I grew up in rural Michigan, in the beautiful hills and farmland and swamps with cattails. My backyard had the best sledding hill you could ever want, endless woods to explore, and my favorite place: my willow tree (Can you tell I was a child when Pocahontas was released?) My vacations were always close by on weekends, when my mom and I would drive to the waterfalls, the sand dunes, or the water beneath the Mackinac bridge.
The hardest part of moving to New York City eight years ago was losing my access to all of that. I never realized the restorative effects of nature until it was gone. While I could step off of the street into a park or a patch of trees, it didn’t feel the same. I got used to it and over time it became normal, as most things do. It wasn’t until the summer of 2017, when I stepped out of the bus and into this unexpected forest on Staten Island, that I felt like maybe NYC had a little bit of home.
While I have always believed in the restorative powers of nature, I have learned through my education and research that nature can truly change us. Feeling the grass beneath our feet can help us cope with anxiety and depression. And in fact, it’s been proven that even a picture of the outdoors can have a calming effect on a person’s nervous system. As I write this, I feel very lucky to feel my little patch of afternoon sun, however brief, on my balcony.
While so much of our world is uncertain at this current moment, I look forward to stepping onto the grounds of New Country Day Camp again. The vast wilderness of the Staten Island Greenbelt, the trees, the deer, the frogs in the pond – this is all a part of my year now. I’m lucky I was shown this beautiful place, and I feel grateful to introduce it summer after summer to all of our campers, families, and staff. It is so special to all of us, as individuals and as a collective community. Sometimes soon, we’ll get to be there together again.
With love and hope and a deep breath of fresh air,
Mallory Stehle is the Associate Director of New Country Day Camp. She has a Masters in Social Work and is passionate about bringing the experience of camp equitably to all.
New Country Day Camp is closely monitoring the Department of Health guidelines and will be running this summer if it is deemed safe to do so.