Allie’s Story – Summer Camp at its finest

How Allie went from summer camper to summer staff member, and how it’s changed her life.

Recently, counselor Allie Roach was given an assignment: Write a mock-essay that you might write for a college application. As a lifelong Vanderkamp summer camper and 2 year staff member, Allie naturally thought first of writing about her home away from home: Vanderkamp!

Here is Allie’s unedited essay – we think it’s pretty incredible how much Allie has taken our mission to heart, and we marvel at how lucky we (and our campers) are to have Allie here with us each year!

“As I travel down the rough gravel road, I look out the window of my car and remember exactly why I love this place. Vanderkamp Christian Retreat Center is more welcoming than my own home. From the lake, sparkling iridescently, to the overwhelming fragrance of the surrounding hemlock trees, I’ve observed myself grow not only as a caretaker, but in empathy and compassion. My personal experience at Vanderkamp helped me become more outwardly friendly and gave me an opportunity to self-reflect and become introspective as well.

When I first arrived at Vanderkamp, I was a nervous, awkward wreck. I pleaded with my mother to let me stay in the van for two more minutes, hours, days; any amount of time that would prevent me from entering this unfamiliar environment. After being scraped off the car door, I meandered up the long walkway, being sure to keep my eyes down, until a friendly voice chimed “Welcome to Vanderkamp!” I adjusted my glasses and looked up, bewildered. The voice was a member of the kitchen staff, Matt. Little did I know that in five short summers, he would become a close co-worker of mine. After my forms were given to the director and my check in complete, I was tossed into my first week at camp. I spent Monday and Tuesday of that week alone, I was reluctant to be there and refused to open up. It didn’t take long before I grew weary of being lonely and tried to make friends. I met two of the most important people in my life, Molly and Alicia. The three of us became inseparable, attached at the hip, some would say. We did every activity together; sports, boating, arts and crafts, nature… you name it and we did it as a group. As quickly as we decided we couldn’t be torn apart, we realized just how separable we are. After 3 summers together, Alicia passed away on April 9th 2011 from complications with mononucleosis. I refused to believe it, and changing positions from camper to counselor became even harder that summer as I tried to piece together what exactly happened. But, despite the tragedy and difficulty of those long, hot 3 months, I moved on as quickly as I could, healing my heartache in the best place to do it, right where I met her, right where I felt like I belong… Vanderkamp.

Even through the pain and difficulty, Vanderkamp has an aura that is nearly difficult to explain, and is known amongst the staff as simply, “The Vanderkamp Method.” We strive to create an experimental Christian community that practices love and tolerance for one another. The staff at Vanderkamp make a conscious effort to make a connection with every kid possible and help them gain confidence and allow them to make choices freely. As a counselor, I stopped and reflected, often at night when campers were asleep. Looking back, I came a long way from the shy girl I once was. This past summer, for example I didn’t recognize myself. I was pretending to be an Alien princess one minute, and the next I was brushing my hair with a fork. I had utilized the skills and confidence I gained working and being at Vanderkamp in order to put forth all my energy and keep a fun, safe, loving environment for the kids that showed up. My boss, James Davis, had said at staff meetings, “You may have spent half your summer here, but it might be one kid’s first week ever at camp. It’s our job to make sure that week is amazing to him.” The staff was all hands on deck all summer and we created a great summer for the kids, and helped ourselves in the process.

Vanderkamp Christian Retreat Center has created a great environment for not only the campers we gain every week, but to allow the staff there to grow as well. I’ve found a drastic difference in myself from the shy lonely camper I used to be. The skills I have learned there and the confidence I’ve gained have not only helped me there, but every other aspect of my life. The people I’ve met there have changed my life forever, and I have every intention of staying there as long as I possibly can. Not only have I become more interactive with others, but I’ve gained the ability to self-reflect and watch myself progress into the person I hope to be.”

Wow, Allie. We’re positively blown away! We can’t wait to see you back here next summer!

Vanderkamp Center is a Christian Retreat Center and Summer Camp located on the North Shore of Oneida Lake. Just 45 mintues from Utica, Rome, and Syracuse – it’s the perfect place to help a child grow in faith, or to come and be renewed!


  1. Tuni Soule Rodormer

    Dear Allie,
    It’s so wonderful that the presence and warmth of Vanderkampp have made a difference in your life. Yes , the fragrance of the hemlocks, soil, and the pure air are distinctive of Vanderkamp. You could be led blindfolded and taken to the place…and know exactly where you are. And the water in the lake envelopes you like a hug! It’s a place where you can be free of every trouble that may be visiting you at the time. Indeed, a place of healing.

    Our family’s house was the Annex which was right next to Franks house. Before 1965 we had spent hours and hours and days and days at “the farm”!!! My brother would bring a dead snake into the house and skin it and…heaven knows what he would do with it! Or, he would bring into the kitchen the big trout he caught–clean it, and politely put the heart in my hand, and I’d watch it beat on its own. Very gross! What about the bat that got into our bedroom. Mom would take the squash racket and whack it around while I was under the covers, waiting until it was all clear!

    Here’s a place where we could take a boat out at any time of day and explore around the lake or take a canoe down the outlet and check out to see if anything new was happening down there. Had the beavers built anything noteworthy down the stream? I could go on and on…but for me Vanderkamp will be the magical haven of my life because, along with the love of the my mother and the Good Lord, it grounded me for life!!! Yay!! Tuni Rodormer

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