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Camper to Counselor: The Emagination Story of Mike M.

Emagination has been a part of my life since I was 9 years old. Next summer, when I’m 20, I would have been with Emagination for 12 years. I kept coming back, year after year, for almost a decade.

What drew me in? Well, at first, it was largely the workshops that the camp offered. I already knew I was passionate about computers, and at Emagination I was able to learn to program, to make games, to build computers, even to make RC cars. In my time as a camper, I took almost every workshop there was to take, including many of them multiple times. I loved how much there was to learn. The big reason that kept me coming back to camp, though, was the overall experience: the people, the activities, and the fun.

I started out as a day camper, going only one session my first year, as far as I can remember. The next year, though, I begged to stay for longer. I remember wanting to be a PA, but at the time, I didn’t like that they had to stay overnight, which seems like a reasonable concern for a 10-year-old to have. But soon, bold, brave, 11-year-old me came along and decided to switch from being a day camper to an overnight camper the following year. That was the best decision I could have made, and it opened up the full Emagination experience for me, which would really draw me back every year. And it didn’t hurt that I had made the decision with my friend Matt, who had been at camp at least as long as I had at that point.

Actually, Matt and I are still friends today, which brings me to the aspect of camp that can’t be found anywhere else: the wonderful people and the great friendships. Every year, I wanted to come back and see my camp friends, and hopefully some returning counselors who I had really come to like in past years. Every year, the idea of hanging out with a huge group of my peers in workshops, during Rec ‘n’ Tech, and in the dorms was just too much to pass up. I met tons of people my age, many of whom I still talk to today. I met so many counselors who (to a young kid like myself) didn’t have an age, but were in this strange ethereal state of being indescribably older than me. But that didn’t matter, because they were there for me, and I loved spending time with them. I could really tell that they enjoyed spending time with me and talking to me. Although I have been unable to maintain contact with them since there was such an age gap (the size of which I will never know), I can still remember all the counselors who made Emagination such a special place for me.

And so it doesn’t take a real stretch of the Emagination (ahahaha) to realize why I wanted to become a PA and a counselor as soon as I possibly could. I had experienced Emagination, and I wanted to be able to give that experience to all of the younger campers who would follow me. I had the honor of being one of the first in the camp’s new CIT program, where I was able to fulfill my goal of wearing the green shirt a little bit early. From there, I didn’t stop, and I’ve been working at camp ever since. It almost feels like I’ve become a part of the Illinois camp culture. I know all of our returning campers, and they know me. In fact, there is no returning camper who has been to camp without me being there, too.

I know I’ll be returning to camp for as many summers as I can, hoping to continue to be a figure that new campers and staff alike can talk to in order to get acquainted with Emagination. I will continue to be a friend to everybody who sees the same greatness in Emagination that I do, keeping them coming back every single year. And even when the time comes that I’m no longer able to come back, Emagination will always be an inseparable part of me. I will never forget it, and I hope that I will have helped to create that same unforgettable experience for every other person who ever came to our campus.


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