Summer  for me meant Woodland Village, a day camp in my tiny town in rural Massachusetts that is been run by the same wise woman for over 30 years. Black Snake Woman,a Native American had a spectacular way with words, she told the best stories and was able to make every single camper, including me, feel special. It was this ability to show each camper how important they were that made me look up to her and it is why I want to do the same in my life for other people.  When I became a counselor there, she described herself as being a mirror for those children,  a mirror which reflects back and is able to show their special light to each one of them.
       Five years as a camper, and five years as a counselor. taught me how much an environment can lead a child toward self-actualization. All one has to do is to listen to the extraordinary insight provide when campers were singing their Power Song or thanking Mother Nature around them, to understand the impact that Woodland Village was having on them. For me, Woodland village not only allowed me to find my voice but also to help others find their voice as well.
        Black Snake Woman was the first to teach me how to think critically just after I had finished the fourth grade. She would read a  Native American proverb from her old, worn-out book and then she would ask the campers. ”what am I really trying to say here?”  Their responses and these conversations could go on for hours, with kids 6 to 13 sharing their opinions without fear of being judged. I love the circles, sharing my own thoughts and listening to others was enlightening. It was my first experience seeing the power of talking. The circles were therapy for me, being  not only able to have my voice be heard but equally important, appreciated , allowed me to explore who I was as a human being. Woodland Village valued creative thought and self-expression so highly that I was able to learn to think freely.  As we sat in a circle Black Snake Woman constantly told and showed the campers, that they were greatly  loved. Kids in camp learned to love. They learned to love each other, they learned to love the world around them, but most importantly they learned to love themselves.

    Memories of Woodland Village tend to flow together over the decade I was there, but receiving my Native American name will stay with me forever. Sitting on the sheepskin mat, with my hands in hers and looking up into Black Snake Woman’s face was unforgettable. My name, “Shines Within” reflects to the inner light that she saw in me and once I received that name, I thought often about what it meant and what I meant .Now I’m pursuing psychology as a lifetime career. I hope that I can find that inner light in others.

   While at Woodland Village,  my worldview was heavily influenced by the people around me and I hope to be able to be a positive influence on people, just as Woodland village was for me.    I still carry the same wisdom about the power of talking that I learned sitting in Black Snake Woman’s circle so long ago.

   It was not just a camp, it was the beginning of my life’s journey.

Henry Weis, a camper from 10 years old until he left for College, wrote this paper for his College Application for his MS in  Clinical Psychology. He brought me over a copy yesterday during one of our many visits over the four years he has been at Skidmore. It's campers like Henry that keep my circles talking as I enter my 72 year of life.