Times Past: Orange native credits Girl Scout camp with giving her confidence, sense of belonging

  • Meghan Schafer, at left, and her friend Liz Lehart pose for a photo in 2000, when they were volunteering as camp counselors together for the first time. Contributed photo

  • After being part of Girl Scout camps as a child, Meghan Schafer continues to return to Camp Bonnie Brae in Otis, including in 2014 for the camp’s 95th anniversary, pictured. She plans to return in August for the camp’s 100th anniversary. Contributed photo


Published: 4/12/2019 1:10:43 PM

My life has been shaped by many things and many people, from being raised in the wonderful small town of Orange, to having been brought up in a large and loving family. But ultimately, my mother, Ann-Marie Holmgren, led me to what influenced my life the most: Girl Scout Camp Bonnie Brae in the Berkshires.

When I was a young child, I experienced the unfortunate cruelty of other people who judged me for the birthmark I have on my face. They would call me terrible names and pick on me for something I was born with. It made me fearful of meeting new people.

A good friend of mine was trying out camp for the first time in 1989, and our moms thought it would be great for us to go together. I was nervous not for being away from my family, but for meeting new people who could find new ways to make fun of my face.

What I found was completely the opposite.

Camp Bonnie Brae, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, has staff that created an environment where everyone was accepted and liked for who they were. Not a single person called me any names that week. I was well-liked by everyone, despite not saying hardly anything my first week. I was called “Mouse” because of my quiet nature.

I remember vividly the second night, being in a tent at night with a group of girls. There was a spider in the corner. Everyone was screaming and holding on to each other, but I wasn’t scared. Wonder, joy and happiness were my emotions. I was amazed to be a part of this group and this experience, and so happy to be included in the moment. It was a small moment, but had a big impact on my life. It was my first real feeling of belonging.

I went back to camp again the next year, not sure if the magic could happen again. It did. I found more people who liked me and welcomed me. I made new friends and wonderful memories. I enjoyed swimming, boating, putting on plays, exploring the wonders of hiking to the Enchanted Forest and more.

Year after year, the experiences shaped me. I gained confidence. At the age of 16, I chose the camp name of “Mouse” to remember how far camp had brought me. How proud I was to be a loud, confident and courageous person. I had come to love my birthmark and how special it made me feel.

Girl Scout camp helped me to learn the power of helping others and gave me the confidence to be proud of who I am. It led me to my career running summer camps for many years. When time came for a career change, I thought back to my days at camp and how much needing a sense of belonging and a chance to learn who I was on my own was so important to me.

Today, I am proud to be the director of the Playspace Program at Horizons for Homeless Children operated out of Roxbury. I recruit, train and manage volunteers who provide healing play opportunities for young children experiencing homelessness.

I’m able to share my struggles to be proud of who I am through my birthmark, and my story of camp. I’m able to help bring brighter futures to children who need to be heard, loved and supported. I’m also able to continue to share my appreciation for Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts by supporting their camps and programming as a volunteer.

By sharing my story and supporting the Girl Scouts, new girls can go to camp to learn how to be proud of who they are and find their own voices. I am so grateful to be who I am because of Girl Scout Camp Bonnie Brae.

Meghan Schafer is director of the Playspace Program at Horizons for Homeless Children. Visit horizonschildren.org to find out more. She has spoken at national conferences on the impact of trauma on young children and the power of play. She still volunteers with Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts in many capacities.

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