Well hello there! My name is Anthony Cascio in real life but at camp, most people call me “Cash.” My camp career has been a very interesting and exciting time in my life that I never get tired of telling. It all started in 2013 when I was a little 20-year-old kid from Miami, Florida. *Dramatically fade into my past*
I was working at a trampoline park minding my own business when an old friend from elementary school came up to me and started talking to me. When I said we should catch up sometime, she told me that she was actually going to a summer camp in three weeks. She gave me some information and I checked out the website and was amazed at what I saw. Everything I love in one place – is it possible?! Every sport you can ever imagine, a giant lake with inflatables and I could go for free? Sign me up! I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get in since it was so close to June. I emailed Jon Grabow to see if any spots were left and he told me to put in an application and we would talk. The next week, I had my interview and all of a sudden I was buying a ticket to Pennsylvania to fly out in less than two weeks. I couldn’t believe it happened so fast, I was terrified, nervous and excited all at the same time. I had no clue what to expect. I had never left my house for more than a week before this and now I was leaving for two months! Little did I know, it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my entire life…
Arriving at camp was such a strange experience because I was completely blind to what I was getting myself into. I got out of a van and was greeted by a man in a superman onesie and alligator slippers. That man was Chantz Sawyer. His excitement for me, a total stranger, was so uplifting. All those nerves disappeared for a brief moment because a man in a superman onesie and alligator slippers jumped off a golf cart and gave me a giant hug. I’ve never felt so welcomed before in my life. I knew I had made a good decision to come here right after that moment. I was put in the youngest division, the Freshman, and super nervous about it. The first two weeks of camp flew by, and I was still keeping to myself and just hanging out with my kids, not really socializing outside of my division. Olympics started up and one of my close friends got the honor of being an Olympic Captain and the entire camp cheered, and was so excited for him. I was a little jealous because I knew I was just like him but was too nervous to show it. Seeing that happen to him, really pushed me to be myself and just have fun. I turned it around during Olympics and enjoyed myself from then on out. From coaching my kids through sports, painting my face with the team colors, and screaming at the top of my lungs to cheer my team on – I had fun and that’s what was missing. I ended that summer being rewarded with Color War Lieutenant and Counselor of the Year, all while finding a new summer home.
The next three summers, I was a Group Leader, the first two were with my original boys and I was able to stick with them throughout their summers in Cherokee. After the first year, the division went from 18 kids to 51. It’s a whole different world when you go from a general counselor for eighteen kids to being a Group Leader of fifty-one kids. It pushed me into a version of myself that stayed organized, while also keeping that fun element that camp should always have. The fate of fifty-one kids summers was in the hands of me and my twenty counselors and I loved every minute of it.
My third Group Leader summer, I was lucky enough to be with the CIT boys. Which was a total 180 from Cherokee camp. I went from dealing with homesickness most nights to girl problems. It was a huge wake-up call, but I was excited to change it up. The CIT boys welcomed me with open arms and I had one of the best summers yet with ten CIT boys. We had late night talks about life, non-stop biddy ball games, and countless days in the gym. I almost felt like I was a CIT with them. They taught me so much about myself in those seven weeks. Since they had been going to camp for so many more years than me, they really showed me that you can truly be whoever you want at camp. Camp is a no judgment zone, so you can literally be whoever you want and people will love you for it. The more unique you are, the more you are loved. This place takes kids who at home might be shy, insecure, quiet and turns them into the total opposite. These CIT boys showed me how truly accepting Camp Chen-A-Wanda can be and it made me so happy to see that these kinds of places do exist. By the end of that summer, I was pushed into a spot where I had to make speeches in front of the entire camp and I wasn’t scared. If you had told me my first summer here that in three years, I would be stepping out in front of the entire camp and doing an improv speech about whatever came to my head, I would more than likely call you a liar. Before this, I couldn’t talk in front of five people without starting to stutter or freeze up. Now I was stepping out in front of 700 people and still stuttering and freezing. Yet I wasn’t embarrassed about it. I said made up words like “funnest” and the entire camp would laugh, and I just laughed with them. I didn’t even hesitate. I just continued speaking and everyone seemed to love it and cheer me on. I had found this confidence that I’ve always wanted, but was way to insecure about myself to ever get up and do something like that. I was a completely different person after that year.
So after that summer, I was offered a Head Staff position. My dream of becoming Head Staff after my first year of camp has finally come true. I was offered “Programs Manager,” which was a huge role for me. I had my own desk. I was basically a full on adult on camp. (Just kidding. There are no adults in camp. We’re all kids at heart. I mean, were at a summer camp. Come on now.) The job consisted of scheduling every sporting event on and off camp, while also running electives. This was way different than any other job I had on camp. I wasn’t as active with the kids; I was more of a supporting cast member, which I didn’t mind. Instead of working with one division, I was able to affect and work will all divisions. I still did find time to look out my window and see kids playing frisbee, football, or just tossing a baseball around, and I made sure to join in on the fun! When it comes to sports and getting chances to spend time with campers, nothing is going to stop me from jumping in. Some of my favorite times that summer was when campers would come into my office just to tell me when they were playing ultimate frisbee or biddy ball. One of the biggest moments that summer was when I was asked to be in Head Staff Lip Sync. My biggest fear since I was a kid…dancing or singing on a stage in front of people…I was able to get past public speaking, but this was different. This had basically both of my fears all in one night. Since I was at camp, I wasn’t nervous. I said yes pretty quickly! I ended up conquering my fear and doing three different songs in front of the entire camp. It showed me that when it comes to fears, camp has this way of pushing people to get over whatever fear or insecurity you might have. Between the campers cheering and the counselors non-stop support, it’s just about impossible to not feel loved no matter what you do here.
Camp has been one of the best things to happen to me since I was born; I feel being born is a pretty big part of your life, but camp is a very strong second. For a good reason too, these kids have become such a big part of my life and I can’t imagine a year not going back to camp to see them. It’s like watching your favorite TV show weekly, except this is a two-month long episode and ten months in between each episode. You’ve just gotta see what happens next episode or you will feel like you’ve fallen behind and missed out. Not only are the kids a huge reason I love camp, but it’s also the friendships you make there. Over my 5 years of being there, I have found some of my best friends. In my first year during orientation, I’ll never forget it, I was playing basketball alone in shields hall when three people walked in and asked if I wanted to play. We played two on two and I was loving it. Within the next three days, I felt so close to those people since they were some of my first friends there. I had a heart to heart with my now, best friend Chris Murphree, where we actually got so deep in conversation we cried. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I knew this guy for less than a week and we had already cried together. If that’s not a good sign of an amazing bromance then I don’t know what is.
Heading into my 6th summer, I don’t know what to expect. I’m going in as a new role, an Assistant Head Counselor and I couldn’t be happier about it! I’ve wanted this type of role since my first summer, and it’s finally happening! I always looked up to the guys that have been in this role before me and wanted to be just like them and now, five years later, I am one of those guys. This camp has brought me so much happiness and great memories that I can’t wait to have this opportunity to bring happiness and great memories right back to new campers, old campers and counselors. I dont want to jinx it or anything, but I think the summer of 2018 for a lack of better words will be the “Funnest” summer yet!