You don’t realize it at the time.

Climbing this wall, crossing this lake, and cleaning this cabin will change you. Cooking dinner over this fire and under these stars will be remembered decades later. The friends you made around that fire will be with you still. This is Camp Jewell.

With each new summer, I felt the tinge of nervous energy roll through me as the car veered up Prock Hill Road toward the heart of camp. Will this go well? Will I make friends? Will I be accepted?

By the end of the experience, as the car takes you away— with Jewell in the rear-view mirror for another year—the heart is full with the faces of friends and counselors who stood beside you.

No cliques. Jewell was always a place to confidently share your thoughts and fears. Learning to laugh at yourself, trust others and speak honestly—not pretending to be someone else. Camp pulls us off the sidelines, right into the thick of it. Learning at first to make your own bed and clean your own dishes. Learning later to respect and encourage the people around you.

Jewell allowed me to grow from camper to counselor, from the learner to the teacher and right back round again. Looking back on more than a decade spent at Camp, every summer was brightly marked by process of becoming a fuller person. Jewell accepts you and challenges you and asks you to do the same for those you meet along the way.

Living today in Los Angeles—on a street where my children would be wise not to wander past the driveway—I can’t help but recall the beautiful safe harbor that Jewell provides. Not a day rolls by when I don’t think of those quiet mornings along Triangle Lake.

In my job today as a writer for the NFL, you meet all sorts of people. Athletes, coaches, other reporters. It’s rewarding in many ways, but I can’t help but sometimes wonder: Who does this help? That’s a question I never had to ask at Camp Jewell. Who would have guessed that my first real job—as a counselor, decades ago—would remain the most valuable role of all?

As the father of two young boys, it’s my instinct to want to protect them from so much about this world. Jewell, though, is the opposite. I would happily make this their summer home. This special place remains unchanged, and what I felt in Colebrook—they would feel. Just as I found lifelong friends—they would find the same. Just as Jewell gave me the confidence to believe in myself and take chances—Camp would give them those qualities, too.

No matter where I wind up, I will always remember the woods and the water. The faces and the holding of hands. The candlelit circle of final campfire, where the message was always the same: Go out now, into the world, but do not forget what Camp has taught you.