Honor Heisler – Girls Camp Director – Vespers

This past year I think I went through what most college students approaching graduation experience, which I can only describe as a complete crisis of character. After spending 4 years dedicating my time and energy into preparing myself for a future career in criminal investigation, I pretty much broke down into a spiral of self doubt and fear as I prepared to face the void of an uncertain future. I went back and forth with myself for weeks questioning every decision I had ever made and worried that I was setting myself up for a future that I would ultimately be unsatisfied and unfulfilled with. In essence, I was terrified of being unhappy. This idea of happiness is something that both confuses me and stresses me out at the same time. Because happiness, or at least what most people consider to be ultimate happiness, seems pretty much impossible to achieve. These days it feels like unless you are dealt a perfect hand in life, you simply can’t come back from it. Our life circumstances, the genetics we are passed down, the things we have or do not have, and the traumas we experience in our lives all feel like giant hurdles in the sprint towards the idea of being happy.

While in the depths of my crisis, my developmental psychology professor played all of the graduating seniors a Youtube video that did a lot to quell the intense anxiety I was feeling about my ability to live a life that made me happy. At the National Council of Mental Wellbeing, Dr. Laurie Santos who is a professor of psychology at Yale University gave a speech about a class she taught to a room of therapists about happiness. The class was a step by step analysis on the most important research studies that have ever been done about mental wellbeing, and then condensed into 10 of the most important tips about being happy. Her speech was not only fascinating to me as a psychology student, but I also found it extremely comforting to have some insight into how I could live my life with my happiness as a leading priority. So today I am going to give all of you the scientifically proven “10 secrets to being happy”.

#1: 50% of our happiness is controlled by our genes, 10% is controlled by our bad and traumatic experiences, and 40% is controllable.

This first insight into happiness might seem counter productive, because it seems like the opposite of being in control of your own happiness. Suggesting that 50% of our happiness is dependent on factors outside of our control is pretty scary to think about. However, it means that we do actually have control.

Because secret number 2 is…

#2: Our life circumstances don’t matter as much as we think.

Consider some of the luckiest people alive, lottery winners. I would assume most people believe that lottery winners should be pretty damn happy, considering they no longer have to worry about financial insecurity for the foreseeable future. However, lottery winners that were surveyed on mental wellbeing and happiness 6 months after winning were statistically indistinguishable from the results of people who had never won. The same is seen in the opposite direction, those who are unlucky. People who were left paraplegic after traumatic accidents who were tested for mental wellbeing, were also statistically indistinguishable from people who had never been in an accident.

#3: If you want to change your life, you must work hard to do it.

It’s not surprising to suggest that happiness is not a permanent state of mind that we just transcend into one day. Like most things that we want to achieve in life, our mental wellbeing takes effort. But it shouldn’t be a bad thing that being happy takes work, Sonja Lyubomirsky said, “It may be obvious that toachieve anything substantial in life – learn a profession, master a sport, raise a child – a good deal of effort is required. The active choice to live your life with happiness as a priority matters more than you think.

#4: Your mind is lying to you a lot of the time. 

Especially about what society tells you it thinks you need to be happy.

#5: Become wealthy in time not money

Studies have shown that once a person makes around $75,000 a year, which is about 25% above the average starting salary at most full time jobs. Doubling or even tripling your salary has no impact on your happiness. Money doesn’t buy happiness, it rings truer than you may think.

#6: Make time for social connections

A researcher assigned people to go on a subway and do one of three things, sit in silence, be told to have a conversation with a stranger on the train, or do what they normally do. Those who were tasked with making a connection with a stranger reported to feel X2 happier in general than those who were asked to sit in silence.

#7: Helping others makes us happier

In this study people were asked to either take $20 for themselves, or take $5 to spend on somebody else. Unsurprisingly, those who choose to do something for someone else reported to be happier than those who had just been given $20. Providing happiness for others is a circular experience that benefits our mental wellbeing, probably more than it does theirs.

#8: Make time for gratitude

Especially in times of uncertainty it can be easy to fall into the state of mind that we have nothing to be grateful for. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, or we have no tools to dig ourselves out of the hole that we have found ourselves in. However, taking time to find even the smallest things that make us grateful each day is a reminder that life is a balance of dual emotions. Happiness and sadness, grief and elation, they go hand and hand. With that being said, today I am grateful that you are all here, I am grateful that I get to spend my days surrounded by people who choose to dedicate their time to a mission that they believe is important.

#9: Healthy practices matter more than we think This one is simple, take care of yourself. In the ways that you need. Always.

#10: Happy people tend to be present in the moment

This final secret to happiness was what I needed to hear most in that moment. Thinking about the future as set in concrete, based off of the decisions we make today is a meaningless exercise. We can prepare and think and plot for our futures as much as we would like. But in the end spending hours stressing about securing our happiness for the future, is damaging our lives that we are living today.

What I wish for all of you to take away from these “secrets to happiness” is that ultimately you are in control of the perspective you choose to view the world and your lives through. Although we can’t always control the circumstances we are handed. What we choose to do with the other 40% that remains ours and ours alone, makes the differences between living your life with the intention of maximizing your potential happiness in the present rather than fearing the unknown of the future.

Ziggy Zweig-Director, Talent Acquisition (recruiting) for Collegium Pharmaceutical-Coniston: 1993-1999

How old were you when you started Camp?

I was 14.

How were you introduced to Coniston?

I watched a show on Nickelodeon called “Salute Your Shorts” about kids at camp and really wanted to try it. Camp was nothing like the show, but it was a million times better.

Did you attend college, and if so, what did you study?

Yes, UNH. I started in Earth Sciences, shifted to Earth Science Teaching, then Psychology, then Social Work. I ended up with a BS in Family Studies.

What is your current job? 

I am the Director, Talent Acquisition (recruiting) for Collegium Pharmaceutical. I am responsible for developing the recruiting strategy, systems, team, process, etc. I am also responsible for recruiting talent for a wide array of job functions across the company.

How has your career journey evolved?
I got my dream job as a Child Protection Social Worker for DCYF in Rockingham County NH. It turned out I was too sensitive for that kind of work and after three years it was killing me, literally. I left to try recruiting even though I didn’t know what that was. I spent 8 years as an agency recruiter, recruiting talent for clients for commission. I then moved into corporate recruiting initially with Fresenius Medical Care North America, followed by Beta Bionics, and now Collegium.
What moment in your career are you most proud of?
At Beta Bionics I was the first HR hire so I had wide flexibility. I developed and deployed a novel data-based process for determining compensation for offers that completely eliminated the gender gap in pay, racial gap in pay, and ethnic gap in pay. Not only was it super easy, candidates loved it, and it had the unintended consequence of significantly increasing diversity in the company. Everyone said it was impossible. It wasn’t.
Did Coniston influence your ability to create this journey?
Yes, in part because Coniston taught me to respect everyone regardless of their demographic. But also because Coniston taught me I can do the impossible. My final year as a camper I could not swim. 1-year later after my CIT year, I was a certified lifeguard. I learned there is nothing I cannot accomplish.
Are there any skills or traits you gained at Coniston that you use in your professional life?

Too many to list. Teaching ropes taught me about communication, trust, and pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. Teaching sailing showed me opportunity comes and goes like the wind, grab the main sheet and seize it. Most importantly, Coniston taught me to be my authentic self always.

Are there any specific memories from your time at Coniston that are still impactful to you?

All of them. Campers used to ask me all the time “Ziggy, why do you stop on the causeway?” We weren’t supposed to stop on the causeway. I always knew my time at Coniston was finite, and I made sure to appreciate and live in each moment. I stopped on the causeway to take stock in those moments, even the difficult ones. No matter what is happening in life, don’t forget to stop on the causeway!

In Memoriam: Paula Louise Craig

(1960 - 2022)

It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Paula Louise Craig. Paula passed away very peacefully on November 14, 2022. 

Paula was a 70s alum and was a wonderful, deeply-loved member of our community. 

On March 27, 1995, Paula married her best friend, Gary Kudrna. They made their home in Ennis, TX and together raised Gary’s sons Ty Kudrna and Chaz Kudrna.  Paula loved being “Mom” and friend to Ty & Chaz and “Bonus Mom” and friend to Gary’s stepdaughter Taneel Pace of Jordan, Utah. She also felt blessed to have a big extended family of beloved nieces, nephews, cousins & in-laws.

Paula worked at every level of the entertainment industry from small, intimate theatrical shows to epic world class multi-media and fireworks extravaganzas like the Power of Houston.  While she loved the unique challenges that came from each production, her very favorite part of her work was meeting new people.  She truly enjoyed the company of new and old friends; and she cherished every friendship made along the way during every chapter of her life from school to Camp Coniston to work.

Our community shared some of their treasured memories with Paula:

“I shared a cabin with Paula MANY years ago. I can still see her beautiful long, dark wavy hair and her practicing her ballet ‘en pointe’. What an incredible life she led. My deepest condolences to her family and friends.”

“I remember her telling a stories about being Snow White at Disney. And also meeting Ace Freely and Gene Simmonds from Kiss. She was one of my favorite all time counselors at Coniston.”

“I have many fond memories of Paula – laughing and singing. Such a great spirit. Peace to her family and friends.”

“One of the dearest, sweetest people from my years at Coniston. Such a wonderful soul. Such a dear friend. RIP, dear Paula.”

Alumni News

Read on to find out what our wonderful Alumni have been up to this past year!!

This summer we were finally able to host our 2000, 2001 and 2002 CITs for their 20 year reunion! We had to postpone these reunions the past two years due to COVID, but we were finally able to host everyone at Camp for this summer for an amazing day of catching up with old friends, exploring Camp’s new facilities and a tasty cook-out! They even reunited with Sue Strebel, who was a nurse when they were at Camp and was still working this summer!

Coniston ambassador, Beth Worthington  planned a weekend reunion with Linda Pinkham Wiewel, Janet Hatfield Legro, Susie Greenwald Ammatelli, Lynn Hunter Horton, Dawn Ferguson Ighodaro and Sherrill Hill at Perkins Pond. The group also visited Camp and toured all the new facility updates.



Congratulations to Hannah and Michael Slafsky for welcoming their beautiful baby Hartford on September 6th! Warner will be a great big brother!


Jake Glenshaw, former Boys Camp Director, has moved to Innsbruck, Austria for year in pursuance of a Fulbright Austria Combined Research Grant. As a part of this program, he will be teaching English, taking grad school courses at the University of Innsbruck on Environmental Management of Mountain Areas, conducting independent research under advisement of Dr. Robert Steiger on climate change’s impact on the ski industry’s adaptability and accessibility, and working with Protect Our Winters Austria as they work to fight for further climate protection.


Wilfrid Shon, a former international staff member recently started his own gin business! The gin is called Shroton Fair Gin. After finishing his postgraduate study, Wilfrid returned to his hometown, Dorset Village, and spent nearly a year searching for the perfect recipe. The gin has already won multiple awards including gold in the Taste of the West 2022, and bronze at the London Spirits Awards!

Adaleide Barnes, a 2021 CIT is now on the UK National Taekwondo Team! She has already secured two second-place finishes at the British Taekwondo National Championships and a spot on the GB Taekwondo Development Squad.

Coniston Ambassador, Eben Gannett graduated Granite State College and has become a certified teacher in NH. He is currently a 5th grade teacher at Sant Bani School. Congrats Eben, we know you will be an awesome teacher!

Talia Ungarelli  recently accepted a position as a zookeeper in the Tropical Forest department at the Franklin Park Zoo. Talia spent the last year working for the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas as a Gorilla and Carnivore Keeper/Trainer.

Arts and Crafts Director,
Barb Hawley is teaching classic camp arts and crafts classes in her home-state, Kentucky! Projects include yarn creations, shrink plastic art, holiday ornament making, painting, and of course tie-dye!

Liv Rasmussen graduated from Suffolk University with a B.A. in Advertising and Minor in Graphic Design. She recently started as the Content Specialist with Fuseideas!

Cassie Short Cassie Short got engaged to Bobby McLaughlin. They will be getting married in June 2022!

Congratulations, Guiseppi Marzelli, on his marriage
to Kaley Hansen! They were married in October last year. “Hands down the best day of my life (and really the best weekend) marrying my best friend surrounded by all our family and friends”.

We wish you a future of happiness!

Congratulations to Ben Kamisar on his marriage to Shelby this April! The wedding was quite the Coniston reunion with Coniston alumni: Jen Evans, Emily Bensen, Michelle (Tarkulich) Faithfull, Kyle Olson, Katie Comstock, and Matt Comstock attending!

Congratulations to Coniston alumna, Ashley, who got married to Bill Jantzen last year! We hope you have had a great first year of marriage together.

Summer Office Assistant, Sophie Burleigh, has just accepted a job as an Office Manager/PA for a wine investment company in London! Good luck with your new London life Sophie!

Cassie (Short) McLaughlin, a 2008 CIT and 2014/2015 CIT Director got married on June 19th! Congratulations Cassie!! We wish you both a happy future together.

Coniston alumna, Lizbie Harbison Weeks recently got married! Congratulations Lizbie!

Former camper and staff member, Caitlin Elgert and her husband Dan, welcomed
a daughter (and future camper), Lucy in April 2022. Congratulations! She is beautiful.

1980’s alumnae, Kelly Williamson Polanco, MBA, MS has started a new job as Vice President, Head of People & Culture at Aktis Oncology. In the past, Kelly worked for Bristol Myers Squibb, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. While at BMS, Kelly spent eight years living in Argentina, supporting South America, Middle East, Africa, and parts of Europe.

Emily Kohlberg-Field Producer at ABC News Studios-Coniston: 2010-2017

How old were you when you started Camp?

I was 13.

How were you introduced to Coniston?

Lots of kids from the town I’m from (Arlington, MA) started going to Coniston around the time I was in middle school, and word spread!

Did you attend college, and if so, what did you study?

I went to Villanova University, and studied Communications with minors in Peace & Justice and Global Health.

What is your current job? 

I’m a Field Producer at ABC News Studios. Studios is the Longform division of ABC News, and my team produces documentaries and news-adjacent series and specials for both Hulu and the ABC network. My job is to go out into the field and produce shoots: I conduct interviews, collect b-roll, manage camera crews, scout locations, handle on-set logistics & more.

How has your career journey evolved?
I went into my senior year of college with NO idea what I wanted to do when I graduated. I took a class senior year called Social Justice Documentary Filmmaking, and my class essentially functioned as a production company, traveling to Ethiopia to shoot a doc. We developed, shot, edited and premiered the doc over my senior year, and I pretty quickly realized that nonfiction production was something I could really see myself building a career around. The summer after I graduated, I moved to New York City and was lucky enough to find a job at ABC as an executive assistant in the Longform group. I was able to get assigned to some shows in production pretty quickly, and went from being a production assistant to a production coordinator to an associate producer to what I do now – field producer.
What moment in your career are you most proud of?
I worked on a pretty groundbreaking (and now Emmy-winning!) show for ABC called Soul of a Nation, looking holistically at the Black experience in America over the course of six themed episodes. I was the series coordinator, which meant that I worked on a sub-team that planned and executed all of the shoots for the series (over 150 shoots in 5 months), and I spent a lot of time traveling & in the field, which definitely laid the groundwork for my current job. Soul was a moonshot venture, and it was challenging (making TV in the height of a pandemic!!!), but also truly rewarding and I was so, so proud to be a member of that team of passionate and crazy strong storytellers. It’s on Hulu if you wanna watch!!
Did Coniston influence your ability to create this journey?
YES. I’ve joked with both coworkers and camp friends that being a television producer is like being a camp counselor on steroids.
Are there any skills or traits you gained at Coniston that you use in your professional life?

“Fake it til you make it” is the number one mantra I use when I’m in the field. When I have multiple 16-hour shoot days in a row, I find myself having to dig deep for energy and slap a smile on my face until I trick myself into believing it… just like fourth session. Also, this sounds crazy but I have to use my “counselor voice” on set constantly (let me tell ya it really feels different when you’re in the real world and not corralling middler girls).

Are there any specific memories from your time at Coniston that are still impactful to you?

Yes!! I’m still very (very) close with lots of people from Coniston. I think all the time about my summers at camp and I’m so lucky that there’s such a strong NYC contingent. One memory I’ll call out is the last period of the last day of fourth session my last summer as a counselor. A snapping turtle and the thickest most massive leech I have ever seen showed up to gfro within 30 seconds of each other and the campers went nuts. I think about that every single day. It’s a great metaphor for producing tv actually.

Girls Camp Director – Meg Davis’ Favorite Summer Memories

Our 2022 Girls Camp Director, Meg Davis, reflected on her favorite memories of the summer.

Summer 2022 was one of the best summers I have ever had at camp. I loved having a more influential role in both staff and camper’s experiences all summer and it was incredibly rewarding to watch everyone fall more and more in love with camp every day.

This summer gave me a unique opportunity to see parts of camp I had never experienced before and think of things in a different frame of mind. Some of my happiest memories from this summer were planning activities to help staff bond, giving vespers, playing in the camper staff soccer games, cheering people on in the triathlon, sitting on program porch or main lawn and watching everyone in program areas, and watching the CITs and international staff run into the lake.

And when I wasn’t always having the usual camp fun, I also genuinely loved being someone others came to for advice, providing support to campers, and critically thinking about how to best solve problems in order to improve the overall Coniston experience. Summer 2022 will forever go down as one of my favorite summers at Coniston and I feel so lucky to have had such wonderful staff and campers to make incredible memories with!

In Memoriam: Jessie Milne Freeman

(1978 - 2022)

It’s with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Jessie Milne Freeman. Jessie was a camper in the 90s and then went on to become a beloved staff member. Jessie continued her work with children at Sunapee elementary school, and most recently at James House, in the preschool of KRSD.

Many people have since donated to YMCA Camp Coniston in her memory. We were truly honored to have Jessie be a part of our community and we will miss her dearly.

“Naming Camp Coniston as one of Jessie’s suggestions for gifts in her memory was an apt memorial for our daughter, who died in June at the age of 43. Camp is the opportunity for kids to discover that they can conquer their fears while sharing outdoor fun with others. Coniston does this masterfully. 

Jessie was a fourth child and only girl who followed her older brothers to Camp Coniston as a camper. She loved swimming, dancing, riding and singing at Camp, but even more so, she bonded with her fellow (cabin 8) campers as sisters.

When she returned a decade later as a counselor of riding, Jessie loved her job, helping kids learn to have fun and be safe with large animals. She was a cautious instructor who encouraged the riders in her care to consider the horse or pony as their partner in learning. The experience colored her life’s journey toward teaching, the study of human development, and motherhood. She often spoke of her campers’ successes and felt honored to be connected to Coniston in two ways.

After her initial diagnosis of melanoma 16 years ago, Jessie attended two retreats for cancer patients and survivors herd at the Kripalu Yoga Center. A favorite counselor there was Dr Joan Borysenko of Harvard, who credited overnight camp “under the pine grove” as one of her most important formative experiences. As she studied and taught, Jessie followed Dr Borysenko’s writing and research on the mind-body connection, gently guiding children through challenges at school and her son at home.

It is her family’s hope that Coniston will continue to give kids and young adults camaraderie and a strong start to productive, nurturing lives.”

– Dale Milne, Jessie’s father

Reflections From a CIT Parent

Coniston magic explained though a thank you note from a Camp parent

“Every summer after we pick up our boys from camp we intend to write to you and tell you with our whole heart how incredible their time at camp is year after year. Somehow summer turns to fall and the whole cycle begins and then we are again reminded of the incredible gift that is Coniston. After this summer we were reflecting and honestly feel like of all the things we have done for our boys, sending them to Camp Coniston is literally the best thing we have done for them. We felt it was important that we finally let you know that, and that we are so incredibly grateful for the opportunities Conisiton provides for them. So THANK YOU for giving our boys this experience that has helped them become caring, engaged, reflective, inquisitive, risk taking boys.  

In a time when being a teenager is even more challenging in every aspect, we feel that the camp experience is more important than ever. It is an escape from technology, a chance to make authentic caring friendships with new people, and an opportunity to try new things and take risks. Our oldest son, who is now a sophomore in college, told us after his last camper year that he was going to try to be his camp self in life more. And our youngest, who loves to meet everyone and connect with as many people as he can, just transitioned to boarding school and said that it was so easy because “I learned how to do all of that at camp mom.” 

This year we are the most grateful for our son’s experience as a CIT, which he said was the “best month of his life.” It was a really challenging year for all of us, and to be honest getting that CIT application done was really difficult for him during that time but we also knew it could be one of the best things for him. We are so grateful that the camp gave him that opportunity and it was all that we hoped and more. He already had a lot of help and was doing much better, but Camp reminded him how to connect fully with people, how to open himself up, how to do hard things and also just what value he can bring to a group and to situations. We just read his college essay and he wrote about being a CIT and the incredibly transformative experience it was. His CIT directors were both amazing mentors to him and he has approached the end of high school/start of college with a fresh outlook and new goals and interest as a result. We could not be happier and more grateful for this. 

We know through all of your outreaches, letters and other communication that you know how special camp is. But truly, it has been life changing for our kids. We want you to know how incredibly appreciative we are, and that you are changing lives.”

Ale Campomanes-Cabin Counselor-Vespers

So.. I know that not many people know this but last year I came to work here as the laundry person, which don’t get me wrong, it was SO fun, but, I wasn’t actually “following a dream”. I was kind of staying in my comfort zone, knowing that I wasn’t going to need to talk to that many people, or challenge myself that much. 

So, at the end of the summer, even though it was an amazing time, I came back to Mexico with the feeling that I could have done something else, something NEW, something DIFFERENT..

So, after I thought about it for a while this past year, I realized that the reason I didn’t apply for a bigger responsibility such as taking care of a bunch of teenagers (which I love by the way) that wouldn’t speak the same language as me, was that I was afraid of not being good enough.

And I think we have all had that same feeling in multiple scenarios of life right?

Such as applying to a certain school, trying a new sport, even talking to new people.

So, a few months after, I asked  myself: why not? What could stop me? My English? My skills? I had the time, I knew the people that could help me, and the MOST important, I really wanted to do it.

After studying a lot and asking people, I knew I could I finally make it all the way here. After almost 4 sessions that have helped me grow so much on different aspects of my life, or at least that’s what I like to think. I realized that I’m actually capable of doing ANYTHING I want.

This experience has helped me to improve a second language, learn from different cultures (such as the English, Irish, South African, New Zealand and American) listen to different perspectives and get to know new people 🙂

So I really encourage you to always, ALWAYS believe in yourselves, to try new things, to talk to new people because you never know what you can learn from them. To wear crazy clothes (or crazy pants). Just if you really REALLY want something, GO FOR IT. As one of my favorites writers, Walt Disney, would say: “If you can dream it, then you can do it”.

So  go and try a new thing everyday but enjoy the journey, because you never know what the future is going to have prepared for you. It could be being a cabin counselor and having one of the best summers of your life, or who knows? Maybe writing a famous book, being on your favorite movie, if it feels right for your heart, don’t let it go..

You are the owner of your life, so make sure that you are making the greatest show. ♥️

Kelly Williamson Polanco-Head of People and Culture for Aktis Oncology-Coniston: 1980s

How old were you when you started Camp?

I was 12!

How were you introduced to Coniston?

Together with my best friend.

Did you attend college, and if so, what did you study?

MS in Organizational Dynamics and MBA in International Business.

What is your current job? 

I am the Head of People and Culture for a small biotech. This role incorporates all aspects of HR. My favorite part of my role is coaching new managers.

How has your career journey evolved?
My career has taken many twists and turns. I started out in Operations and then took a step backwards to move into Human Resources. I made sure to experience all aspects of Human Resources including an expatriate assignment in Argentina. The culmination of these opportunities has lead me to my dream job.
Are there any skills or traits you gained at Coniston that you use in your professional life?

Coniston gave me many opportunities to step up and be a leader among my peers as well as a team player. These are lessons you value for life.

The ability to take feedback and turn it into positive steps forward is a continuous skill that is reinforced at Coniston. It is a nurturing environment to learn new things, fail at times, and then pick yourself up and try again.

Are there any specific memories from your time at Coniston that are still impactful to you?

My time as a CIT was invaluable. I still cherish the friendships that continue to today along with leadership lessons.