So it’s been a little while since the last time I was at camp. I started as a camper in 2010, was a CIT in 2015, and spent the next 3 summers after that on staff. But in 2018, I knew it would be my last summer. So with the exception of helping out for a week in 2019, I left. I moved on, lived my life, and left camp in the rear-view.
So when I found out I had the chance to come back this summer, I was nervous. Every single person from my CIT year is gone, almost all of my friends from staff are gone, and even most of my old campers have left. I spent half of my life at camp, but as the years went by away from it, it began to seem more distant. Some memories started to fade, I went longer and longer without seeing old friends, and seeing camp continue every summer without me made my time there begin to feel insignificant. So I was excited to be coming back this summer, but I was also scared, and didn’t know what to expect.
That is, until I moved in yesterday, and it felt like I was returning home. I’ve seen some of my old friends from staff, I’m lucky enough to see my old campers being the new leaders of camp, and even a couple of my old counselors are still kicking around somehow. I’ve been reminded of the things I did in my time, from little things like being asked about a game we made up in landsports 4 years ago, to the important stuff, like an old camper sharing how my Co and I helped influence his life. In just one day back, you have all made me feel like I never left. After forgetting much of it over the years, you’ve all reminded me of my impact on camp, but more importantly, all of your impact on me.
So why does this matter, why am I telling you this now? It’s because I’m not unique. Every person that steps foot at camp leaves an impact. I’ve see the current staff talking about the impact my old friends had on them as counselors, I see the way they interact with you campers to give you the best 2 weeks possible, and I see the way you campers bring the life and energy that makes camp special. Every single person in this ring, whether it’s your 1st year or your 20th, has made Coniston what it is today, and that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
In a couple of days, this session will be over. Some of us will be here the rest of the summer, some of us will be back next year, and for some of us this might be it. No matter what happens though, whatever you do, don’t take these last days for granted.
I challenge you to use these last days to make the best and biggest impact on the rest of camp that you possibly can.
I challenge you to say thanks to the people who have left an impact on you over the last two weeks, two years, or however long you’ve been at camp.
And most importantly, I need you to never forget how important you are to this place, and your ability to impact people’s lives. Because as you’ve all taught me, you’ll always have a home back here on the lake.
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!
As part of our college and career development counseling initiative, current staff members received special opportunities during the summer to meet with our alumni and parent communities all while learning about the process of college applications.
This summer, high school aged LITs (Leaders in Training) had the opportunity to attend a Common Application / College Admissions workshop and older staff members were provided with a Resume Writing workshop, all offered by Jennifer Tockman of Colby-Sawyer College.
If you are are willing to speak to younger staff about the college search process, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This summer, we were together again. We played together, worked together, ate together, and laughed together. The smiles we saw on children’s faces every day made a difference and this was because of the hard work, sacrifice, and dedication of so many. There are countless memories from the summer of 2021, but the one that will never disappear is the feeling of connection and togetherness. We returned to where we flourish and become our best selves and created the extraordinary community where we are all valued and supported.
On the walls of the Sander’s Leadership Center hang four banners—Community, Leadership, Civics, and Service—concepts which embody the Coniston Experience. On the following pages, you will find inspiring stories highlighted by these concepts,moments of celebration from summer, days of adventure, and lessons in resilience.
You’ll read about the relief which was felt by being surrounded by a supportive community, the joy of being utterly silly, and the pride that comes from accomplishing new things.
We hope these stories bring a smile and give you the feeling of hope. As we look to the future, remember Camp is not just a place you go for a weekend, a week, or a month, but an idea we carry with us as we all try to leave the world—and each other—a little stronger than before.
The gratitude we feel for 2021 is an of course sense of gratitude. When we asked our families to participate in new protocols they said, of course. When we were met with challenges that required us to lean into different areas of work, members of our team said, of course. Was this summer the most challenging summer in recent memory? Of course. Was it full of fun, adventure,
and laughs? Of course. Was it the best summer ever? Of course.
This summer, the Coniston Community stepped up more than ever before. Check-in days included testing, social distancing, and staggered check-in times. Thank you parents. Our first check-in day was hard…long and hot. The struggles of the day helped us to grow and learn —enabling us to make improvements for the following check-ins. This was only the beginning of what ended up being our most magical summer yet. The summer we all needed.
A highlight from this summer were the stunning drama shows. In particular, our session 3 drama show, Coco—a story inspired by The Day of the Dead. We had a large number of staff from Mexico this summer who chose the show as a way to share their culture with the rest of Camp. The drama staff also made sure to incorporate authentic Mexican culture into the show, including traditional sugar skull makeup and costumes.
…staff cried, touched by the show. Some were homesick and the show made them feel closer to everybody. For Mexican staff, sharing this tradition was significant and they were proud to be able to share their culture with the Coniston Community. Alma, Drama Director.
Coniston campers weren’t just having fun at Camp, they were also having fun outside of Camp! This summer there were seven adventure trips, where campers went climbing, hiking, whitewater rafting, ziplining, and biking all over New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts in stunning surroundings! Some of our older campers also helped the local community on our service trips where they helped with meal preparation, gardening, and trail maintenance. Our CIT Program looked slightly different this year, as both trips stayed on the East Coast, thus creating a new program: North Coast CITs. Both our N-CITs and E-CITs had life changing experiences hiking either Katahdin or Mount Washington.
Our forty LITs who missed their CIT summer in 2020 were pleasantly surprised with the opportunity to bond as a group on an abbreviated CIT experience up Mount Washington during staff training. Additionally, once they summited, each LIT received an inspirational letter from fellow staff members—a tradition for all CITs.
…COVID took a little bit from all of us this past year in so many obvious and some subliminal ways, but if this day showed us anything, the strength and perseverance of the community of Coniston is not going anywhere. Fran, Girls Camp Director.
There may have been a few changes this summer to Coniston because of the pandemic, but Camp was Camp. The traditions were still alive. We still danced at meal times. We still had beautiful Vespers stories shared everyday. We still slept under the stars. We still stepped out of our comfort zones and tried new things. We still saw campers build friendships that will last a lifetime. We still had Camp. And it was truly special. It was what we all needed.
Two service trips with twenty-three young teens and their staff members worked with a group of organizations that give back to the local community instead of our traditional trips in Virginia volunteering with Habitat for Humanity and Feeding America.
They supported Upper Valley Haven—an organization that offers food, shelter, housing, and child support—with meal preparation, as well as with general tidying. Additionally, our service trip team spent a day harvesting green beans with Willing Hands, and organizing for the Listen Thrift Stores Halloween sale. They also volunteered with Upper Valley Land Trust, Upper Valley Trails Alliance, and Cardigan Highlander Trail Crew, helping with trail maintenance and gardening.
Not having to travel this summer allowed our service trip members to have a few extra days of fun exploring various attractions throughout New Hampshire.
The service trips were amazing—staying local was special and the people these non-profits served were so appreciative. We were able to tackle projects that would have taken some of these organizations months to finish. While we don’t know how staying local will impact Coniston in the future, we are proud to be able to support our local community in so many ways.
For the past three summers Coniston has offered two paid fellowship positions to engage staff’s academic knowledge and leadership ability for the betterment of the Camp Community. These programs allow us to give current undergraduates internships recognized by their colleges. Megan Davis was the recipient of the Ernest Baynes Academic Fellowship and Katie Bosco was selected to serve as the George Dorr, Jr. Leadership Fellow.
Both fellowships focused on the mental, emotional, and social health of our campers and staff with a mission to promote healthy habits, education, and to provide support. The Coniston Community has faced the challenges of the last 18 months head on and as we emerge the work the fellows’ provided this summer was extremely important.
In addition to supporting individuals, Megan and Katie also shared mental health tips during Vespers, provided campers with activity booklets as a calming exercise to deal with stress, organized evening programs for staff to promote well-being, and created handouts for counselors to educate them on how to better mentor a struggling camper. The reading nook located inside the lodge was re-purposed into a mindfulness corner with posters promoting well-being.
Summers to come will be critical as we work together to counteract the persistent emotional consequences of the pandemic and other adverse childhood experiences, in addition to social-emotional and academic learning losses.
As I sit here from my home-office in Boston in my fall sweater, I find it hard to believe that it has been just over a month since many of us said goodbye to the summer as the allegedly catastrophic hurricane Ida rolled in just in time for Session 5. As I can imagine was the case for many of us on staff who are embarking on new stages in our lives, this past month has been a non-stop transition for me, without a moment to take a step back and reflect on the summer. Now that I can finally take a breath, I feel ready to celebrate the storm that was the summer of 2021, and highlight some of our team’s incredible work. Looking back on the summer, I can confidently say that I have an overwhelming sense of pride in the quality, perseverance, and character of every member of staff for years to come.
When we first arrived at camp in June, however, it was a bit of a different story.
We all wondered how the unprecedented nature of the past year would look at Coniston, a timeless constant for all of us, but a place which hadn’t made any drastic changes (or taken a year off) in any of our lifetimes. As the senior staff began to prepare for the summer, we found ourselves presented with a seemingly endless (and somewhat unanswerable) flood of questions. What extra support would our campers need after a year of isolation? How would homesickness be amplified this summer? Will our staff members who missed their CIT/LIT summers feel prepared to lead a cabin? How will we use the hundreds of benches the maintenance staff built? Is gaga COVID-friendly? (I wish I was kidding) What about Coniston Singers? What will the ice cream social (ICS) look like? What generational knowledge will be lost on staff with two new co-counselors? What would masking look like? What if someone got sick? Two breakfasts? Outdoor dining? The list went on and on.
I wanted to be Girls Camp Director knowing that this summer would present some additional challenges, and because it would be many of my former campers’ first year on staff, but when we sat down for our first morning meeting in the corner office with this fat list of unknowns, I gotta admit I was nervous.
This summer was tough for many of us. While the pictures on Instagram and Facebook showed so many of the genuinely great little moments, (thank you Margaret & Lorraine) they did not always capture the true challenge for staff that was running Coniston amidst a pandemic after a summer away. Outdoor dining wasn’t always fun. We missed some of our international friends who couldn’t make it overseas. The majority of staff were first year staff members. More campers than I had ever seen before were in need of mental health support and older campers were homesick. Check-in day Session 1 was… long.
If Coniston has taught me anything over the past 11 years, it is that if you present a team of strong-willed, passionate, hard-working young adults with any challenge, they will rise to the occasion. And they sure did. Staff gave us constant feedback about what their campers were struggling with, and we made adjustments each day to try and meet their needs. Every challenge faced this summer was met with resilience, competency, and boldness of staff and campers alike to find creative solutions. A third period land sports class readily helped staff move dozens of benches to the clearing behind the dining hall for what might have been the most epic talent show of all of my years on staff. Our new international staff members from Mexico, Columbia, and Switzerland brought an incredible and needed vibrant energy to camp. Meg Davis and Katie Bosco used their fellowship which focused on mental health to become a fundamental support and line in the chain-of-command for staff and campers to talk to and work with. For campers who needed additional help and worked with therapists at home, we connected them with their therapists over the phone who reminded them of their existing coping strategies and how to apply them to camp, to ensure that they could make it through their two weeks.
Outside of the challenges, this summer was one of progress and one I am so proud to have been a part of. It is hard to explain, but the culture at camp this summer felt different, not because of the pandemic changes, but perhaps because of the new generation of staff setting the tone and leading the way for all of us. Staff was vibrant and excited, representative of the years and years of enthusiastic counselors who came before us, but there was also an added level of social consciousness indicative of 2021. For the first time, staff and campers actively and enthusiastically introduced themselves using their pronouns, which made it known that all Conistonians were welcomed. Without question, we called campers by the names they identified with, and opened ourselves up to learning and growing as a culture.
I sent a feedback form to staff a few days ago to ensure I was representing the recap of the summer properly, and I was overwhelmed by the depth of their responses. I am excited to share a few of them here.
When asked “What are some positive changes camp made this summer?” one staff member shared, “I cannot discern the cause of the change, but the staff atmosphere was more kind and welcoming, especially among Boy’s Staff.”
Another staff member shared this intangible feeling of inclusion, stating, “We created a space for everyone to express themselves in any way they chose and added pronouns when introducing ourselves!”
While missing a summer of camp impacted the confidence of our staff initially, having fresh staff members in the majority allowed for a somewhat of a reset and rethinking of our culture. A Co-Ed Vespers that I had started during my own fellowship in 2019 became a cemented tradition, boy’s staff made special shirts for their ICS song, and we had open conversations about identity and respect. Coniston continued to be the place we all know and love, while adapting to the latest understandings of how to be welcoming and inclusive. We even added equity and inclusion into our core values!
Another question I asked staff to reflect on was, “What were some of the most rewarding moments of your summer?” One staff member wrote about a wonderful moment with her camper that I thought was worth sharing:
Watching my campers go from being homesick and insecure to sad about wanting to leave camp on the last day was so rewarding—this one camper, in particular, brought tears to my eyes the most. I had a camper who very much wanted to leave on the first day of the session. After talking with her one-on-one and giving her coping strategies to deal with her homesickness (one of which was journaling!), she soon started a camp journal of everything that she loved about Camp. She wrote down every detail of each day and was never seen without her notebook. One day, when we were walking back from Vespers, she grabbed my hand and hugged me from behind, whispering, “I love camp. I never want to leave.” It brought tears to my eyes to see how far she had come.
This is just one anecdote of the hundreds of stories each camper and staff member holds in their hearts, and the perseverance and strength of each camper and staff member this summer will carry with them to prepare them for future challenges and hardships, just like it always has. On the last few days of camp, when everyone always tries to see who will be back next summer, I was pleasantly surprised that every single person I spoke with answered with an unequivocal, resounding yes. While of course we always have a high staff return rate, there was something about overcoming the challenges of this summer that brought staff closer together than I ever had seen before, and created something truly special.
Summer 2021 will go down in the books. For all of us who were on staff this summer, we know that this quick recap does not capture the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs of those few months; but it was my best attempt. For families who sent your children to camp this summer for the first time, thank you for taking the leap of faith and trusting us with your most treasured loved-ones. Looking back on this summer reminds me that Coniston is not just a camp, it is the most indescribable feeling of joy, love and support that we all need a little more of in our lives. Coniston Community, let’s take that with us this year and give out a little extra love and camp spirit, because we are so lucky to be a part of something so beautiful.