Alumni Spotlight: Pawz

Hey Camp Benson, my name is Pawz and this is my YCB story!

I can still remember my very first week at camp. I came with my best friend and we stayed in (old) Sioux cabin with just 4 other girls, counselor Rebucket, and SDP Kix. I was very nervous to be away from home for a whole week, and honestly didn’t think I would make it until Saturday. If you would have told 10-year-old ‘Camper Pawz’ that she would be devoting the next 12 summers of her life to this little camp in the woods, she would not have believed it!

After four years as a camper I was finally able to join the Staff Development Program. I was challenged with new responsibilities, but with my SDP friends by my side, we all helped each other grow as role models for the campers. My second year as an SDP, I found my nickname! I had the youngest girls’ cabin and for some reason they absolutely loved this old baseball cap I had with a giant purple paw print on it. Every time I walked out of the cabin without it they would yell ‘PAW!’ and one of the girls would grab it off my bunk and bring it to me. After that they started calling me Pawz, and well... I guess it stuck!

Summer of 2014 came before I knew it and I was accepted as a counselor! I made it a point to make every day full of memories. We started off each week writing goals for ourselves and I challenged them to complete as many as they could throughout the week. I planned scavenger hunts, campfires, and secret breakfast in bed parties for the girls. Camp was a magical place for me as a camper, and I wanted to give a magical experience to every camper who came through my cabin. We ended each week reading out the goals we all accomplished and chalking the sidewalk in front of the dining hall with our favorite memories. I was a counselor for two years and couldn’t imagine a more rewarding job.

I applied and was accepted as the summer Program Director in 2016 and my weekly schedule for the next two summers was much different than that of a counselor. Schedules and planning became a more prominent part of my life, and I found this job to be a different type of challenge as I became a part of the magic behind the scenes! I kept busy with my weekly schedule, but still found time to get out and get to know the campers. I planned hangouts with different cabins decorating the picnic tables with colorful drawings and quotes, sneaking popsicles from the freezer (sorry Mama G), and hanging out listening to music in Hammock Village. It was really important to me to get out and remind myself why I did what I did in my job every day.

Over my time at camp, I have found that camp is magical in the way it helps people grow: growing friendships, growing as a person, helping others grow. No matter what role you play at camp, you are a part of the magic. Camp itself has grown! We have brand new cabins, facilities, and activities that I couldn’t have imagined 12 years ago. However, the biggest thing is that we have grown our camp family! In my time at YCB, our enrollment rates have more than doubled! Camp used to feel like my little secret that I didn’t want to share with the world, but now I shout my love for YCB from the rooftop and encourage families to send their kids to camp because I see the impact it has on people from all different backgrounds and interests. We always say, ‘if camp burned down and all the buildings and activities were gone, everyone would be there the next day ready to sing songs and chat while building it back up’ and I believe this through and through. You can never find a better group of friends than those who devote their time to helping others become the best version of themselves, and Camp Benson provides the perfect platform with which to meet and connect with those kinds of people.

Today, I am a senior at Augustana College studying geography, geology, and environmental studies. I focus most of my time on school work while also balancing a job and being president of Geography Club. We try to bring students together to raise awareness for environmental and social issues in our world today, as well as have some fun getting off campus and enjoying the outdoors. I am planning to apply to the AmeriCorps after I graduate so I can continue to work with environmental education while getting out to see more of the world.

Camp on!


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YMCA Camp Benson

16355 Scenic Palisades Rd.

Mount Carroll, Illinois

Have Questions?

Please contact Gwyn “Mama G” Bemis”

Camp Director


Madison “Pawz” Vandersee

Assistant Camp Director


YMCA Camp Benson