Living our Values: Love of Children – A Space for Well-Being

At Pilgrim Lodge, we aim to ground our programming, decisions, and actions in our values. As a summer camp, “Love of Children” is a pretty obvious one! While the classic elements of “what we do” at camp are timeless – swimming, arts and crafts, labyrinth walks, time with Family Faith Groups, team-building Challenges – “how” we do camp is something we are intentional about always innovating.

We know that mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, among youth were on the rise before the pandemic. Statistics show that the pandemic exacerbated those concerns and made accessing support difficult. NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) has collected statistics from Maine. Data from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey shows that youth who identify as LGBTQ+ are disproportionately impacted by mental health challenges.

While all of this can be painful to process, at Pilgrim Lodge, we believe that camp is a place that fosters mental well-being by providing an antidote to some of the variables that can lead to anxiety and depression including isolation, the impacts of social media, time spent indoors, and stressors of life including the pandemic, active shooter violence, and the threat of climate change. The American Camping Association encourages a broad consideration of the elements that promote well-being including: “physical factors such as exercise and sleep; social factors such as relationships; and spiritual factors such as prayer, meditation, or contributing to a purpose greater than ourselves.” Time spent at Pilgrim Lodge addresses all of these variables.

Image credit: Colorado State University Pueblo

Our camp program is designed to nurture healthy social connections. Talking Circles are used to build community and address conflict. Campers spend time outdoors experiencing the wonder and awe that nature provides. Walking the labyrinth, Family Faith Group, chapel and Sacred Gathering times are all opportunities for campers to consider the spiritual elements of themselves and the role that it plays in their lives.

Pilgrim Lodge has been offering Camp Pride for LGBTQIA+ youth and allies since 2017. We understand from our partners at OUT Maine that protective factors that support youth with their well-being include: unconditional affirmation of a camper’s identity, supportive adults, access to peer groups, and inclusive practices. Camp Pride, from its inception, has integrated all of these factors. More broadly, in 2023, Pilgrim Lodge affirmed inclusive practices across all of its camp programs through Gender Inclusion Practices that support an All-Gender cabin option for all camp sessions. At the same time, Pilgrim Lodge offered its first ever session of Pride Across the Ages, a weekend retreat for individuals and families of all ages to share a multi-generational community space centered around LGBTQIA+ identity. Pilgrim Lodge has secured grant funding for all of these programs to ensure access to camp and participants are encouraged to apply for scholarships!

Beyond our program, the staff and volunteers of Pilgrim Lodge have been steadfast in approaching strategies to address mental health considerations at camp. In 2023, Pilgrim Lodge worked with Fairwinds Camp Consulting to design procedures for supporting campers with mental health considerations at camp and to provide training to Deans, staff, and Health Care Providers at camp. This year, Pilgrim Lodge is partnering with NAMI Maine to offer a Youth Mental Health First Aid training to staff and volunteers during our Kick-Off Orientation to prepare for the summer. During the upcoming season, we have volunteers at our camp sessions who are either chaplains or have a social work background to lend extra capacity to our camp teams, making sure that campers can take a break and regroup or have an adult presence to support them in navigating challenges that may arise during camp.

We are laying the foundation for a summer season that upholds the best of what Pilgrim Lodge has offered for decades – healthy social connections and community, spiritual exploration, and time in nature – while preparing to nurture and support our campers with their whole selves that they bring to camp. We are honored to offer a space of well-being grounded in love, affirmation, and care.