Camp Gilligan: Another Camp Ends, Another Heart Breaks

These last two weeks, I’ve been existing as a camp counselor by day and, well, an exhausted twenty-something by night. Despite my sad farewell to Camp Ridgecrest, I was fortunate to work at not one camp this summer, but two. First, it was a weekend camp for foster youth; most recently, it was a local day camp called Camp Gilligan.

To be clear: Camp Gilligan is no Camp Ridgecrest. I mean, it’s kind of hard to top the cabins and lake and COUNCIL RING and almost 100 years of tradition. But as I learned by the end of my two weeks at Camp Gilligan, it’s just like Camp Ridgecrest in that one other critical aspect: the kids. Oh gosh, the kids.

Camp Gilligan banner

Camp Gilligan: A Familiar Name

On Day 1 of Camp Gilligan, the counselors were given “camp names” by the other staffers. After sharing approximately 60 seconds of my life-story, including last summer’s adventure to Camp Ridgecrest, I was bestowed with a most familiar, appropriate name:


Gosh, that name; from this blog to my book to my very existence, how pivotal a name it’s become. Even after I was named at Camp Ridgecrest, the kids hardly ever called me by my Indian name. I was always “Tom” first, “Traveling Golden Trout” never. Those sacred Indian names were more or less a “counselor thing.”

This summer, however, I fully embraced the name. Whenever kids asked for my “real” or “full” name, I never responded with “Tom.” Instead, I responded with “Traveling Golden Trout.” It wasn’t until the final day of camp when I revealed my actual, less-than-stellar three-letter name.

For two weeks, I was simply Trout. Whenever kids or staffers shouted that name, I instinctively turned my head as if my dear Polish mother bestowed the name upon me at birth.

Trout — more than my name.

My very identity.

Trout Nametag for Camp Gilligan

Camp Gilligan: A Familiar Routine

Speaking of Polish roots, a blonde-haired boy from Poland was at our camp, and he spoke very little English. I called my aforementioned Polish mother and asked for some Polish language tips; I’ll never forget seeing my long lost Polish brother’s face light up when I greeted him one morning with Cześć, jak się masz?

That sweet Polish kid was just one highlight of many over my last two weeks at Camp Gilligan. One awesome kid of many. No, I wasn’t inhabiting cabins or hiking mountain trails with kids like last summer at Camp Ridgecrest.

But I was bumping volleyballs with them. I was letting them splatter egg yolks over my squinting face. I was allowing them to stuff 13 balloons up my shirt. I was even swimming and diving with them. (A truly shocking reality if you’ve read Struggle Central.)

Swimming at Camp Gilligan

I was sitting on a shady hillside hearing stories about Jesus with them. I was “shaking another hand” and “scratching another back” and “squeezing another knee next to ya” with them. I was standing up to share my testimony for them.

In essence, I was doing most everything I did last summer at Camp Ridgecrest, only this summer I wasn’t in the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains. I was “just” at a city park hardly 10 minutes from my apartment.

Camp Gilligan: A Familiar Heartbreak

And so I learned that Jesus is just as capable of penetrating kids’ lives at an awesome tradition-lined landscape like Camp Ridgecrest as well as a newer, smaller-scale day camp like Camp Gilligan. I learned that love and joy can permeate a camp here in Orange County as it does at faraway Ridgecrest.

I remembered that there’s magic at camp. Magic that climbs on counselors’ backs and runs through sprinklers. Magic that plays, magic that sings. All-encompassing magic at a massive camp 2,500 miles away and one here in my midst.

And so, as another camp ends, I can’t help feeling my heart break all over again.

Breaking over the reality that this fleeting wisp of magic has once again been lost.

Balloon Shirt at Camp Gilligan

  • Sounds like God has given you an incredible journey this summer! I just got back from being a counselor at a camp as well, and as I sat here trying to sort through all of the emotions and the fact that I miss it so much (!) I read this post, and thought “That sounds like me!” . The last blog post I wrote was about how insanely challenging this summer was but most of all how it was full of God and His people. So thank you for posting this and sharing your experience! It’s exciting to see how God works through these summer camps and the people there. And I can totally relate to the feeling that the magic is now lost…

    • TMZ

      Thanks for sharing your similar experience, Kelsea. It’s amazing how gripping a hold camp can have on a counselor. It’s definitely had a strong grip on me the last 3 summers. Can only imagine how amazing it must be for the campers themselves. Prayers that you can rediscover the “magic” in your “normal” life!

  • Amy

    Camp is always an awesome experience for both campers and counselors! I’m so glad you got to be a part of it this summer.

    • TMZ

      Am so glad as well! God took care of me this summer, after all.

  • Rebecka

    It sounds like you had an incredible experience! I bet the kids thought it was magic too.

    • TMZ

      Yeah, the kids couldn’t stop beaming how this was the best camp ever. I love that they loved it so much. Makes it all the more worth the experience!

  • MLYaksh

    Camp is never gone- yes, the time is over. You return home, eat edible food, take a long shower, and get adequate amounts of sleep. But the “magic” of camp doesn’t have to end.
    Not to be trite, but the magic is there all the time. Camp just helps you uncover it. You can have the same powerful impact on kids, experience the moving of the Spirit, and hear God speak like never before wherever you are. If this only ever happens for you at camp, then it’s not happening to you- just around you. And that’s a big difference.
    Continue to pursue that, Tom- I promise you God is always ready to move you in an incredible ways in your normal routines. You just have to be seeking Him.

    • TMZ