Program Director Hayley Horton’s Pitcher Plant Research

We recently interviewed one of our 2022 Program Directors, Hayley Horton, who has been undertaking Biological research this summer in Camp Coniston’s very own bog. 

What’s your name, age, hometown, and what did you do at camp this summer?

Hi Coniston, my name is Hayley. I am 20 years old, this my 12th year at Coniston. I am from Chelmsford Massachusetts, and this past summer I was full-time Program Director and part-time bog researcher. 

What did your research entail?

The research I was working on this past summer was in collaboration with a professor at the University of Vermont, which I attend during the school year, specifically working with pitcher plants; they are one of two carnivorous plants found in the bog. What we were aiming to do is get preliminary data on how different antibiotics affect microbial communities within pitcher plants. 

Pitcher plants provide a very interesting mode of research; within the pitchers themselves are their own ecosystems that can be manipulated much easier than a full forest or full ocean when trying to manipulate with something like antibiotics. 

Coniston was one of three sites where research was being done this summer, and I was working with one of three different antibiotics that were being tested. We are hoping this data will lead to the discovery of which antibiotic should be used for a larger trial. Currently we are looking at the data to see the degree to which the microbial communities were knocked down, which microbes were affected and which were still present. 

As for the procedure I was actually conducting over the summer, every third morning for three weeks, I would go out into the bog and dose twenty plants (ten control and ten experimental) with either de-ionised water for the control plants, or with the antibiotic solution for the experimental plants. 

At the beginning and end of the experiment I took morphological measurements, basically physical measurements of the plant, measuring the entire circumference of the plant, from top to bottom and measuring pitcher opening. I also took fluid parameters to see the amount of dissolved oxygen, the temperature, and different traits of the liquid within the pitcher. At the end of the trial we wrapped up by taking that morphological and fluid data again, while also collecting fluid from each pitcher to be analysed in the lab. 

Where did your passion for Biology begin? 

I am currently a Biological Science major at the University of Vermont, and I can really trace that passion for Biology back to my time at Camp. I had always been interested in science at school, but found that at camp I had the space to really be inquisitive and connect closely with nature in a way that education doesn’t often provide. 

Through the Ecology programme area, I was encouraged and excited to be inquisitive and free to question and interact with the nature around me without any looming pressure of grades or deadlines. That really connected me to the field, and has led to where I am today. 

How has Coniston influenced your interest in this area? 

Specifically in the research I have been assisting with, Camp was a huge help in getting my foot in the door. This past year I took a class called ‘Ecology and Evolution’ with the professor I have been working with, and he talked about his past research, a lot of which was done with pitcher plants. Right off the bat, I was very interested given my connection with Camp and my interest in pitcher plants through the bog and through Ecology. 

When I was drafting my email to his asking if I could help with his research, I spoke about how I had learned a lot through this camp and grown a really hearty interest in the system that he was working with. I expressed that I had that hands-on knowledge that maybe other undergraduates wouldn’t have walking into his lab. I was really excited about the prospect of turning this childhood interest of mine into a college prospect. 

What were the most interesting discoveries you made whilst conducting your research this summer? 

The research has already yielded so many interesting discoveries, and will continue to as we analyze the data further, but I would like to focus on two interesting discoveries in particular:

Firstly, I was very interested to find just how alive the inner system of the pitcher plant was. I had never had the opportunity to remove the fluid from a pitcher and actually see what was going on inside; there was so much life which was really cool to see. This very acidic environment that basically acts as digestional fluid still had mosquito larva and flesh flies inside. On top of that, there’s an entire microbial community that is too microscopic to even see, but I knew I would be able to view the data once it had been sequenced. 

One of the more touching discoveries was seeing how excited campers got when seeing this research being done. I was not on Ecology staff this year, but I would hear about the bog walks they would do, and sometimes campers would seek me out after to ask me about my research. 2 campers in Session 1 were really interested to hear about every part of the process, and were so passionate in a way that I recognised in my younger self. It was so cool and very impactful for me to see the research I was doing ignite curiosity with these campers. 

What future plans do you have for this research? 

As for the future of this research, I am taking undergraduate research credits, and assisting with the analysis, planning and write-up for next steps of this project. We are hoping that the data will be solid and that we are able to propose and conduct a full-scale experiment to dig deeper with what we have already found. I, personally, am hoping to pursue an accelerated masters at UVM using this project as my thesis. 

How would you describe your overall experience of being a Coniston staff member this summer? 

Being on Coniston staff this summer was incredible. I felt very fortunate that I didn’t have to compromise both my future aspirations for my career and my current aspirations for camp. I was provided with the opportunity to do both at once. I feel so grateful that the staff and the campers at Camp welcomed my project with such open arms; the Camp director John Tilley was especially excited at the prospect of me doing this research and was so consistently interested in what I was doing, asking some really insightful questions. He was so excited to see what it provided for me as well as what it provided for the campers. 

As for my main job on Camp this summer, I was Program Director, who plans the evening programs and helps a lot with the camper scheduling, making sure the day-to-day fun at camp runs smoothly, including the wonderful programme areas such as Ecology. I loved my job this summer, and how much it allowed me to interact with the staff and how they were each running their own aspects of camp, making sure their little corners of the world ran smoothly, while also being able to plan these big evening events and see how much fun the entire camp had with an idea that Carolyn (my fellow Program Director) spent a lot of time planning. 

I feel so grateful to be both a research assistant this summer and spend the time in the bog, whilst also learning so much through my job as Program Director. There is a lot of overlap in these two jobs; I learned how to work with other people, I learned how to admit that I didn’t know how to do something, how to search for help in those areas. In so many ways these roles bolstered each other, allowing me to have a truly incredible summer. 

If you had a message for budding scientists who are thinking about coming to Coniston, what would it be?

If I could relay any message to budding young scientists who are thinking about coming to Coniston, I would first of all say do it! There are so many great opportunities to become independent, inquisitive, and confident person, all these things that will help you in any career. I would also encourage them to consider where they might find inspiration and opportunities for knowledge in potentially unexpected places. 

You may not think that coming to camp will lead to a scientific career; we focus a lot on fun and friendships and trying new things, which a lot of the time doesn’t seem to naturally pair with science’s pursuit of knowledge and procedure. However, in my experience the fun that I had at camp led me to want to continue having fun and learning through that fun. The friends I made at camp helped me to understand what I wanted out of life and my career, helping me every step of the way when it seemed scary to put myself out there. Trying new things is the root of science, and the root of becoming a person who is comfortable asking questions. Maybe you don’t see learning how to shoot an arrow as the same thing as being able to come up with a new scientific hypothesis, but it all feeds into building a well-rounded person that is capable of doing what the world of science requires in a way that feels fun and rewarding. 

I would encourage anyone to not just consider the traditional paths that might make preliminary sense in becoming a scientist. I didn’t have to attend a Math or Science Camp to get where I am today. I was able to use my experiences at Camp Coniston to find meaning in what I learned, and express that meaning to people who could provide me with opportunities. I am so excited for each and every camper to know that whatever you are interested in, be that the Sciences or Humanities, there is a lot of potential with coming to Camp and I wish them all the very best in their learning. 

Camp Winning Spirit celebrates 25+ years

This summer we celebrated 25+ years of Camp Winning Spirit!

Our annual Labor Day Weekend event, partnered with New Hampshire Childhood Cancer Lifeline, welcomed 28 families who have been affected by cancer. The weekend was full of classic Winning Spirit activities like kickball, pirate night, s’mores and campfire skits! 

On the Sunday, we invited Winning Spirit alumni families and staff to join us for a day of celebration. The day ended with a beautiful firework show to commemorate 25 + years of this special weekend and to honor all of the families that have attended.

George Dorr, Jr. Leadership Fellowship

This summer I had the incredible opportunity to be in the Fellowship position. I was given the freedom to create a program to enhance camp in a way that I wanted. I created a fellowship with the goal being that Coniston is a place where every single person, no matter where they come from or who they are, would feel safe, comfortable and accepted, without having to change any part of their identity for the time they are here. I aimed to create a more diverse and inclusive environment at Camp for both campers and staff.

In doing this, a large aspect of what I did was creating a “gear store”. This “store” consisted of any items that one would want to have at Camp; ranging from hygiene products, to clothing, bedding, bunk decorations, toys – you name it. Any staff member who needed something, or any staff who noticed a camper was in need of something, would let me know and I would discretely get it to them. It was heartwarming hearing how thankful campers and staff were about receiving these items and I felt very fulfilled knowing that I was able to give these kids anything they needed to enjoy their time here. The best part was that they got to bring it home with them to enjoy and maybe even bring back to future summers at camp.

Beyond the store, I worked on fostering this climate through making pronoun pins available to all campers and staff, providing all skin tone bandaids for the infirmary, giving unique facts at vespers about our staff and where they come from, and simply being a resource and listening ear for anyone to check in with.

Another activity that I introduced was camper penpals. Not only was this a great way to ensure that all kids who signed up received letters at mail time but it also created a connection between campers who may not have known each other otherwise. Overall, I feel beyond lucky to have worked in this role this summer and I really look forward to how Coniston continues to move forward in future summers as a magical place for any and every one. 

Annika Randall, Fellow

Noah Kahan performs at Coniston

This summer, we were excited to have Noah Kahan, musician and Coniston alumnus, revisit Coniston and perform for our staff. He was welcomed back with open arms, and all staff were very excited to meet him and see him play live. 

American singer-songwriter Noah Kahan released his first single ‘Young Blood’ in 2017. Since then, his music career has taken off with Noah collaborating with artists such as George Ezra, James Bay and Dean Lewis. He released his first album ‘Busyhead’ in 2019, taking his music on a world tour in the same year. In 2021 Noah headlined his ‘I Am / I Was’ tour, and after releasing his latest song ‘Stick Season’ this year, Noah treated the crowds at Red Rocks to a powerful set showcasing his new music. 

Before his performance for our staff, Noah took a trip down memory lane, exploring the grounds, revisiting his old cabins and spending the last day of Session 2 with campers. Noah joined in on all the traditional closing night activities, including attending John Tilley’s vespers. He was particularly thrilled to walk down the staff trail to Boys Vespers. It was a magical moment when Noah joined us for dinner in the dining hall and the whole of Camp sang one of his songs at the top of their lungs! Noah even attended closing campfire and played guitar while campers sang. He also joined our staff in performing traditional Camp songs at our closing candlelight ceremony. 

Noah performed an acoustic set of his music, featuring songs such as ‘Stick Season’ and ‘Young Blood’, as well as treating the staff to a first performance of an unreleased song. Amidst his lakeside show, he invited staff member Grace Ferguson to join him onstage to sing Noah’s song ‘Hurt Somebody’ as a duet. This was a very special moment not only for Grace, who shares Noah’s passion for music, but for the entire camp, seeing alumni and current staff coming together and giving a heartfelt performance that was met with excited applause from other staff members. 

Noah’s passion for music was clear back when he was a camper from age 8 to 15 (2005-2012), as he often performed in our talent show. On his visit, he spoke about his experiences performing in the talent shows: “My first time I ever played an original song was at the talent show, and it was really cool ‘cause everyone here was super supportive of it… I got inspired to write more.” “I came second place every year to the kid who made car noises”. He was delighted to finally receive the 1st place award staff members had made for him, presenting it to him after his moving performance.

Noah’s music paired with the Coniston scenery created a truly spectacular experience for all, and we very much hope that Noah will be back. His career success is no surprise and we were very grateful he took the time to revisit us here at Camp.

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
Corporate/Foundation
Philanthropic Gift
Life Insurance Policies

If additional information is needed to help your gift-giving process go smoother, please contact lindsey@coniston.org.

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!

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!

Coniston in the Community!

YOUTH AND GOVERNMENT GOES VIRTUAL 

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This year, YMCA Camp Coniston staff, along with dedicated teachers, worked virtually with Stevens, Newport and Kearsage High Schools to deliver Youth and Government sessions to serve 300 teens from 30 schools throughout New Hampshire. Coniston’s main role was assisting the press corps—a body of a dozen students from different districts that write, edit, and publish newspapers during the sessions. Sessions were held virtually, which allowed students to communicate differently and perhaps change the process for planning in the coming years. We look forward to the 2022 sessions this March!

YMCA Youth & Government is a national program of the Y that involves thousands of teens nationwide in state-organized, model- government programs. Students from every corner of the U.S. have the opportunity to immerse themselves in experiential civic engagement and to, quite literally, practice democracy.

 

THE BUDDY BENCH

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YMCA Camp Coniston has a new Buddy Bench. Thanks to John Tilley for the idea, James and Aaron in maintenance for building the bench, and Session 5 campers for painting!

Our Arts & Crafts Director, Barb Hawley took it to the next level—as we like to say at Camp she Barb’d it up a bit with some friendship quotes. Barb’s true mission is always to share the joy experienced while creating art and that is just what she did with us. We can’t wait for the bench to see many new friendships formed on its comfort!

“Sit here and be a friend, make a friend, love a friend… give your time and your ears.”

 

K-9 SEARCH & RESCUE TRAINING

We were glad to see Northern New England K-9 Search and Rescue return this past winter and spring to use Coniston’s facilities and grounds, free of charge, for training purposes. The group is the main search and rescue group for VT, NH, & ME and is called into duty when hikers and skiers are lost in the outdoors. With Camp’s record breaking forty-forty inches of snow the conditions were perfect for training. We thank this group for their wonderful service in keeping the New England outdoor community safe!

 

HYPETHERM VOLUNTEERS

 
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Hypertherm volunteers worked for six full days at Camp to help us get ready for the summer! Several of the volunteers were Coniston alumni and we had a wonderful time welcoming them back to Camp. We can’t thank all of the volunteers enough for all of your hard work. We could not get camp ready without you!

 

 

NEW LONDON NH ROTARY

 
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Thank you New London NH Rotary for helping us get ready for the summer! They provided us with 2,000 masks and what a difference that made! They also visited Coniston for their annual meeting at Camp the Friday before Labor Day!

Coniston in the News!

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

Coniston was featured on the New Hampshire Chronicle!

Sean McDonald and Audrey Cox with the New Hampshire Chronicle visited Coniston this summer to try out some of our Camp activities!

 

 

Parents speak about Coniston nationally!

 

Coniston parents, Abbigail Chau and Anna Caccavaro, along with John Tilley, spoke with Yahoo!Life about camp this summer in an article: Camp is back! Here’s how it’ll work and why families can’t wait: ‘This is a summer of healing for our kids’. 

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Click to read the full article! 

 

John Tilley was live on New Hampshire Public Radio!

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Before summer began, John Tilley was live on NHPR NH Roundup with Laura Knoy talking about overnight camp and camping.

 

 

RECORD BREAKING SNOW AT CONISTON!

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On December 18th, Camp’s home town was featured on Good Morning America for having gotten one of the largest snow totals in New Hampshire!

 

 

CONISTON PODCAST!

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Look out for future announcements on our social media about our upcoming PODCAST!! Our Summer Camp Director, Nicole Berthiaume, has created this podcast and has been recording sessions with our wonderful summer staff about how life on Lake Coniston echoes through all of our lives. If you are interested in being a guest on our podcast please contact nicole@coniston.org.