My first sleepaway camp

By: Bridget Veltri
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 2009 BS Journalism
Director of Communications, Grants and Foundations Salesian Boys’ & Girls’ Club San Francisco

As I boarded the bus on an early crisp San Francisco morning I laughed to myself, “how am I a thirty-five year old woman who is going to sleepaway camp for the first time”? Yet, this was my reality. As a child and young adult I camped often, but never without my family and friends, or for an extended period of time. As I winded down the California coast I was prepared to help give the two groups we would be serving a week full of fun, friendship (and friendship bracelets) and lasting memories, but I was unaware of the gifts and lessons that they would be giving me.

The Salesian Boys’ and Girls’ Club has been holding our annual sleepaway camp at Camp Saint Frances in Aptos for years. We were forced to cancel in 2020 due to the pandemic and were thrilled to be able to hold camp once again this summer at a reduced capacity. We split the camp into two groups, one for our high school members, and one for our 4th through 8th grade members.

The six days (three nights for each group) at camp were a blend of softball, kickball, slip and slide, arts and crafts, card games, spikeball, cornhole, volleyball, Uno, skits, trivia, and socializing in nature with old and new friends.

Shrouded in fog, we gathered together to play and eat everyday. This diverse group of varying faiths found quiet moments to give thanks for the opportunity and the beautiful surroundings throughout the trip. The respect and kindness these young Salesians showed towards the staff and one another was inspiring. It is hard being young, especially during a pandemic, and this group truly enjoyed being together. As we came together each night for trivia and skits next to a “fireless” campfire, it was the tradition and sense of community that kept us warm.

On our final morning at the end of the week, as I loaded my tired thirty-five year old self back onto the bus home to the city, I found myself reflecting. Spending the week with these kids in such a beautiful place helped me rediscover some simple joys of childhood that I had forgotten. Things like waking up to have breakfast after a sleepover, learning how to play a sport for the first time, singing out loud, the rush of creating and performing, and chatting late into the night with friends. There is a specific joy that only children have, and if you’re lucky, they’ll share it with you. They might even throw in a friendship bracelet.