Friendships Flourish at SCATS

by Erika Solberg

Sienna Johnson, Emma O'Nan, and Evelyn Ulm sit together laughing.
Sienna Johnson, Emma O’Nan, and Evelyn Ulm share a joke.

During lunchtime on the second Monday of SCATS, campers sit in small and big groups at tables all around Fresh Foods. They eat chili dogs, pasta salad, and chocolate cake as they talk and laugh. It may seem like any other school lunchtime scene, but meals are in fact one of the many built-in ways that SCATS addresses the social-emotional needs of its students by encouraging friendships that often blossom into years-long connections.

Campers meet in a variety of ways and bond over a variety of interests. Erin White of Bowling Green and Maddie Hawkins of Prospect met because they are in the same hall and are both taking Storytelling 2.0. They share an interest in anime and the singer Pitbull. Anthony Gannone of Frankfort met roommates Jon Little of Berea and Levi Ferguson-Oles of Berea because they had two classes together; he then discovered they all liked Dungeons and Dragons. Jonah Hill of Berea found that the campers he sat with at lunch have similar opinions on pop culture and like the same games as he. Claire Springsteen of Elizabethtown and Jane Young of Louisville, who are on the same floor and in the same counselor group, sat at the same table for lunch a few days in a row and started talking. Claire says, “I thought her outfit was cool.”

The experience of Jalen Dykes of Louisville is familiar to many campers: “Most of the friends that I’ve made, we have a lot of things in common, like we play sports or our favorite thing to study is space, social studies, or science. I feel I have something in common with everyone I’ve met.”

A group of five girls eating lunch together, Adrika Saha of Newburgh, IN; Jaini Haria of Owensboro; Izzy Jackson of Hebron; Mary-Margaret Shewmaker of Owensboro; and Jamaria Smith of Louisville, share a love of classical music and like to watch true-crime TV during Hall Time, trying to solve the unsolved mysteries themselves. Adrika explains she met these friends in different ways: “I knew Jaini already because our families are friends. Izzy is in my counselor group. I met Mary-Margaret on the first day while playing cards together. And Jamaria’s room is across from mine, so we started talking.”

Dartanya Hill and Antonio Reyna talk.
Dartanya Hill and Antonio Reyna talk during class.

Calvin Brooks of Louisville made friends with a number of campers because he brought juggling equipment to camp. Now several campers, including Ethan Coe of Russell Springs, Ayden Dichiaro of Lexington, and Max Tolar of Paducah, show off their skills with bean bags and fire sticks. Calvin says he shares other interests with the many friends he has made, such as debating, baseball, and chess.

For a lot of campers, making friends at SCATS is easier than making friends at school. To begin with, Izzy says, “It’s a lot more comfortable making friends when you know you are on the same academic level and you can talk about lots of things.”

Jalen explains, “At SCATS, you kind of have to make friends because you have to sleep in the dorm with everyone — you have to be there together, you interact a lot, and you sign up together for Optionals. There’s more teamwork.”

Having campers live together is not the only way SCATS encourages friendships. For instance, as Odera Onwelumadu of Bowling Green points out, “It really helps that we’re not on our electronics. We’re just trying to make connections with other people.”

Counselor Lauren Simons of London concurs: “One of the unique things about camp is that campers don’t have any sort of technology, so it forces them to talk. That was always the thing that I loved about camp. I never missed my phone because I was so immersed in making friends.”

Counselors are another important factor because they encourage connections among their campers. Nate Dyer of Murray had been sitting by himself at lunch until his counselor, Mario Hernandez of Bowling Green, “forced me not to sit alone. I had to come to a table, and I’ve made a lot of friends there.”

Mario explains that when it comes to getting campers to try to make connections, “I don’t give them room to say no. If they try to argue, I say, ‘Just try it for one day.’ And then they end up sitting all together.” Mario also says that out-of-class activities are crucial: “Engaging in Optionals or other activities is the best way to start friendships because sometimes just talking isn’t enough.”

The atmosphere of acceptance at SCATS helps make these new friendships possible. Counselor Clara Manning of Georgetown points out that “Campers can be unapologetically themselves. They don’t have to worry about judgment — they get to express themselves 100%.”

Counselor Darby Tassell of Bowling Green sees SCATS friendships as being even more important this year: “The pandemic gave a lot of people a chance to live in their heads and discover who they are, and maybe who they are isn’t what their parents want, or they might feel detached from their school. Here, they have been able to find people who relate to them.”

Iris Bailey and Claire Myatt work in clas
Iris Bailey and Claire Myatt work in class.

The results of these camp friendships can often be long-tern connections, as seen in the counselors themselves, all of whom attended SCATS and/or VAMPY. Declan Delaney of Mt. Juliet, TN, says, “I’m working with all my friends from camp for six weeks this summer! We could have done internships or summer jobs, but we wanted to come back because we had such a good experience here that we wanted to make sure this year’s campers have that experience.”

Counselor Baylor Hill of Berea (older brother to Jonah) notes, “I was the only counselor coming in this year who didn’t know any of the other counselors. Now I’ve known them for seven days, and I feel like I’ve been friends with them for a year. That speaks to the environment that SCATS makes. Campers can come in and within days feel like they’ve made lifelong friends.”

As for Clara, her camp friendships have been life-changing: “I met Lauren my first year of camp, and I’ve talked to her at least once a week for the past six years. She’s been there for the hardest things in my life and the most fun things. I would not have found that friendship without camp. I was able to have intelligent conversations with people in ways that I’d never been able to have. I would have never been able to express myself the way I do now and have the support system I have if it wasn’t for friends at camp.”