Two New Program Areas in 2024

This summer, Coniston will be offering two new program areas; mixed martial arts and music! 

Our new mixed martial arts program will focus on taekwondo. Taekwondo is a Korean martial arts combat sport that embodies mind and body focus for its athletes.

Taekwondo can be performed in a multitude of ways including as a form of exercise, learning technical skill sets, and Poomsea – a performance where athletes show the tricks they have learned.

This new program area will teach campers respect, enable fun with values, teach a different culture of sport and campers will learn taekwondo kicks, tricks and punches. At Coniston we will provide a deeper meaning to taekwondo by applying our values and creativity into the program.

Campers will learn exciting new skills and take part in a fun training and fitness activity session. 

We are extremely excited to welcome Adelaide Barnes to our staff who will lead the new program area. Adelaide has won several national titles and won the USA Grand Prix for taekwondo. She was also selected for Great Britain’s Development Squad for Olympic Taekwondo fighting when she was 16. That same year she was promoted to being on Great Britain’s national team to represent GB in the Olympics and other world competitions! 

The other new program area is music. Music has always been part of Coniston and the achievements and passions of alumni have highlighted how special this is. When we look at our incredible alumni community, we see a surprising number of them storming the music industry.  This summer, Coniston will offer a music program area in addition to the Coniston Singers! 

The new music program will be offered to all ages and will explore musical creativity with different instruments including piano, guitar and ukulele. Grace Ferguson, a member of the band Luna and The Carpets, will create and run the new program as an official Coniston Fellowship.

If you would like to support the new music program, we are looking for instruments to be donated. Go to our Amazon Wishlist if you would like to help.

Alumni Spotlight: Kyle Olson Opens New Summer Camp

Coniston Ambassador and alumnus, Kyle Olson, is opening a new Camp this summer! Kyle is the founder and executive director of Camp Moraine, a brand-new day camp in Beverly, MA for children aged 4 – 13. Kyle has been tasked with everything from designing the website, creating the programming, marketing, hiring staff and finding campers. 

Kyle has spent 18 summers at Coniston, the last 10 of which were in an array of roles from CIT up to Assistant Director. He also volunteers for Coniston as an Ambassador in the off-season. The aspects of Kyle’s new role have been supported by his experience at Coniston and his previous job in management consulting. 

“Starting a new Camp has been the perfect blend of my interests and talents from both walks of my life and makes each day in the office a new and rewarding experience.”

Camp Moraine’s programming and philosophy follow similar principles to Coniston – striving to provide campers with a fun, safe environment in which they can develop age appropriate social emotional skills. The Camp’s three guiding principles are: explore, connect and belong. 

Camp Moraine will welcome campers for the first time this summer! 

“Starting a new camp from scratch is no easy feat. But fortunately, it has been leagues easier than it would have been thanks to my experience and connection with Coniston. Coniston provided me the confidence and understanding to take on such an endeavor and  provided me with a template of what a successful camp looks like. In addition, the staff at Coniston – Tilley, Nicole, McNair have been super supportive and helpful whenever I’ve had any questions or just need someone to bounce ideas off of. 

Coniston has always been my happy place, somewhere where I learned to be myself and where I’ve developed most of my favorite attributes. Part of why I wanted to start my own camp is to provide campers and staff with the types of experiences and opportunities that have so positively impacted my life. 

Starting a camp and building its community has always been a dream of mine, and I can’t wait to share my vision and Coniston experience with the campers of the North Shore.”

Wishing Kyle and the team the best of luck for their first summer! 

Bar Harbor Bank & Trust Donate Two Camperships

Bar Harbor Bank & Trust employees have provided a generous donation to Coniston that will go towards two camperships for this summer! 

Thanks to the Bar Harbor Bank Employees for believing in the work we do with children from the Central/Upper Valley region of New Hampshire. Gifts like these ensure all kids have access to a summer camp experience regardless of financial means. On behalf of everyone at YMCA Camp Coniston, we would like to express our gratitude for enabling us to say “yes” to even more children.

– John Tilley, CEO

Coniston Fellowship Program

Since 2018, Coniston has developed a fellowship program during the summer for staff members to engage their academic knowledge and leadership ability for the betterment of the Camp Community. The George Dorr, Jr. Leadership and Ernest Baynes Academic Fellowship programs allow us to give undergraduates internships recognized by their colleges. After the completion of their fellowship they are also awarded a small college scholarship.

Last summer, Ava Berger and Libby Foley were the recipients of our most recent Coniston Fellowships. Ava’s fellowship was based upon her journalism and communications studies at Boston University. By watching Camp from the inside as a cabin counselor, Ava was able to write the untold stories of Camp. She wrote blog posts, attended alumni events, and even created an “Ava edition” of the Coniston Ambassador Newsletter. Libby, a psychology major at Kenyon College, worked closely with Coniston mentor, Caroline Beale, a professional market researcher. Libby used her coursework in research and child development to create a study to quantify the impact of relationships at Camp.

I wanted to see how the special relationships and programming at Coniston have impacted staff members and campers.

– Libby Foley, 2023 Fellow

Our first Coniston fellowships were rewarded to Emily Howard and Emma Schambers in the summer of 2018. Emily’s fellowship stemmed from her history studies at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. She saw a need to improve the Camp Community by developing ways to be more inclusive. She connected with many camps and organizations around the country to learn what they were doing around inclusivity. She then took the research and developed inclusivity workshops for staff to help broaden their knowledge and how to best support campers. Emma’s fellowship was based on her sports management and communications studies at Syracuse University, where she saw the need to get campers more involved in physical activity while at Camp. She helped manage staff members in facilitating sports tournaments at Camp and other camps across New Hampshire, diving competitions, and many other fun activities for campers during free time.

It was an invaluable experience in project management, event planning, and leadership. I am truly thankful that I was able to return to Camp and work with campers while simultaneously furthering my professional skills.

– Emma Schambers, 2018 Fellow

Hamilton College graduate Will Budington also worked on a sports-based fellowship in 2019. He focused his summer on athletics at Camp, with the vision of “promoting growth and bonding through athletics.” 

Inclusion has been a central theme in a few of our fellowships over the years. In 2019, Francesca focused her summer on gender studies at Camp. Her projects included a pronoun workshop during staff training, organizing co-ed vespers on Sundays, and analyzing the strengths of both Girls and Boys Camp. Our 2022 fellow, Annika Randall, created a fellowship with the goal 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. One of her many roles during the summer was to ensure all campership recipients felt welcome and supported—be that an open ear to listen or by discretely providing supplies that may have been needed.

“I aimed to create a more diverse and inclusive environment at Camp for both campers and staff. I feel beyond lucky to have worked in this role 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, 2022 Fellow

Following the Covid pandemic, the work of our 2021 fellows’ was extremely important. Megan Davis and Katie Bosco both focused their fellowships on the mental, emotional and social health of our campers and staff with a mission to promote healthy habits, education, and to provide support. 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 and created handouts for counselors to educate them on how to mentor a struggling camper better. 

Over five summers, our fellows have assisted in developing the Camp’s culture, improved programming, and led the staff. Our fellows have had an incredible impact on The Coniston Community, and we hope their experience has provided them with numerous transferable skills for their future careers. 

207 Volunteers helped Coniston shine in 2023

Coniston is not just a Camp. It is a community. It is this community that enables us to deliver our unique program every summer, building campers into the leaders of tomorrow and continuing to support these campers after they leave Coniston. 

In 2023 our year-round team was made up of 13 individuals. During the summer months, we added another 210 staff members to run Camp. And on top of that another 207 members of the Coniston community volunteered their time to help Camp be a better place. It is because of the generosity of these people that the Coniston experience continues to improve and our community continues to grow.

Coniston is lucky to have this huge group of volunteers who are willing to help Camp in all different ways. Firstly, we have a group of 50 Coniston Ambassadors who volunteer their time all throughout the year. This group is made up of Camp alumni, parents, grandparents and summer staff. This dedicated group of ambassadors volunteer their time in multiple ways; hosting Coniston events, writing personal thank you notes to our community, helping in fundraising efforts and volunteering on summer check-in days. They are key to sharing our message with the further community. One of these ambassadors is Sherm Horton who works closely with Coniston as our webmaster! 

In spring, we ran two career development events in NYC and Boston. At these events, we had panels made up of Coniston volunteers from all different professional backgrounds including law, teaching and TV production. They shared their wisdom and offered advice to our younger alumni community who were in the early stages of their careers.

Another group of volunteers that had a wonderful impact on our community in 2023, were Coniston tutors. They were a group of Camp alumni who gave back by offering virtual learning support to school-aged campers. 

For the past two years, we have hosted a volunteer work day at Coniston to help us get ready for campers to arrive. This day involves a huge clean up of Camp, sweeping cabins, setting up boating activities, moving picnic benches and setting up tents. Volunteer work day makes such an incredible impact on Camp and is something we look forward to every summer. The group of volunteers who come each year are from all different eras of Coniston, from the 70s to the 2010s! It is wonderful to see so many Coniston alumni come together and connect while helping us set up for our campers to have the best summer. At the end of volunteer work day, our alumni have made the tradition of teaching our new international staff members the Class-A Clap! 

We have also had other organizations come to Coniston to help us with Camp maintenance. Hypertherm and King Arthur Baking Company employees have been visiting Coniston regularly over the past few years to volunteer their time!

Volunteering can come in all different forms. This summer, we were very lucky to have had some volunteer musical guests visit Coniston. Hans Williams and Brooks Hubbard, both Coniston alum and talented rising musicians, performed for our campers during evening programs. The Rock Academy Woodstock Showband also put on a show for us! These wonderful musical performances were a summer highlight for our campers and staff.

Coniston has a board of directors made up of 16 members/emeritus who volunteer their time and knowledge to help Coniston thrive. Whether that is helping us set prices, implementing policy or working within one of our committees, this group of people are the heart and soul of Coniston. They care so much for the work we do and we simply couldn’t do it without them.

As mentioned above, Coniston is so much more than a summer camp. We are a community with so many wonderful people who care so much and are willing to help in any way they can. Thank you to our 2023 volunteers who made YMCA Camp Coniston shine. 

If you are interested in volunteering for Coniston or becoming a Coniston Ambassador please reach out to


Alumni News 2023

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

Thank you to Abby Kaufman for hosting a 90s reunion in Sudbury, MA this fall! Conistonians who attended were Brian Isabelle, Mike Clifford, Christina Murphy, Sarah Bothwell, Nicole Reiss, Allison Carroll, Sarah Donnelly, Laura McCarthy, Galen Tremblay, Sarah Raeburn, Ryan Davey, Emily Trenholm, Bridget Parker, Christina Smaglia, Katie Perry, Heather McLean, Beth Friedman, Shannon Sawyer, Brian Beale, Laura Bothwell, Amanda Navarolli, Diana Blazar, Nick Zweig, Meghan Salvas Ship, Berta Sinclair, Abby Jordan, Brad Ship and John Kersey.

“I was a Coniston camper, CIT, and staff member from 1989- 1999. Camp was one of the greatest experiences of my youth, andit was so meaningful to pass the Coniston Experience on to my oldest son in 2023. Being back at Camp as a parent also brought the unexpected gift of reconnecting with fellow Coniston alums.

But it left me wanting more than a quick hello and hug on check-in and check-out days. Thus I planned a reunion and around thirty Coniston alums gathered for food, fun, and conversation. We traded stories, memories, and many laughs and caught up on our current lives. We poured over old Coniston annuals, and flipped through photo albums from the past. It filled my heartknowing that even though decades had passed since our days at Camp, the bonds of Coniston friendship had remained just as strong. I’m now a Coniston Ambassador to help plan more opportunities for Coniston alumni to gather and reconnect. I hope to see many of you at an event, or back at Camp next summer!” —Abby


Congratulations to Emma Tilley, on her marriage to David Mauer! A beautiful wedding was hosted this summer in New London with many Conistonians in attendance.




Congratulations to Shannon Hogan, on her marriage to Jimmy Flotken this summer. It’s great to see so many Conistonians celebrating your big day.


Former Coniston staff member Callum McCaffer married his wife, Claire, at Royal Troon in Scotland back in October! His co-counselor in the old B3, Corey Miller, was able to go across the pond to see their special day. Callum was an international staff member who worked at camp for two summers in 2013 and 2014. Callum and Corey were counselors together in 2013 and have stayed close friends over the years, visiting each other in both Europe and the US. Not even an ocean can keep camp friendships a part! Congrats, Callum and Claire! 




Suzanne Shrekgast (1989 – 1998) and her wife Erin Carr welcomed baby girl Everett Joyce Shrekgast-Carr on July 20, 2023 in Greenwich, CT. 

While touring New England this summer, New Orleans based singer-songwriter, Hans Williams visited Coniston to put on a special show. In July, Brooks Hubbard opened Hans’ show at the Lebanon Opera House!

Townies, a band made up of Coniston alumni Nolan Melia, Chris Magnani, and Tom Lynch, will be heading into the studio in LA this month to record their debut full length album with Joe Reinhart, the guitarist of renowned emo/rock band Algernon Cadwallader.

After relocating back to New England from Nashville, Brooks Hubbard has been touring all over. He even stopped by Coniston this summer to perform for Camp. Be sure to catch his performances when he’s doing a gig near you!

Noah Kahan‘s fame and recognition is growing. Noah has recently been nominated for the ‘Best New Artist’ Grammy. Next year’s world tour includes multiple sold out dates at Fenway Park, Madison Square Garden, and Hollywood Bowl.

        In addition to creating the new music program area for next summer, Grace Ferguson’s band released their first album “I Wish Venus Had a Moon” available on Spotify or Apple Music!

Asie Makarova graduated from Penn’s Wharton School and announced her engagement to Judson Woods! The couple have moved to Denver!

Congratulations to Chloe (Ladd) Parker and Jon Parker for the birth of their little girl, Lennon Jesse Parker!

Zach Zimmerman and Sarah Parker welcomed their daughter Hadley this year! They even brought her for her first visit to Coniston this summer.

 Congrats to Olivia Stack and Ryan Simoneau on their engagement!

Matt and Katie Comstock had baby boy Cole Granger Comstock this July! Congratulations to you and to Rory, the best big brother!

Congratulations to Martha Calcutt Powers and Drew Powers for their beautiful baby daughter, Faye

Jen LeBlanc and Ben Thornton announced their engagement! Congratulations!

Congratulations to Shelby and Ben Kamisar on welcoming their new child, Evelyn to the world. The news of her birth was even announced on B

Nicole and McNair ran into Eric Rightor at the NH Directors Conference this October! Eric is now the Executive Director at YMCA Allard Center of Goffstown, a branch of the Granite YMCA.

Emily Muller (CIT ‘04) has been busy this year as a design contractor with Target! Additionally, Emily and her husband, Robby Muller (CIT ‘00) will be welcoming a future boys camp camper this winter! Big sisters Leah and Nora are excited for a little brother to join the family.

With the numerous projects around Camp in preparation for the lodge restoration and expansion we were in need of some extra hands. Boys Camp Director, Nate Levine and Aquatics Director, Brackett Lyons have stayed on staff to help!

Congrats to Brenden Olson who just started a new job working as Sales Manager at Miller Milling Company!

Beth Cairns has taken a new position running an autism program at Hillsboro Deering High School.

Asie Makarova and Jen Leblanc are co-workers AGAIN. Our 2014 and 2015 Program Directors are both working at Analysis Group, an international economics consulting firm.

Ale Campomanes – International Coordinator – Vespers

On this vespers, I’m going to talk about one of the people who inspires me the most on this planet. She’s my person, and if you’ve watched Grey’s Anatomy, you can understand the reference.

I remember that three years ago, she would call me pretty much every night at 3 am or so, sobbing because she was too afraid of working. She had a lot of problems at home, and basically, she felt miserable and wasn’t happy at all.

But I’m telling you, as I told her for more than 70 nights straight (maybe even more) following the same conversation, that everything was on her mind and that after all of those situations, something better was coming. That everything was going to be alright afterwards.

She would either cry even more or just get mad at me because she wouldn’t believe me at the moment.

But I did believe that! She was literally the best person I knew, harmless, sensitive, funny, dedicated, a kind soul, she was all of that, and I would remind her that every day, if it was necessary, until she would believe it.

I made a promise to her: “One day you are going to find yourself in a better place, you will love yourself so much and be that happy, that you are gonna remember these phone calls and laugh about yourself for feeling like that before.”

After a lot of LONG conversations, she finally started to believe all of the things that I said to her. She started to love herself like I do!

Then, things started to change. She got a job, she found her passion, photography. She even changed her style to something that she would actually enjoy to wear, even if people would find her weird or different. She was just letting herself be what she wanted. After that, believe it or not, even her family problems got better.

One year ago, she got this amazing scholarship on photography in Madrid. We cannot talk that often now, but at least she is having her best life.

So, one month ago, before I came to camp this year, I was sitting on my kitchen when I got this FaceTime call. I answered, it was her. She had this huge smile that I promised to myself I will never forget. She told me that some important Photo Studio hired her and that she could stay in Madrid to work and live there. That was her dream by the way.

We both started to cry because we were just so happy. And suddenly she stops for a second and tells me that I’m the first person that she calls. I go: “wow, thank you that is amazing but why me?” and she goes: “Ale you were the first person who believed in me, you always did, even when I didn’t believe in myself, I’d call you and you would give me the strength to move forward”.

Sometimes we believe that our words don’t matter, they do. I don’t know if she remembers the exact words that she said, but I do, every word and gesture because that call literally made my year.

She has mentioned that she also remembers at least 20 of our really old phone calls on her worst times, every single word.

You never know how much you can help a person or how much you can hurt them with just words.

So GK, I want to share this with you:

  1. Words matter. Even if people seem like they’re not listening at the moment, they are. You can change someone’s life or at least make them realize something.
  2. Always believe in yourselves. When you start to believe in yourself, changes start to happen.
  3. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and who see the good things about you, even the things you can’t see yourself sometimes.
  4. Let yourself be and do things that you actually enjoy doing. If you find your passion and follow it, you can achieve the life of your dreams.
  5. And last but not least… Once I read that if we see the good things in people, it’s a reflection of the same good things that we have inside of us. I think that’s amazing

Dedicated to Pomin.


Madeleine Saraisky – Cabin Counselor – Vespers

Hi GK! My name is Madeleine and I have vespers tonight. Are there any announcements?

Again, my name is Madeleine and I have vespers. And tonight I want to talk to you about shame. The official definition of shame is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” At various instances in my life, I’ve felt these feelings of distress that we call shame. These feelings, and the word “shame” associated with them, have, to me, always felt like very ugly words, but I’ve recently realized that a way to get rid of this stigma surrounding shame and reclaim some power over my experiences is to speak about them. So, today I would like to share with all of you the most recent event that has caused these feelings.

This past spring, I was at college and had plans to go home for an event one weekend. This weekend was towards the end of my term and I was swamped with assignments so I decided to take the bus home to save myself 10 hours round trip of driving. I worked so hard in the days leading up to that weekend so that I could go home, fully enjoy my event, and then return to school without feeling like I had fallen completely behind. The night before I left, I finished some work, packed my bags, and went to sleep ready to wake up at 6 am the next morning in order to catch my 6:30 bus, feeling really proud of myself for all my preparation.

So, the next morning rolled around and I woke up to see light streaming in through my window. I immediately knew I had overslept and checked the time to see that my bus had left an hour and a half earlier. I realized that despite all my planning in the previous days, the night before I had forgotten to do the seemingly most simple thing: set my alarm. I had my car at school, so I knew I wasn’t completely stranded and would be able to make it home. Despite knowing this, when I realized I had overslept, I immediately burst into tears.

A lot of you may be thinking, “Wow you’re really dramatic. You knew you would get home anyway, so what’s the big deal?” And as I tell this story, there is definitely a part of me that thinks you might be right. But let me contextualize my reaction a little. For much of my life, I have struggled to do seemingly simple things. For example, I am chronically late, almost never showing up anywhere on time. Regardless of the importance of a task, I often forget to do things if they are not written down or I am not given many reminders. I often decide to do something and then get up, walk into the other room, and completely forget what I was going to do. And although none of these things on their own are life changing, when they are happening to me daily, it can begin to feel like I operate just slightly differently from everyone else, in a way that makes doing the easiest of things just a little bit harder. So, although my plans weren’t ruined, forgetting to set an alarm and oversleeping felt like just another simple thing that I was incapable of doing.

If that still sounds a little irrational to you, that’s fair. Let me give you one last explanation. And that is that shame is irrational. Most of the times that we feel shame, it is over something small– something that the rest of the world hasn’t noticed but that makes us feel self conscious. There doesn’t have to be a rhyme or reason to the feelings that we have, but there’s no shame in feeling them anyway.

So in this instance, that feeling of shame that I described earlier flooded my brain. I felt stupid, and so I cried for a while– to be honest for much of the morning– but I eventually made it home and had a great time. And although everything worked out those feelings of shame stuck with me. A few days later I was telling someone about this pattern of being forgetful and how it made me feel and she said something to me that I want to share with all of you. She told me, “We all have things about ourselves that we don’t like and that makes us human. Maybe this is the way that you have to face your humanity.”

That sentence completely blew me away. The idea that those very same things which made me so ashamed were the things that also made me human completely changed how I saw myself. I began to realize that all these little mistakes which had previously made me so upset were just instances of me being human, and therefore imperfect.

Despite this realization, there are still things that bring me shame, but like I said earlier, this experience taught me that talking with people about those feelings takes a little bit of the sting away. So in that spirit, I want to share with you a short list of 5 things that bring up these feelings of embarrassment.

1.  I accidentally threw away my passport last summer.

2. When I talk about myself or my emotions, I often begin to tear up for no particular reason.

3. When I was little, I typed number patterns into the phone because I was just kind of super into numbers and patterns and I ended up calling 911, and I made the police show up at my house and do a full investigation.

4. In all my seven years at camp as a camper, CIT, and staff member, I have never been off the high dive.

5. I procrastinate to an almost absurd degree, so much so that I forgot to sign up for my courses this past school year not once, but twice.

It is my hope that by sharing these with you, you begin to learn that our imperfections and faults are what make us human, rather than detracting from who we are. While you may strive to change, you should never be embarrassed for being imperfect. Camp, especially, is a safe place to try new things and fail. So, GK, in the next week and a half I encourage you to leave behind any embarrassment or shame that you carry with you and wholeheartedly throw yourself into the camp experience. Do everything you can and don’t be afraid of looking like a fool because it is in those times that we feel foolish that we are being most humanly ourselves.

And now I’m going to play a song… “Believe” by Caamp

Charlie Levine- Cabin Counselor – Vespers

In the summer of 2019, me and a friend got into an argument, and I said something really hurtful to him that I’ll forever regret. After the argument, months passed by, and before I knew it, I was at Coniston as a CIT. At the end of my CIT experience, two campers had been involved in a big argument. The counselor I was working with brought the two campers outside to speak. I sat and observed, and as they spoke to each other, I thought about the argument I had gotten into with my friend. Minutes passed, and the two had made up. One said to the other, “when I’m mad I don’t think about what I say, you should honestly just forget everything I said.” The other laughed, apologized himself, and they fist bumped.

On my first year on staff, at the very end of the summer, I sat crying in my counselors quarters. It was the night before I left camp for my first year of college.  I had come off the worst school year of my life, the pandemic had stripped any confidence I once had. At camp I found purpose and happiness again. I didn’t feel ready, or even excited for my first year of college, and I was scared to leave the woods and my best friends behind. I feared that after camp I’d fall into the same depressed rut I had been in before it. When a camper who felt similar to me asked to speak, I frantically wiped my tears and joined him on a bench outside. We talked about how we didn’t want the summer to end, and how we were nervous for the school year. He said, “I think what makes this place so special is how little we’re here.” I agreed, and he went on, “I think knowing camp will be back is kinda what gets me through everything else.”

Last summer I sat on program porch waiting for my cabins COVID test results. We had been in a quarantine pod for 3 days, unable to interact with the rest of camp. I sat on the porch stairs, bouncing my leg, nauseous from worry. All I wanted was for everyone to test negative so we could return to normal camp. When I heard laughs I looked up and saw my cabin playing Gaga. Thinking I had nothing better to do, I joined their game, and had the time of my life. We ran around and sweat through our surgical masks. I remember at the time thinking, this is the hardest I’ve laughed all year. Minutes later,  we all tested negative, and returned to normal camp. That night I asked my campers why they weren’t as nervous as me when we had been waiting for our test results. One of my campers said, “most of the stuff I worry about doesn’t even happen.”

Earlier this summer I sat at gazebo around a dying campfire with my cabin. Charlie, Will and I had asked our cabin who their biggest role models were for their highs and lows question. Throughout everyone’s answers I was blown away by the reasoning and emotion behind each choice. One camper had cried when discussing his role model. When everyone had shared, and the embers started to fizzle out, another camper spoke. He said, “when I lost someone close to me I thought I shouldn’t cry, but seeing you all open up has really helped me.”

I’ve been on staff here for three years, and when I look back on the last three summers of my life, I constantly think about why I came back here. I always think about it. As this summer comes to a close, I’ve found myself more than ever reflecting on that question when I get the chance. Some of you sitting in front of me know that this job can be back breaking, stressful, and emotionally and physically exhausting. Why did I keep coming back? Well, I think I finally know.

At camp, I’ve always felt I’m a way better version of myself than at home. In the sense that I like how I act at camp more than how I do at home. Camp always felt like a moral reset for me, like every summer, I was reminded what right and wrong was. It’s taken me three years to realize that the reason I feel so good about myself here has been a result of all of you campers. Every summer, you all reminded me what this place is about— being a good person.  Living in the moment, showing emotion, and being yourself. That’s why I kept coming back, the lessons I learned from all of you. All this time I thought this place was fulfilling because I was helping you all out, but in reality, it was actually fulfilling because you were all helping me out. I used to think I came back here every summer to teach. I’ve slowly realized that actually, I came back here every summer to learn.

So, you might be thinking how the heck this story about me, applies to you. Maybe, like me, you’ve thought to yourself, I feel like a better person at camp than at home. I like how I act at camp more than I like how I act at home. I think my message today is to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that all the different interactions you have here at camp, whether they are big or small, or annoying, or completely and utterly meaningless in the moment— teach you things. I just shared my four most vivid camp memories over an eleven year span, and every single one was a time that a camper taught me a priceless life lesson. So reflect. Who has taught you what here? What values and lessons have you learned from your friends? Staff, what have you learned from your campers? Where, and what would you be without them? 

If any of you think your presence here doesn’t matter, you’re wrong. If you think that one cabin mate you don’t like so much has nothing to offer you, you’re wrong again. Every single one of you is so special, and each summer, every single one of you taught me more than you will ever know.

Everyday I tried to teach all of you about life, but everyday you taught me what life is all about.

Kyle Stevens – Cabin Counselor – Vespers

When I found out I had vespers I wasn’t sure what I should talk about. In Liverpool, where I go to university, I study philosophy, so I felt a sort of pressure to know what to think about and talk about. Maybe the reason why I couldn’t think of what to talk about is because I don’t really have any incredible, life changing advice. I don’t have a secret that makes everything perfect, I don’t know something that everyone else doesn’t. But what I do have, is my experiences, so I thought I’d give you a brief timeline of my life, and hopefully one of you may take one thing from it. 

I spent my childhood how most of you probably did, having fun. My main concerns included what I was gonna eat, what I games I was gonna play and what new shows were premiering on Cartoon Network. This was all I needed and life couldn’t get any better, I had no concerns or stresses because subconsciously or not I chose to define life by one metric: having fun. 
Everyday was a good day because I defined it that way. 
As I approached the end of my childhood I changed. I was overthinking things as simple as eating and sleeping, talking with people became a difficulty, not something to enjoy. I felt that just existing generally became something I had to try and do rather than something that just happened. I didn’t enjoy what I used to enjoy as a younger child and when people would ask me why I wouldn’t really have an answer for them. I would walk around visibly down and it frustrated me to not have an answer as to why I felt this way. Nothing about my external life changed significantly. I knew I was very blessed to have a healthy and well-supported home which caused even more confusion for me as to why I was down. This continued to a point where I closed myself off to the events and happenings of life and became emotionally numb to the happenings around me, my progression in life was paralyzed by my own mind. I chose to define my life by one metric, surviving each day, that’s all I was doing, surviving, not living. 
Everyday was a bad day because I defined it that way.
After some maturing I realized that this wasn’t a sustainable way to live. I studied a lot and talked with friends who were also maturing on the same path I was, and we realized something. Life is not based on your external circumstances. Nothing external in my life changed from my early childhood to my late childhood, yet my enjoyment of life changed drastically. 
This is because life and happiness is completely based upon how you choose to define it.
This may sound like a gross oversimplification of something as complex as life. But I’d argue that if you think life is complicated then a complicated life you will live. Me and my friends realized that life is a positive thing if you make the choice to see it that way. When you ask yourself at the end of the day if today was a good or bad day, what actually happened in the day doesn’t really matter, your perspective does. Was today a bad day or was there one moment of peace you had that you wouldn’t have appreciated if today was a “good day”? The choice is yours.
You can choose to spend your days scrolling through news stories online that tell you the million different ways the world is ending and how you should feel bad about it, or you could instead focus on and appreciate the beauty that the world and life has to offer. This attitude of choice is the key to living life satisfied. 
You might be aware of a little “pre-dinner inspiration” we read at camp sometimes, it goes something like “people who ask if the glass is half full or half empty are missing the point, the point is the glass is refillable.” Call me controversial but I disagree, I think the fact that we can ask the question if the glass is half full or half empty shows it’s really neither and it’s our choice which we see it as. We are blessed with this unique ability to choose how we perceive. 
So Boys Camp, before you judge a program area or an evening program as boring or not cool, I challenge you to question your perspective, because I can promise you when you try to have fun, you will have fun. It’s so important to be careful of the stories you tell yourself. 
To wrap up I want to emphasize one final point to you. That not a single part of your life is defined by external things. Difficult things will happen to you of course, this is unavoidable. Let the waves of life pass you by, good and bad, enjoy everything for what it is. Appreciate the lessons that difficult times can bring you, and celebrate the good times just as much. Remember that happiness in life does not come from doing that one thing you always wanted to do, happiness is a choice you must make on a daily basis.
So, don’t invent your own stress, choose to be amazed with life daily.
Why cry in the rain, when you can sing in it?