How Derek Hall, our Argonaut Coordinator, Found the Power of Diversity at Camp Jewell

Derek Hall
I didn’t go to summer camp as a kid, but I did come to Camp Jewell for Nature’s Classroom when I was in middle school and it left a strong impression on me. I went to college thinking I might want to be a teacher, but the public school system wasn’t a good fit for me, and I was trying to find a way to work with kids in a different way. When I searched online for places to work as a summer camp counselor five years ago, Jewell popped up and I applied. I came in as a CIT counselor to work with kids, and to become more active in my life, meet new people and broaden my horizons. It’s done more for me than I ever could have imagined.

During my first staff training, I met the most motivated, positive group of people I’d ever met, and they were all here for you—the campers—to be sure you had an amazing experience. I heard people open up about their lives during our first devotion like I’d never heard before. In a short period of time I was able to connect with people in ways I’d never considered before—they were people I’d always thought were so different from me. I started to understand diversity in a different way, and I was so fulfilled by the work we did together.

My coordinator that summer was a guy from Wales named James Waller; he was this big guy who played rugby, was really fit and was a rough and tumble kind of guy. I’d never met anyone from Wales before, and I wasn’t good at sports so I was immediately intimidated by him. But then I got to know him. And you know what I found? A really great person who was willing to speak from a real place, and he became like a father figure to me. That’s what I found here at camp, at a place where I never would have gone looking for it.

I’m from the North End of Hartford, so I’m a city boy, not a country boy, and being here at camp really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, doing things like walking around in the dirt and finding a raccoon in my room. Because of all these new experiences I went back to Hartford with a renewed sense of self-reliance after that summer; I felt like I could do anything. I started my own property management company, and I also started working for the Anti-Defamation League as a public speaker and facilitator, where I talk to groups about building connections between people of different cultural backgrounds.

I’ve taken some summers off from working here, but I’m back this year with a vengeance. When I think about camp it’s not just about me growing as a person, it’s about being able to give young people of different backgrounds the ability to grow as people as well.

While you’re here, don’t be afraid of who you are right at this moment. Let camp be a place where you try new things and grow and change because you’ve tried something you’ve never done before. There are a lot of amazing people here who really love you and want you to become a better person. It’s up to you to make the choice to do all you can to make that happen.

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