How does Camp Impact the Adolescent Brain? Hear from John Tilley

So how can just a couple of weeks of summer camp change a person’s brain?

In 2023, 96% of campers and staff positively reported feeling supported, accepted and cared for. This wasn’t the first time we tried to measure friendships at Camp. Relationships at Coniston have been measured several times beginning in 2003, always with similar results.

Meanwhile, the human brain is wired through interactions with other people. Put in another way, the relationships we have create the brains we develop. In the longest running study of human lifespans which has more than 85 years of data, it was proven that positive relationships keep us happier, healthier and help us live longer. Yes, you heard that right. Relationships help us live longer. More than career achievement, money, exercise and even a healthy diet.

Numerous studies actually point to similar conclusions. And when you combine this research with the knowledge of the reported state of mental health and loneliness in society, the role of Camp comes into a much sharper focus.

Let’s talk a little bit more about the brain and Camp. Campers and staff both cite overwhelming feelings of support, acceptance and care while and after their Camp experience. This positions us to play an outsized role in the adults participants become. This is a bold thing, but again it is based on the scientific consensus that brains are literally wired through the relationships we make.

Here’s how it works: Because Camp is fun, because campers feel supportive, because the culture is based on respect, campers and staff are in a space where they learn about and learn how to be themselves. Now this can sound trite but it’s the basis of being a healthy, thriving adult.

Developmentally as a person works to hone a self-identity, works on being themselves, that identity is used to express their differences and value to a group. Many young people try different versions of themselves and being in a place where you feel supported and protected is a key component in making those choices.

The safety and support cited at Camp allows children to take healthy risks with manageable stress, which is important in learning resilience. This casts a completely different light on a child making it through homesickness, overcoming a fear of water, spiders or even the dark.

Alternatively, if a child is constantly living in threatening or unsafe situations, the brain will be wired in a different manner due to toxic stress. However, even in that case it was noted that continuous positive experiences rewire negative experiences. Again, through good relationships.

One more thing. There are few places outside of Camp where an adolescent gets to hang out and share time with positive college-aged mentors. This staff-camper or near-peer relationship is another key ingredient in what builds an earnest culture of safety, respect and caring for each other. As staff model this for campers, campers imitate and again brains are wired.

There’s a sign at Camp – “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”. At age 58, my first instinct is to take the face of an old friend and superimpose it over that sign.

Camp is designed for campers to connect with others. Marcus sat and listened, Anna cheered me on when I learned a new swim stroke, Tommy ran out of the dining hall with me to meet a new group of friends. Human beings imitate. It’s the wiring that occurs during those actions that becomes your future.

Our brains are selecting pathways they will regularly use, because we know relationships; good and bad, are the basis for that selection. The surroundings and how we respond becomes very important and leaves an explanation for why Camp is so incredibly impactful for so many participants.

John Tilley

Dave Savio Retires

After 23 years of helping create a facility we cherish and love, Sav has retired from Coniston. Dave Savio has been an incredible member of our Maintenance team and has transformed Camp into the beautiful facility it is and this is truly the end of an era. 

We wish him all the best in his retirement!



Summer 2024 Fellowships and Internship

Meet the Fellows and Interns!

Every summer, Coniston offers $1,000 in college scholarships to staff members who apply their studies to an aspect of Coniston through a fellowship. This year, Erin Herrold and Ty Bears are our fellows! 

We have a great staff of nurses who work around the clock to keep our campers and staffers healthy. They are celebrated by Conitonians often and we are grateful for the small but mighty team. This summer we have two staff members interested in working alongside them, to learn from them and ultimately help them with daily tasks. Erin Herrold is going to school to become a Physician’s Assistant and currently holds CNA and PCT certifications. Ty Bears is currently an EMT and his work experience will be a great pairing to support the nurses throughout the summer. These fellows will help take on different tasks in the infirmary which will allow our nurses to focus on caring for the campers and staff.

Dan May, an Architecture student from the UK, will complete an internship this summer. His project will focus on connecting with our alumni community to inspire the design of a new Coniston structure.

“The conceptual project, focused on designing a captivating new loon overnight spot, is about more than just architecture; it’ll be a creative journey to blend the essence of Coniston’s community and memories into a physical place. 

As I continue to develop as a member of the Coniston staff, I’ve been exploring new ways to contribute to this incredible community. I’m thrilled that this project will provide me with a unique opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way.

It’s an unprecedented venture, and I’m honored to lead the charge in bringing it to life.”

Jamie Ellis, a second-year staff member, will also complete an internship this summer focused on social media to support his studies. Jamie will work closely with Coniston’s marketing team to create fun and engaging content for our social media throughout the Camp season.

Two New Program Areas in 2024

Meet Grace and Adelaide - who will lead the new programs

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

Our new 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 and teach a different culture of sport. 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. The goal is to create a space where campers feel comfortable working on their musicianship and to prepare them for performing or creating music however they wish! 

Grace Ferguson, a member of the band Luna and The Carpets, will create and run the new program. 

“I am incredibly excited to start this new project as I feel campers would benefit from our music program area. Music is a universal language and something that everyone can connect, relate to, and express themselves with. These are the same values we hold close to our hearts at camp, and I am thrilled to connect the two.” 

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 jesse@coniston.org.

 

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.