Why Difference Counts

As we wave goodbye to some of our first session freshkid campers, we’re taking stock of these past two wonderful weeks at Camp Manitou. We’ve had unprecedentedly low levels of homesickness, and seen an astounding number of smiling faces all summer long.

This is due, without a doubt, to the strength of our staff. From the counselors who sleep in camper cabins to our director and medical team, we’re seeing a level of dedication and commitment to these kids that parallels the commitment one demonstrates to one’s own family.

Rest assured that at Manitou, the values we teach the kids as campers are the same values that you as parents inculcate all year long. Heck, when we talk about a sense of “family” at Manitou, we’re talking about the very bonds these kids form with one another. They get along like siblings! And in doing so, they learn that conflict or disagreement is normal and healthy.

In one of our earlier blog posts, we referenced a poem about friendship that was read to the staff during pre-camp. An excerpt:

A simple friend thinks the friendship is over when you have an argument.
A real friend knows that it’s not a friendship until after you have a fight.

It’s true: relationships are stronger for their hills and valleys. It’s how you deal with the issues that inevitably come up, and how you resolve them, that defines the nature of your bond. (It goes without saying, mind you, that we have zero tolerance for bullying. Exclusion, too, is unacceptable.)

Conflict arises from difference… but at Manitou, we embrace difference. We are lucky to be so unalike, frankly, because it is only in the space between the things we have in common that learning and understanding actually happens.

So we communicate this to the kids every chance we get. Our eight-member director team functions not as a disciplinary committee, but as a support system and a teaching body that hands down the tools for conflict resolution, relationship-building and self-confidence.

Just the other day, we had a minor issue among a teenage girls’ cabin. A typical scenario for their age, no doubt, but an opportunity nonetheless. Not only did we help the girls work out their immediate issues in a group setting, but also we met with each camper individually to emphasize the need for empathy. The short term payoff is just getting along again, but the long term result is a deeper understanding of how to embrace difference in every human relationship.


Camp is a microcosm of the world. And each year, as the world becomes a more complex and instant-access place, the issues at summer camp follow suit. Camp directors and educators have determined that Anxiety is the most common health problem among today’s youth, and this can often prove a challenging obstacle in dealing with and embracing difference.

This past week, we had esteemed speaker and TV personality Joey Rich come to camp to discuss the topic. He spent time with our unit heads, our CITs, and finally our entire staff team.

Joey knows all too well that mental health is a factor easily glossed over when dealing with camper issues, and that anxiety can be stigmatized as “irrational” behaviour. But in his engaging talks with the staff and CIT campers, Joey reminded us that Anxiety is just another form of Difference. And like any other issue unique to certain kids, it deserves to be embraced, supported and understood.

For kids with anxiety, Joey explained, any possible future event is real — even if it hasn’t occurred yet. Some children become obsessed with the future; others concentrate solely on the past. In most cases, there is a pressure to be “perfect.” But regardless of how Anxiety manifests in a camper, he or she should not be dismissed.

Our best resources at camp to work with anxious kids are our staff. We may not all be trained therapists and psychologists, but every single staff member is well-versed in empathy, a hallmark of the Manitou everyday. Everything else, they learn along the way from getting to work with these kids at camp — and from experts like Joey Rich.

On that note, we’re proud to announce that on November 9th, we’ll have guest speaker Leonard Sax flying into Toronto all the way from Chicago to speak to Manitou parents about Anxiety’s growing prevalence among kids, and about strategies to reduce your child’s anxiety in a social media-driven digital age. After hearing Leonard give his talk his past spring, we booked him right away so the parents could benefit from his resources. (It’s chock full of tools you can implement the second you get home!)

So hey, that’s what’s on our mind this week. Difference counts. We’re not afraid to deal with things that fall outside of ordinary, because we know from the past 18 years that every camper has the potential to be extraordinary.

Thank you for entrusting us with your wonderful, special kids. We cherish every day with them and can’t wait to see how they leave their legacy at Manitou.