Olivia lived nearly 2,500 miles away from her grandmother Sue Paulson in Kalispell. During the summer of 2012, Olivia’s mother took her and her brothers to visit her grandmother.
“I attended the music camp as a percussionist,” Olivia shared. “I arrived to my first year of church camp at 13 years old feeling all of the typical worries that haunt any middle schooler entering a new experience: Will I fit in here? What if everyone’s super weird? Or worse, what if they think I’m super weird? I felt like I had so many reasons to be rejected by the other campers; I looked different, I didn’t go to church, and I lived a “city life” two thousand miles away.”
“As camp goes, by the end of the week I was dreading leaving, having found such a wonderful group of friends. Not only did music camp challenge me in a way my school classes couldn’t, but the campsite itself cultivated my love for campfires, canoeing, and community. I couldn’t wait to come back the following year, and as luck would have it, the middle school music camp was back to back with the Middler church camp, and my mom told me I could attend both! That was the first year I flew by myself as an unaccompanied minor across the country from Newark, New Jersey to Kalispell, Montana.”
Olivia returned to both camps through 2018. She stayed connected to camp friends via social media, but missed camp tremendously. That year, she moved to Hawaii and thought she would never be able to return to Flathead Lake. Her counselors had transformed her life. changes, the values remain and it is a place where I will always feel at home.” “They took the time and energy to individually connect with each of the campers there,” she shared. “One counselor asked me to participate in a morning watch with him, and it was my first experience with public speaking, which I later realized I loved and started pursuing back home. Another counselor encouraged my friends and I to perform at the talent show, something that was out of character for me but I also realized I enjoyed. I was lovingly pushed out of my comfort zone in a way I didn’t experience at school.”
“I put my counselors up on such a high pedestal I couldn’t possibly see myself having anything even close to the impact that they had on my life.” Then, a counselor remembered her birthday and called.
Her friends stayed connected, even from 3000 miles away. “Even though I’d only spent 5 day a year with these people, they thought of me even years later. I realized that regardless of how far I traveled, I always had a home at camp. Disgustingly corny but whatever, it’s true.”
She applied to be on summer staff and has served since her first official summer of 2020. When she starts a new job, the first thing she does is request two weeks off to come to camp in the summer.
“I’ve chosen volunteering at camp over vacations, birthday celebrations with friends, and job opportunities, but to me it isn’t a sacrifice. It is a privilege to be able to give back to the place that gave me so much and I feel obligated to do what is in my power to create a safe and unforgettable experience for the
future generations of campers. A place where they know they can be any version of themselves and be accepted, they can learn how to respect and love the people around them, and they can create a community that outlives the few years they attend as campers.”
“There is a deep sense of responsibility to preserve the spirit of FLUMC, which to me involves unconditional love that doesn’t stop when you leave. It involves an all encompassing idea of faith that allows for curiosity and exploration. These values are the reason that it remains my favorite place to this day. After working at various summer camps and schools it has an impact unlike any other I’ve ever seen. After traveling to 17 countries it is still the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. As I grow older many of the places I’ve felt at home in are changing or even disappearing. The schools I went to are constantly being renovated and the teachers I loved have moved on. A new family now lives in my childhood home. Most of my friends, and myself, have moved out of the state we grew up in. Even the local restaurants I used to love are no longer there. I am infinitely grateful to have FLUMC as a place to come back to. I am infinitely grateful to have FLUMC as a place to come back to. Although it undergoes its own changes, the values remain and it is a place where I will always feel at home.”