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Camp Lantern Creek

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Summer camp. Just the phrase evokes such strong childhood memories for me. There was that one camp where all we seemed to do was swim in the pool, diving down repeatedly for color-topped plastic sticks (do those things still even exist?!). There was that other camp that I will always associate with sandwiches filled with American cheese slices. And, perhaps most memorably, there was the camp that played a prank on our young lot during an overnight foray, releasing horses to run across the field after telling us the tale of Ichabod Crane (we were at Sleepy Hollow camp, after all).

There were camp T-shirts and bug bites and skinned knees in abundance, of course. And, naturally, there was so much fun. I’m excited about Huxley’s own camp adventures when he’s older (MUCH older, this wee one of ours!). So when Elizabeth Gates contacted me about Camp Lantern Creek, the all-girl summer camp she runs in Texas that places a strong emphasis on food and environment, I was all ears. When I learned that copies of Keeping Chickens and Canning & Preserving have been lovingly dog-eared in their office, well, say no more.

I thought an interview with Elizabeth would be a wonderful way to bring her voice and her camp to your attention. It sounds like such a magical place. If you’re a parent or caregiver to a girl between the ages of 7-17, I invite you to consider a summer session at Camp Lantern Creek. Anywhere that puts zip lines, canoeing, crafting, and growing in the mix is bound to be a very, very good time.

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1) What is Camp Lantern Creek’s mission?
Our mission is to create and sustain a magical environment where girls try new things every day while making lifelong friendships. We want these girls and young women to know that they can do absolutely anything and to have the confidence to try anything for themselves.

2) What age girls is the camp open to?
7-17 years old. We have a national class leadership program that starts when campers finish the 8th grade and it is an excellent way to build a resume for college applications, not to mention learn real world skills.

3) When is camp held, and where?
We have one Mother/Daughter Weekend every spring and summer camp runs from June 23 – July 26. We have two 2-week sessions and one 1-week session for parents to choose from. Many of our campers combine the sessions to stay for 3 weeks or a month at a time. Our camp is located in a tiny town called Dobbin, Texas. Because there is no postal service in Dobbin, we have a Montgomery address. We are just over an hour north of Houston and our beautiful section of the state is called the Texas Piney Woods.

4) What distinguishes Camp Lantern Creek from other girl’s camps?
What distinguishes us from other girls camps is our commitment to to the entire “girl experience”. We have programming that spans from singing, dancing, art, and sewing to power tools, changing tires, and high ropes climbing towers. We have invited a female soldier to come and teach the girls self-defence and have also invited working models of all shapes and sizes to come talk about being beautiful no matter what skin you are in. We also focus on incorporating change and mistakes into our culture. Change is a natural part of life and we are teaching the girls to use change as a catalyst for creative inspiration. As for mistakes, we treat them as a valuable component of success. We always say, it’s not the mistake that counts — it’s what you do afterward that matters.

5) How did you come to be involved in the camp?
My best friend, Sunni, and I grew up in the same neighborhood and started attending summer camp together when we were 7 years old. We went every summer – even into our college years – and always dreamed of owning our own camp. I took a director position at another camp to learn the ropes and after much planning and saving we found the perfect piece of property to start our own camp dedicated to the modern Renaissance Girl. Sunni handles the administrative side of camp from Houston, where she lives with her husband and children. My children and I live at camp and I run the operational side of things. It is the hardest job either of us has ever had, and it is absolutely the most rewarding. We eat, sleep and breathe camp.

6) Do you have any camp memories from your childhood that informed your passion for Camp Lantern Creek?
Attending summer camp as a child changed my life. I was a very quiet girl at school and I did not see myself as important, much less popular. Camp was the place where I learned that I could decide who I was going to be. It was an emotionally safe environment for me to test my voice, to try to make a difference. The social structure was different than school, and it still is. Everyone is allowed to be cool at camp. “Camp cool” is an inclusive thing, not an exclusive thing, and it can change the way a child sees her place in the world. It certainly did for me.

I found out who I wanted to be at camp. It took me years and years to learn to incorporate my camp self into the rest of my life and my mission as an owner is to assist in that process with this generation of girls so that it is easier for them to be who they want to be sooner. I have a note from one of my campers on my desk that reads: “It is impossible for the world to influence me badly because you influenced me first.” More than ever, the girls of this world need our help. We are not trying to tell them who or what to be — we are trying to hold the fog at bay so they can hear their own voice and then bolster their self confidence so they can weather any storm. Super cheesy? You bet it is. And it’s wonderful. The magic that happens for these girls at camp is addictive.

Sunni and I have poured our hearts and souls into this and have accepted mountains of debt and burden to get it going, but it is happening and we wouldn’t stop it for the world. We are small, but we are strong and we need help spreading the word so that we can succeed and be here for these girls for a long, long time.

7) What advice do you have for parents considering sending their daughter(s) off to camp for the first time?
Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. Parents should not be afraid to ask thousands of questions about the philosophy and programming of camp. Every camp is different and the magic is in the details. Then, we ask parents to take what we call a “reasonable risk”. We know that it is very scary to send a child away and we do not shy away from the fact that they are putting risk into their child’s life. Risk is necessary for growth — and reasonable risk is good. The kind of risk we are talking about is the kind that I had when I was a child. I risked walking a mile to and from school by myself in the first grade. I risked riding my bike without supervision all over the neighborhood until the street lights clicked on. I risked getting lost, I risked forgetting my house key, etc, etc. Kids don’t have much opportunity to learn from that type of risk anymore. They get that chance at camp.

Our staff is extremely well trained and knows how to supervise without hovering. Not a moment of camp life is unsupervised, but the camper feels like she is able to figure things out on her own if she wants to. She can get lost and find her own way to an activity all under our protective eyes. She can decide to stop and ask directions or take a chance on ending up in the wrong spot without ridicule or being unsafe. She can decide where to sit, who to talk to, what her schedule for the day will be. All of this risk plays into teaching them to think critically and creatively. The girls flourish in this environment. Make no mistake, they are never alone. And if they choose to go with the flow, to follow the group, they most certainly can do that. It is all up to them. Most of the girls do both. Sometimes they follow the group and sometimes they challenge themselves as they see fit.

8) What advice do you have for prospective campers (for the girls themselves)?
I want to make sure that prospective campers know that we welcome anyone who wants to have fun. We use the visual and performing arts as a platform to teach creativity, but we feel like every single person is creative. You don’t have to be an amazing artist to live a creative life. We want girls to know that they don’t have to have any inherent talent or skill before coming here – and they don’t have to take theatre or art classes if they don’t want to. There are no auditions and no judgement. All we want is for them to try something new everyday and to realize that making art can mean painting or singing, but it can also mean harvesting a perfect tomato or tying a beautiful knot. Everything we do at CLC is art… even the mistakes are beautiful. Come join us if you want to make a terrific mess, sing at the top of your lungs, dance until you fall down, and make the best friends of your whole life!

One Response to Camp Lantern Creek

  • JamieK says:

    This sounds and looks like a fabulous camp! Can’t wait for my grandaughter to reach the age to attend! Didn’t know we had such a gem in the crown of summer camps in Texas! Thanks for sharing