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A Letter from Chris Youssef

Chris in a canoe, resting with Land's End behind him, with a dramatic, cloudy sky overhead, but he's still smiling.
Chris at Land’s End Point on the far west end of the island, canoeing with Rugged C.

To My Friend from Camp Emerald Bay,

Like you, I reflect on my earliest memories at Camp Emerald Bay with deep reverence. My first time in Camp was just over 14 years ago, when I was 10 years old. That week at Emerald Bay would be my first summer camp as a Boy Scout, and immediately I felt a new kind of independence. My parents were at home while I was away at camp which meant that if I didn’t instigate an issue with my scoutmasters or senior patrol leader, I would serve as the sole governing body for my personal affairs that week (or so I surmised). Truly, whether sink or swim, I was in charge.

Only if I desired, I would wake up for morning flags and breakfast. Only when I was ready, I would attend the merit badge classes that I alone curated. By my own volition, I would gather my friends as often as possible to go to the Ship’s Store, where I would consciously and carefully budget for only the items I could afford (at that time: Slush Puppies, Nerds Rope, and nachos). After ruining my appetite, a choice made entirely on my own, there was never enough room in my body for vegetables at dinner, and there was no one around who might object to these practices.

“This is exactly what adulthood is like,” I told myself. “So then I must be an adult, or at least quite close to being one because clearly I had basically done all the growing-up there is to do.”  Afterall, I was the one making these tough decisions, managing “my” money, and still finding time for war canoe and activities with our ranger. But long before I wished it to be, our week at Camp Emerald Bay came to a close. Curses, curses, curses. Walking back to our campsite after the final campfire, with the hymn echoing behind me and what felt like a canoe in my eye, all I could think about was how and when I would return to Camp.

The view from Arrow Point: A rocky outcrop in the foreground with a person standing at the edge, overlooking a vast ocean and blue sky.
Arrow Point, circa 2017.

After being abruptly shoved back into my less-free existence at home, I found my path back to the island in popcorn sales. Each year BSA would provide popcorn order forms and encourage scouts to sell to their friends, families, and neighbors in exchange for prizes. One such prize was a week-long campership available to scouts who sold quite a bit of popcorn.

That fall I sold over $1,000 of popcorn to my neighbors going door-to-door and securing my spot on our trip to Camp Emerald Bay the following summer. I would rinse and repeat this process, every year, until I was 14 and old enough to start on staff, where I could finally stay longer than just one short week. Since then, I have been so lucky to spend at least a few weeks each year at Camp Emerald Bay, as a paid employee for three summers and as a volunteer for five.

Each summer I would eat less candy and find room at meals for healthier options, while at the same time growing and recognizing little by little the input that others had on my experience as a camper. The staff, my parents, and my adult leaders had all consciously and carefully made the choice to make our Camp a place where I could thrive as a young scout. Through my time on staff – first as a young staffer and then as a young adult volunteer – I’ve come to appreciate the role that Emerald Bay had in shaping who I am today. And for that wonderful experience, I am grateful. 

Chris and Brody Jaeger sitting on chairs in the commissary, after switching clothes, which means they both look like staff.
Chris with Brody Jaeger in the commissary, who switched outfits and dressed “as each other” for “Halloween in June” in 2022.

Now as I enter adulthood (for real this time), I understand that one of those choices adults make is to return to Camp, to sacrifice a week at work or of PTO, and to give back to the place that helped them to grow into the person they are now. When I think of growing up, I think of Camp Emerald Bay, and I personally know many others who share this sentiment. Each summer I meet former staff, from close by and around the country, who return to Camp to contribute to its culture and add to the effect it has on our youth attendees. The phrase “We Build Good People” comes to mind when I think about the impact our Camp has had on so many campers, adult leaders, and staff members.

Even when returning to the island is not an option for you, campership donations guarantee that scouts will be able to stretch their comfort zones in the safe and empowering crystal waters and Catalina Island’s natural beauty. The Emerald Bay Association provides these camperships, thanks to your donations, each spring, allowing scouts to attend summer camp who would otherwise be unable.

Another way the EBA is able to support camp is through maintaining a small endowment that the organization relies on to do good deeds (daily!). These funds directly support efforts to ensure Camp Emerald Bay continues to positively impact scouts, scouters, and anyone who may visit.

Please join me and the members of the EBA in extending and enhancing the legacy of our Camp by making a year-end commitment today.

It was an honor attending Camp Emerald Bay and I am humbled by the opportunity to share a few thoughts about how Camp impacted me. I hope to see you at our Camp next summer as we begin celebrating Emerald Bay’s 100th anniversary.

Please go here to donate to support and help secure the future of “The Gem of Catalina!”

Thank you. 

Fellowship and Comrades Lasting, 

Chris “From Work” Youssef
Committee Chairman, Young Emerald Bay Association
Emerald Bay Staff 2014 – Present

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