By Katie Mantele
Holt Camp is more than your ordinary summer camp. It is made up of an all adoptee staff, and it travels throughout the country for about five weeks a year. The New Jersey Camp is by far the largest of the different camps; there are about 200 adoptees!
Imagine being surrounded by that many people who share similar beginnings for a week; I can assure you that it was definitely a surreal feeling, one that never gets old.
I attended my first session the summer before my freshman year of high school. I remember being nervous because I had never really gone away from home without my parents for longer than an overnighter, and I only knew one other person at the camp. When you first arrive at camp, you are greeted by some of the staff cheering you on as you enter. “Welcome to Holt Camp!” they shouted while holding up “Holt Camp” signs. I couldn’t help but smile. Stepping out of the car and looking around at all of the other teens, all of the other adoptees, gave me a strange, but welcoming, sense of happiness that I haven’t experienced anywhere else since.
After the welcome, I said goodbye to my parents. I was still a bit nervous, but I was hopeful that that week would be memorable. My first cabin was a diverse group of girls: Chinese, Korean, and Mexican adoptees, all together. People of all backgrounds and ethnicities attend Holt Camp, which is one of my favorite things about it.
What makes Holt Camp even more unique is that it has two adoption lessons each day: one in the afternoon and one smaller group lesson before dinner. The large group discussions are broken up by age group (with A-Group being the youngest campers up to C-Group), and usually focus on issues that adoptees deal with such as race, stereotypes, identity, community, etc. The smaller group lessons are with your cabin only, and they go over the lesson taught that day in the large group, but in a more personal and intimate setting. They’re a great way for people to share their experiences and learn from each other, as we each have our own unique stories to tell.
Just like other summer camps, we are given the opportunity to go swimming, play games, do arts and crafts, and choose electives to participate in during the evening (soccer, music, dance, etc). At night, the camp director and leadership staff lead E-Squared (Evening Entertainment). E-Squared is the time when the whole camp gets together and sings songs, play improv games, and watch funny skits performed by our fellow campers.
On the last night, a dance is held to celebrate the week. I remember sharing so many laughs with the new friends I made during the week. For many campers, the dance is definitely one of the highlights of camp. However, it is also one of the saddest times, because it is your last night together. Before A and B Groups leave to go to bed, the whole camp comes together and forms a circle, reflecting on the week. A roll of string is passed around to each of us, symbolizing the unity we share as a community of adoptees. We then cut a piece off and tie it around our wrists so that we can always have a piece of Holt Camp with us, even if we aren’t there physically. (I still have my strings—they’re some of my most prized possessions). During that night, I remember my friends and I shed many tears. It was sad to see, but at the same time, it signified how strong the bond is that we, as adoptees, have with each other.
The last day is where we, as a camp, put on a presentation for the parents to show them what we did over the week. (It’s also filled with a ton of tears as we say our goodbyes to our new life-long friends).
The week of Holt Camp is easily my favorite week of the year; I am finally in a place where everyone is like me. There are no weird stares or awkward questions, no pointing or uncomfortable feelings. It was a very liberating experience, one that I will never take for granted. Attending Holt Camp allowed me to grow as both an adoptee and as a person. I made some of my best friends there, and memories that will last a lifetime. Holt Camp is truly one-of-a-kind, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.