Jul 28, 2019

Posted by: Emily Reilly

When the Sun Goes Down

The days at Ranch Camp start bright and early, the camp gathering for the morning circle at 7:45, and the hours spent under the bright Colorado sky are always filled with activity and energy. Most things at camp happen while the sun is high in the sky, but this is an overnight camp, and the fun doesn’t stop when the sun hits the horizon. The evening programs, always camp favorites, offer one more burst of excitement before bedtime, but on special nights, post-evening programs draw the end of the day on a bit further for a special treat.

Unlike evening programs, in which everyone at camp participates, the post-evening programs are generally divided by unit. Each unit – Chalutzim, Metapsim, and Toshavim – consists of three or four cabins, and these groups of campers have the opportunity to come together to solidify and strengthen their own communities during these times. This inter-cabin bonding begins with the first post-evening program (affectionately known as PEPs) of the session, a unit initiation. Generally taking place after opening campfire, the different units split off to their own campfires or unit areas to get to know the campers their age, returning campers welcoming the new. Sharing s’mores and campfire stories is the perfect end to the evening.

Other PEPs are a bit more energetic, adding some more thrill once campers are more comfortably settled in. Older campers might venture into the Outer 400 for a night hike or a game of camouflage. Others might put their mind to the test in an “escape room” in the Mo or a puzzle set out for them by a sibling cabin (raids being some of the most popular post-evening programs of all). Some evenings might find dance parties or movie nights, an extra special treat. For the younger kids, or just those who want something more relaxing before bed, storytelling with milk and cookies hits the spot. The rarity of these kinds of activities is part of what makes them so exciting – rest is one of the key parts of success at camp, so the opportunity to stay up past bedtime is always an adventure.

The other night, the Chaltuzim unit participated in a post-evening program, what ended up being one of the most meaningful nights of the session so far. The first group of Mini campers, the youngest cabins that only stay at camp for a week, were leaving the next morning, and the rest of the unit helped them make the night an extra special one. First, each Mini made a “Ranch Camp in a Jar” to take home with them, collecting leaves, flowers, and small rocks to create their own representation of camp – no matter where the next steps of their journey will take them, they will always have a little bit of Ranch Camp to call their own. Meanwhile, the unit’s older campers prepared a surprise at the pool. When the Minis arrived, they found wish boats prepared for them. As campers set the little wooden boats, each holding a tea candle, in the water of the pool, they made a wish that was released as the candles blew out. Standing around the pool as one community, illuminated by the light of the candles below, each and every person felt that those around them had, in the last week, become family.

These post-evening programs, like many other areas of camp, are what help to make this community such a special place. The things that happen when the sun goes down are obviously unique experiences that could not be had other places, bringing meaning to the words “sleepaway camp.” But more importantly, these are the times when campers are most able to connect with each other, the atmosphere created by these programs the natural setting for friendships to bloom. With every post-evening program, the bonds of the community grow ever stronger, building up the camaraderie that will still connect every member of camp long after the session itself is over.