Lauren Torres – Assistant Summer Camp Director – Vespers

Returning to camp to see old familiar faces juxtaposed with many new ones has me in a state of wonder and reflection about myself and the role camp has played in my life over the years.

When I was a junior, I wrote my parents a letter every day, asking them to take me home. I was too afraid to take the short walk to the college in the middle of the night to use the toilet so I had a regular spot outside my cabin where I popped a squat in the middle of the night with panic coursing through my veins that I would get caught. Would a reasonably prudent person do that? Likely not…

When I was a middler, every moment of each day was spent on the basketball court, silently battling IBS in the college or in a panic-ridden state of insecurity about what others thought of me.

When I was a senior, my soul was battling a longing for the past, gratitude for the present, and fear of the future.

When I was a CIT I was ready to prove myself and show people that I could be who they wanted me to be. I craved acceptance and approval and in doing so lost myself in the excitement and drama of it all.

When I was a LIT I adored my co and she showed me that she trusted me. With her encouragement, I started to see what I was capable of and trust myself. I also waited in line at the payphone with my calling card hoping that when I dialed my friend’s home phone numbers they would answer. I felt homesick for a simpler life, knowing that, if I had never come to camp as a counselor, my summer would have been easier. Wondering…what if my summer had been easier?

When I was a junior counselor, I faced challenges with my campers that I couldn’t have imagined I could navigate, but I did. And, then, that was enough for me. I was done with camp. I was tired of carrying the weight of responsibility.

As time passed, and the memories of the challenges faded the pull of camp returned…I got accepted as a West Coast CIT director…the best job in the world (with the exception of a fellow trip leader who insisted on falling asleep with his legs splayed open while he rubbed the bottom of his feet together), I got to see some of the most beautiful parts of this country and be a part of the experience and evolution of others.

If I could go back in time to give little Lauren advice….I wouldn’t. She needed to face her life as it came at her. Advice would have been ignored anyhow, and warnings would have just taught her avoidance.

But in the spirit of wonder and reflection here’s what I learned as a:

Junior – Your parents aren’t there to rescue you, their role is to show you what you are capable of, not to do it for you or to save you from discomfort. If you can recognize this, you might be able to appreciate your parents in a different light.

Middler – There’s more to life than basketball (though you will be voted captain your senior year). You have the chance to try horseback riding, and though you tried it that one time and the horse ran away with you on it, get over it. Holding on to your fears is just an excuse to avoid really experiencing life.

Senior – You don’t have to fear the future. As always, things will be good, bad, pretty, ugly, scary, fun, and wild, your emotions will span the whole mood meter. But all of that is going to happen no matter what. You can fear it, or embrace it. It’s the not knowing that makes life worth living.

CIT – You don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. Figure out who you are and be that, unapologetically. Anything else is an exhausting waste of time.

LIT – Easier isn’t better. It’s just a different path with different results. You can choose to take life easy sometimes, you can choose to challenge yourself sometimes. You can choose to cry because your emotions were so big they came out of your eyes. You can choose to be kind or unkind. You can choose to be welcoming or alienating. You can spin any struggle into a funny story. Whatever it is that you choose, choose wisely, it will come back at you.

Junior Counselor – You can handle whatever comes your way, not because you’re special, but because you have no other choice but to handle it. And when you are faced with no other choice, there is no other choice. And that’s okay. Life works out anyhow.

CIT Director – Being a part of someone else’s journey is what gives your life meaning. If you get to explore Zion, the Channel Islands and the Grand Canyon along the way, you better thank your lucky stars. But it’s not about what you get, it’s about what you give. Don’t give so much of yourself that you lose yourself, love and care for yourself so deeply that you can give to others freely, without want or need. That is freedom.

I am who I am because of camp. Camp and the people I’ve met through it have found their way in and out of my life. I loved many of them, liked most of them, and found just a few challenging (but I learned the most from those who challenge me). And I’m better off for all of it.

I often wonder what my life in another universe is like, if I never went to camp; if I never left camp, if I didn’t have a lactose intolerance at ice cream socials, if I had gotten over my fear of horses. But the wondering about what life could have been takes away from recognizing what my life is, right now; here I am, at camp. While so much is different, nothing has changed. I’m still in one of the most beautiful places in the world with people that continue to inspire me, shape me, and accept me. And regardless of what is happening to me, in another universe, I’m grateful to be in this one.

Thank You for Giving the Gift of Camp – Remarks from a Camper

We recently received the letter below from a child expressing her gratitude on receiving a camperships from our annual fund. Gifts of any size are truly changing lives and making a life-long impact. Thank you.

Over the past four summers Coniston has achieved quantifiable success in diversifying our camper population through a combination of outreach, funding, recruitment, and retention described in previous answers. We are most proud of increasing our financial assistance by 125% over the past four years, giving camp experiences to more kids.

At YMCA Camp Coniston we believe that character counts. Building character, confidence, and perseverance under the leadership of positive role models in a safe and encouraging environment is core to our Camp experience. Through immersive outdoor summer experiences, campers gain self-confidence, learn to adapt to new situations, develop life skills, and make new friends. Campers may not realize it all at once, but the benefits of Camp go on forever. What we do is simple, yet transformative.

Now more than ever, we have a responsibility to build and equip the next generation to not only grow, but thrive as leaders in a rapidly changing world. Our efforts to bring the YMCA Camp Coniston Community together from across NH towns, and the world, are worth it. People need connections with each other. Summers together help heal the effects of stress. Camp is bigger than any of us and the impact is life-long.

Gifts can be given to children through Coniston in many ways:

Check or Online
Reoccurring Credit Card Gift
Multi-Year Pledge
Estate Gift
Stock or Mutual Funds
Matching Gifts
Philanthropic Gift
Life Insurance Policies

If additional information is needed to help your gift-giving process go smoother, please contact

Artist in Residence—Reflections from Evan Ruderman

Reflections from our 2022 Artist in Residence, Evan… 

It was such an honor to come back and shoot these images. Going through everything gave me some time to reflect on how special camp has been in my life and how great it was to come back and try to show its magic through images. Super grateful for this opportunity and all that camp has done for me.

At the young age of 8 I began to spend my summers at Camp Coniston and didn’t stop for the next 12 years, transitioning from a camper to a counselor to a director. My time at camp taught me a lot about life, a lot about myself, sparked my love of the outdoors, introduced me to some of my biggest role models, and helped me make some of my best friends to this day. It’s hard to explain the magic of this place without simply experiencing it for yourself but having a chance to return to camp to try and convey its beauty and mission through photos was quite an honor. It’s safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am today without my many summers on this lake and to see so many kids sleeping under the stars and playing in the woods without phones or screens or the stresses of everyday life anywhere in sight left me feeling quite happy. Thank you Camp Coniston for bringing me out here to shoot photos and for the many years of good memories. 

CIT Reflections—Remarks from a Parent

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

Dear Camp Coniston,

I wanted to take a minute to thank you for all the amazing work that you are doing at Camp Coniston this summer. My daughter just returned from her month of West Coast CIT training and she has been transformed. She loved camp before . . . but her appreciation and love for the place now has reached another level. 4 weeks with 15 kids that she hardly knew in places as remote as Rocky Mountain Park as well as the friendly confines of Coniston with two incredible counselors has left her a changed young woman. And we thought she was pretty amazing before she went!

We spent all day yesterday going through her pictures and summit letters and other letters of encouragement from staff and I was blown away by the impact that  the Coniston team are having on all these kids. This was her 7th summer at camp and somehow they keep getting better. In a world that seems to be getting more contentious by the day, your incredible team have created a positive environment for kids to be kids and also become young responsible adults that parents can be very proud of. And that’s not something that kids can get in school or travel sports or trips abroad or whatever. The experiences and challenges that kids face at any camp are incredible and life changing, but what I think sets Camp Coniston apart is the love, encouragement and positive vibes that ooze from every nook and cranny of the place.

And it’s really not until a child hears – “we believe in you!” – from someone other than their parents, does it really start to sink in and then they can really start growing as people. And that is what Camp Coniston specializes in. . . .

When I spoke to my daughter in between session’s  after her trip to Colorado where she hiked and rafted and rolled down a dune in the Rockies, I was amazed that she said the best time of the last 2 weeks was when she ran into the lake back at Coniston!

“Dad . . . we we running and high fiving everyone . . and I felt like I was flying . . . “

It was then that I realized the absolute magic of the Coniston team that has touched my daughter in her 7 incredible years. You help children fly.

As a parent, there is no greater joy than seeing your child experience something as powerful as that.

So from my family to the Coniston family, thank you, thank you, thank you. Please keep up the great work!

Cabin Counselor Kaitlin Braun Vespers

My name is Kaitlin and if you were to ask me my preferred mode of transportation my response would be a silver 2018 Subaru Forrester with orange detailing. 

I love to drive in this car—it has rallied up well over 3000 miles in the last two years. I also love being alone while driving. I have full autonomy over the music, the temperature, the speed, and the destination. Having the ability to get myself from point A to B or meet up with a friend at any given point is truly a freeing feeling, however, I often forget the financial tolls the freedom is accompanied by. While the car can seemingly drive forever, granted there is gas in the tank, I do not have an endless supply of money to fill it up.

While driving provides a physical sense of fulfillment and gratification, being an outlet for my friends and peers provides me with an emotional one. Simply I feel great joy in knowing I am someone people can go to when they desire being heard. As with driving, I wish being a part of my friend support system was also something I could do without having some sort of toll accompany it. I wish I could listen, support, cheer-on, hug, cry, laugh, and console a friend at any given moment with a clear mind and full heart. I, however, am human and so are all of you, which means we need time to recharge. Much like my back burner concern regarding the financial toll constant driving takes, I often subconsciously disregard my own mental “bank account” if you will, midst of being a part of others support systems. I forget to take time for myself, reach out to my own support system, and remember that I, myself, am allowed to have off days.

Finding a balance in the things you love to do, regardless of what they may be, is essential to living a healthy lifestyle. Being mindful of the fuel you designate to the attention and time you give others is wildly difficult, but wildly necessary. A car cannot drive without gas, and acquiring gas requires money. You cannot be a support for those around you without being conscious of your own needs and that requires strength.

I leave you with this; do what brings you joy 100% of the time, but do remember to account for how much gas you’ll be burning through because every output requires an equal input in order to be sustained.

Now I am going to play a song that reminds me of a group of people who never fail to remind me of this message. Beige by Yoke Lore

Announcing the Mary Kelley CIP Campership

We are excited to announce the Mary Kelley CIP Campership, which provides the Coniston Experience to a deserving child whose parent is incarcerated so they may make new friends and participate in the Coniston program that Mary believed in.

Mary worked at the Family Connections Center at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men (NHSPM) for over 14 years. Her dedication and support for incarcerated parents and their children was unsurpassed. Since 2012, Mary made sure that everything ran smoothly in the Children of Incarcerated Parents summer camp. She arranged for food, communicated with caregivers, and even choreographed the dad’s dance performances for their children. This campership is a testament to her compassion and a legacy to her life’s mission of allowing a child with an incarcerated parent to “just be a kid” at YMCA Camp Coniston.

If this past year has taught us anything, it is a deep understanding that learning to connect with others is the very lesson that kids need most at Camp.

From 2015 to 2022, financial assistance has grown by 125% and in summer 2021 we had 189 full camperships. We believe having a Coniston filled with campers from all walks of life is stronger for every child.

Many things are taken into consideration when awarding a full Coniston Campership to a child. Initially, children and their families submit an application, the previous tax year forms, and are assessed through professionals such as school counselors and nurses. Next, the family’s income is screened using the federal free and reduced lunch income eligibility guidelines. Then the family’s income is multiplied by three—making it more equitable. Then our registrar and CEO discuss each application to determine camperships.

Additionally, we offer campership opportunities for families who may have a difficult story to share that may not be reflected in their finances. Such as families in cancer treatments, families who have suffered a loss such as a house fire, or even children who are being raised by grandparents.


How does this work? Because of generous donors, the Coniston Endowment Fund is growing and providing the life-changing experience of Camp to many deserving children—regardless of financial means. The endowment also helps Coniston moderate inevitable cost pressures—rising prices, inflation, and unexpected expenses. This gift was given as a three-year pledge from gifts of stock. 

Gifts can be given to children through Coniston in many ways:

Check or Online
Reoccurring Credit Card Gift
Multi-Year Pledge
Estate Gift
Stock or Mutual Funds
Matching Gifts
Philanthropic Gift
Life Insurance Policies

If additional information is needed to help your gift-giving process go smoother, please contact

Social & Emotional Staff Training by Board Member Katie Smidt

Hi there! My name is Katie Smidt and I’m a member on the board of directors at YMCA Camp Coniston. I attended and worked at Coniston for 13 summers and now I’m a clinical psychologist working in organization development work for the Veterans Administration. I’m also eagerly awaiting summer 2028 to be able to send my daughter to Coniston for the first time.

Last summer, I provided a virtual training to staff members on understanding the different components to an emotional experience that may affect some of our campers. Helping staff to understand the relationship between our thoughts, physiological responses, and behaviors can be useful to be more sensitive and aware of how certain emotions can impact our campers. We all know that the past 2 years in particular have been especially challenging, and raising awareness of the impact this can have on us can only improve the comfort that campers might feel.

I used an anxiety provoking situation as an example to help staff consider how they might be able to pick up on how a camper might be feeling. We can ask someone to describe to us how they’re physically feeling, or what thoughts are going through their mind, but we tend to be have the easiest time detecting that someone’s having a challenging time through their behaviors – what they’re actually doing.

The training also helped staff to consider ways to offer support and validation to their campers if they’re having a particularly difficult time. Sometimes, a camper may not want to talk with a staff member about what they’re thinking about or what might be bothering them. And that’s okay. Staff were encouraged to consider other ways of helping a struggling camper come back down to their baseline level, or at least adjust the way they’re feeling – such as encouraging a change in behaviors (like going for a walk together, modeling a deep breathing exercise if a camper is particularly worked up, and helping a camper to be more in tune with what they might be feeling in their body).

Finally, the training had a large emphasis on the importance of self-care – both for campers and staff. Camp is an incredibly exciting, action packed place with countless opportunities for fun with friends. And, a gentle reminder to all that having some downtime and quiet time can be really useful. We all have different ways to recharge – for some, having those social interactions really helps to energize us. For others, we might need that reset by reading, lying down, or going for a quiet walk. There’s no right or wrong way to recharge – it’s all very specific to each individual. And I think that can be really helpful for both staff and campers to understand that. Thanks for tuning in – here’s to a great summer!

Staff Complete Summer Fellowships at Camp with a Focus on Mental Health

For the past three summers Coniston has offered two paid fellowship positions to engage staff’s academic knowledge and leadership ability for the betterment of the Camp Community. These programs allow us to give current undergraduates internships recognized by their colleges. Megan Davis was the recipient of the Ernest Baynes Academic Fellowship and Katie Bosco was selected to serve as the George Dorr, Jr. Leadership Fellow.

Both fellowships focused on the mental, emotional, and social health of our campers and staff with a mission to promote healthy habits, education, and to provide support. The Coniston Community has faced the challenges of the last 18 months head on and as we emerge the work the fellows’ provided this summer was extremely important.

In addition to supporting individuals, Megan and Katie also shared mental health tips during Vespers, provided campers with activity booklets as a calming exercise to deal with stress, organized evening programs for staff to promote well-being, and created handouts for counselors to educate them on how to better mentor a struggling camper. The reading nook located inside the lodge was re-purposed into a mindfulness corner with posters promoting well-being.

Summers to come will be critical as we work together to counteract the persistent emotional consequences of the pandemic and other adverse childhood experiences, in addition to social-emotional and academic learning losses.

Mental health was a big focus this summer and received the attention it needed for the Coniston Community.

—Ernest Baynes Academic Fellow, Megan Davis

We normalized mental health for both campers and staff—began to put an end to stigmas surrounding the term.

—George Dorr, Jr. Leadership Fellow, Katie Bosco

Alumni and Volunteers Helping to Make the Magic Happen

Countless alumni and volunteers from around the United States jumped in to lend a hand as the challenges of the pandemic forced us to pivot to ensure a safe and fun summer. Without the passion and creativity of these generous individuals summer wouldn’t have been as successful.

THANK YOU to the Coniston Nurses who went above and beyond with numerous pre-camp meetings to prepare new protocols to ensure campers and staff stayed safe and healthy this summer.

THANK YOU to Dr. Lester and New London Pediatrics for being on call more than ever to help us through our COVID testing and decision making on protocols.

THANK YOU to alumnae, Sara Noble and Liz Morris, along with Board Chair, Mary Helen Morris for spending countless hours preparing PCR testing kits so check-in could run smoothly.

THANK YOU to Chef Mike & Jan Lambrecht, along with the entire kitchen staff working hard with the challenges of the food shortages to keep everyone fed and Chef Mike for only taking two days off all summer to make it happen.

THANK YOU to alumni Kelly Condon, Jennifer Hamel, and Nick Newberry who worked in our kitchen to help us through the kitchen staffing shortage.

And THANK YOU to all the alumni that made check-in days possible—Emma Tilley, Beth Worthington, and Izzy Glennon who greeted families as they arrived at Camp, Patrick Noble who helped parking run smoothly on the A-field, Shannon Rush and Kathleen Moore for running the Camp store, Beth & Brian Doucet, Jack Berthiaume, and Caitlin Elgert who assisted with the camper health screening/COVID testing, and Jen Deasy and Carter Bascom who welcomed new campers as they unpacked into cabins.

LOON’S EYE VIEW: Summer 2021 Recap—A Summer of Highs & Lows

By 2021 Girls Camp Director, Francesca Grandonico

As I sit here from my home-office in Boston in my fall sweater, I find it hard to believe that it has been just over a month since many of us said goodbye to the summer as the allegedly catastrophic hurricane Ida rolled in just in time for Session 5. As I can imagine was the case for many of us on staff who are embarking on new stages in our lives, this past month has been a non-stop transition for me, without a moment to take a step back and reflect on the summer. Now that I can finally take a breath, I feel ready to celebrate the storm that was the summer of 2021, and highlight some of our team’s incredible work. Looking back on the summer, I can confidently say that I have an overwhelming sense of pride in the quality, perseverance, and character of every member of staff for years to come.

When we first arrived at camp in June, however, it was a bit of a different story.

We all wondered how the unprecedented nature of the past year would look at Coniston, a timeless constant for all of us, but a place which hadn’t made any drastic changes (or taken a year off) in any of our lifetimes. As the senior staff began to prepare for the summer, we found ourselves presented with a seemingly endless (and somewhat unanswerable) flood of questions. What extra support would our campers need after a year of isolation? How would homesickness be amplified this summer? Will our staff members who missed their CIT/LIT summers feel prepared to lead a cabin? How will we use the hundreds of benches the maintenance staff built? Is gaga COVID-friendly? (I wish I was kidding) What about Coniston Singers? What will the ice cream social (ICS) look like? What generational knowledge will be lost on staff with two new co-counselors? What would masking look like? What if someone got sick? Two breakfasts? Outdoor dining? The list went on and on. 

I wanted to be Girls Camp Director knowing that this summer would present some additional challenges, and because it would be many of my former campers’ first year on staff, but when we sat down for our first morning meeting in the corner office with this fat list of unknowns, I gotta admit I was nervous. 

This summer was tough for many of us. While the pictures on Instagram and Facebook showed so many of the genuinely great little moments, (thank you Margaret & Lorraine) they did not always capture the true challenge for staff that was running Coniston amidst a pandemic after a summer away. Outdoor dining wasn’t always fun. We missed some of our international friends who couldn’t make it overseas. The majority of staff were first year staff members. More campers than I had ever seen before were in need of mental health support and older campers were homesick. Check-in day Session 1 was… long.

If Coniston has taught me anything over the past 11 years, it is that if you present a team of strong-willed, passionate, hard-working young adults with any challenge, they will rise to the occasion. And they sure did. Staff gave us constant feedback about what their campers were struggling with, and we made adjustments each day to try and meet their needs. Every challenge faced this summer was met with resilience, competency, and boldness of staff and campers alike to find creative solutions. A third period land sports class readily helped staff move dozens of benches to the clearing behind the dining hall for what might have been the most epic talent show of all of my years on staff. Our new international staff members from Mexico, Columbia, and Switzerland brought an incredible and needed vibrant energy to camp. Meg Davis and Katie Bosco used their fellowship which focused on mental health to become a fundamental support and line in the chain-of-command for staff and campers to talk to and work with. For campers who needed additional help and worked with therapists at home, we connected them with their therapists over the phone who reminded them of their existing coping strategies and how to apply them to camp, to ensure that they could make it through their two weeks. 

Outside of the challenges, this summer was one of progress and one I am so proud to have been a part of. It is hard to explain, but the culture at camp this summer felt different, not because of the pandemic changes, but perhaps because of the new generation of staff setting the tone and leading the way for all of us. Staff was vibrant and excited, representative of the years and years of enthusiastic counselors who came before us, but there was also an added level of social consciousness indicative of 2021. For the first time, staff and campers actively and enthusiastically introduced themselves using their pronouns, which made it known that all Conistonians were welcomed. Without question, we called campers by the names they identified with, and opened ourselves up to learning and growing as a culture. 

I sent a feedback form to staff a few days ago to ensure I was representing the recap of the summer properly, and I was overwhelmed by the depth of their responses. I am excited to share a few of them here.

When asked “What are some positive changes camp made this summer?” one staff member shared, “I cannot discern the cause of the change, but the staff atmosphere was more kind and welcoming, especially among Boy’s Staff.” 

Another staff member shared this intangible feeling of inclusion, stating, “We created a space for everyone to express themselves in any way they chose and added pronouns when introducing ourselves!” 

While missing a summer of camp impacted the confidence of our staff initially, having fresh staff members in the majority allowed for a somewhat of a reset and rethinking of our culture. A Co-Ed Vespers that I had started during my own fellowship in 2019 became a cemented tradition, boy’s staff made special shirts for their ICS song, and we had open conversations about identity and respect. Coniston continued to be the place we all know and love, while adapting to the latest understandings of how to be welcoming and inclusive. We even added equity and inclusion into our core values! 

Another question I asked staff to reflect on was, “What were some of the most rewarding moments of your summer?” One staff member wrote about a wonderful moment with her camper that I thought was worth sharing: 

Watching my campers go from being homesick and insecure to sad about wanting to leave camp on the last day was so rewarding—this one camper, in particular, brought tears to my eyes the most. I had a camper who very much wanted to leave on the first day of the session. After talking with her one-on-one and giving her coping strategies to deal with her homesickness (one of which was journaling!), she soon started a camp journal of everything that she loved about Camp. She wrote down every detail of each day and was never seen without her notebook. One day, when we were walking back from Vespers, she grabbed my hand and hugged me from behind, whispering, “I love camp. I never want to leave.” It brought tears to my eyes to see how far she had come.

This is just one anecdote of the hundreds of stories each camper and staff member holds in their hearts, and the perseverance and strength of each camper and staff member this summer will carry with them to prepare them for future challenges and hardships, just like it always has. On the last few days of camp, when everyone always tries to see who will be back next summer, I was pleasantly surprised that every single person I spoke with answered with an unequivocal, resounding yes. While of course we always have a high staff return rate, there was something about overcoming the challenges of this summer that brought staff closer together than I ever had seen before, and created something truly special. 

Summer 2021 will go down in the books. For all of us who were on staff this summer, we know that this quick recap does not capture the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs of those few months; but it was my best attempt. For families who sent your children to camp this summer for the first time, thank you for taking the leap of faith and trusting us with your most treasured loved-ones. Looking back on this summer reminds me that Coniston is not just a camp, it is the most indescribable feeling of joy, love and support that we all need a little more of in our lives. Coniston Community, let’s take that with us this year and give out a little extra love and camp spirit, because we are so lucky to be a part of something so beautiful.