process. Additionally, families may apply to receive funds from the campership program. This program has changed countless lives, including mine, Kevin’s, and Rachel’s.

As a kid, when I was attending the summer day camp program at the Boys and Girls Club of Danville, Andrew Seibert played a Camp Tecumseh “Day in the Life” video, circa 2005. I was mesmerized. All we had to do was write an essay, and maybe we’d get to go to camp. I loved to write, so I wrote. Mostly about the blobs.

When my essay was selected, I was nervous. My mom was terrified – after all, it’s hard to send your child off to the middle-of-nowhere Indiana and trust that college-aged strangers are going to take good care of them. Regardless, I packed a suitcase.

I was put in Delaware cabin with nine other girls. When my mom picked me up on Saturday, I was hysterical. I never wanted to leave Tecumseh. The rest is history. What started as a huge unknown became a life-altering experience.

Tecumseh runs deep in the Naylor family. In 1988, Jen Naylor was a second-year counselor in Fox cabin. Exactly 30 years later, her daughter, Rachel Naylor was a second-year counselor in Fox.

Rachel started attending camp when she was an 8-year-old Brave, thanks to her mom who applied for funds from the campership program. “Without camp, I’d feel like I didn’t have a purpose. I have my mom and the campership program to thank for that.”

Rachel is a senior at Indiana University, where she studies public, non-profit, and community recreation. Camp has been, and always will be, Rachel’s life. “Camp totally shaped my career path.” Once Rachel figured out that she could work professionally in the camping industry, there was no other option. After her first Brave summer, one of her school assignments was to write a paper on what she wanted to be when she grew up. She still has that paper – 8-year-old Rachel had written that she wanted to be a Camp Tecumseh counselor.

“I first applied for the summer of 2017. I was excited, but also terrified, because I’d been waiting since I was 8 to work there.” Luckily, her 8-year-old dreams came true, and she cried when she got the news that she’d been hired. “Little 8-year-old Rachel would be so happy that 22-year-old Rachel is pursuing camp full time now.”

Camp was that impactful for Rachel. She had such good experiences at Tecumseh that she wants her life to “…reflect the impact camp has had on me.”

Kevin was an unsuspecting third grader when his teacher, Meghan Alexis, suggested that a camp experience would be beneficial for Kevin. His camp journey started when he was 8 and has continued ever since.

Kevin told me that his camp experience was incredibly unique and has significantly impacted the person he is. “The opportunity to go to camp as a camper goes far beyond the one or two weeks you go, it can lead to wanting to work at camp, which then pushes you further both personally and professionally.”

Not only does camp provide wonderful, unique experiences for children, it also prepares real-world leaders for life post-camp. “At camp, I learned how to handle stress, how to be resilient, and how to care for others. I was pushed in so many positive ways,” Kevin said.

What do Kevin, Rachel, and I have in common? We believe the world needs summer camp. Tecumseh has significantly impacted our lives. It has made us into the resilient, confident, problem-solving individuals we are today. We believe that camp can change the world, and that all kids deserve access to an experience like Tecumseh.

Each of us is also a member of the Tecumseh Society. Through a monthly donation, each dollar we give goes straight to the campership fund, allowing us to pass on the blessing of a Tecumseh experience.

Rachel told me, “I think camp combines all the good in the world into one place. Everyone should be able to have that experience.”

“Now, more than ever, people need to learn how to listen and how to become their own person. Camp provides a space for growth in that way, and I want to give that opportunity to other kids, without money having to be an issue,” Kevin said.

I give because I experienced first-hand how important the campership program is. I hope that generations of children after me can access the magic that is Camp Tecumseh, regardless of their family’s financial situation.

If it weren’t for the campership program, we wouldn’t be the people we are today. Thank you to Andrew Seibert, Meghan Alexis, and Jen Naylor for introducing us to camp and the campership program.

We are so thankful for the campership program, and those of you who continue to support it with your contributions. Thank you for providing a camp experience. You are giving the gift of a lifetime.

Alexis Simmons is a recent graduate of the University of Illinois. She attended camp from the age of 8 through age 15. She was a day camp counselor in 2015, an overnight camp counselor from 2016-2018, and a Lake Village assistant director in 2019. She also worked a season of Outdoor Education last fall.