Brackett Lyons – Aquatics Director – Vespers

I love a hello. A howdy. A sup. A how’s it going. Hellos are easy. If it’s been a long time they’re even better. Hugging someone you haven’t seen in too long. Instantly falling back into old routines and habits. That person can take you back to a time and place. They can fill you with memories long forgotten. I wish that life could be all hellos.

I remember when I was a camper there was nothing like that first day back in the div. All the fellas rolled up and saw who they were in cabin with. Who their councilors were. And by the time the last parent had driven off it was like no time had passed at all. We were back under the pines and life was simple and good once more. It was the best.

But with every hello comes a goodbye. It’s part of the contract. Nothing lasts forever. And at least for me, goodbyes are hard. I struggle to find the words when the ending finally comes. I remember leaving camp for the last time. I walked around unsure of what to say or how to say it. Camp had taught me so much. But it had yet to teach me how to say goodbye for good.

I knew it was the end of the line for many of the friendships I had fostered over the years. There would be no more hellos for so many of us. As I drifted around I jotted a few phone numbers down, hugged a couple of pals and ultimately decided it was easier to just get in the car and go.

Despite the hollow feeling this left me with, I continued this pattern for years. At birthday parties, or group hangouts I would often Irish Goodbye. Without a word I would depart and be gone before anyone knew it.

Those decisions still eat at me. There are people I wish were still in my life. People I wish I had closed the book with. But I left the last page unread. I knew an ending was coming and I pulled back. I chose the easy way out. I knew it was wrong and yet I did it anyway. I chose short term ease and now faced the long term guilt.

When I graduated college I fell into the familiar pattern. I said a couple small farewells but when I packed up my car and drove home there were many people I neglected to properly say goodbye to. People I would likely never see again.

But after I got home, something changed. I was fed up with myself and my actions. I decided things would be different this time. I picked up my phone and called or texted all of the people I had failed to say goodbye to in person. It didn’t erase the guilt entirely. But it got me on the right path.

Since then I have had many goodbyes. Some when I left Boston to come work at camp. Some when my friends left camp after last summer and I stayed behind. Others were the final goodbye to a loved one. All of them were painful. All of them felt a little awkward. But I do not lament a single one. The chapter of my life that each of those people occupied feels complete, finished, and without loose ends.  

The shadows have grown long on this session. Before you know it they will be long on this summer. It is later than you think. But it is not too late. If you are like me and too often you find yourself standing on the edge and walking back, I urge you to take the plunge. Life is filled with regrets. Saying goodbye to your friends will never be one of them.

If there is someone here, or across the lake that has impacted you this summer, they deserve a goodbye. Go up to them, give them a hug and tell them what their friendship meant this year on the lake. Endings are hard, but they are necessary. Read that last page. Close the book. You won’t regret it.

Millie Wallach – Program Director – Vespers

I’m Millie and at 11:56pm on April 9th, I began to cry. For context my birthday is April 10th, and I don’t think I have ever not cried on a birthday. When I was 9 years old it was because I had just moved to Massachuasetts and had no close friends, when I was 13 it was because my hair didn’t straighten just quite right and I didn’t like my outfit. At 16 I rang in the most pathetic birthday alone because I could only see my friends on the porch for 15 minutes due to covid, and as I turned 18 I competed in my last ever dance competition after competing for 14 years. 

Although all of these past memories hold a sore spot in my heart, this year as I turned 20 the tears felt unfamiliar and unsettling. First of all, I was just as close to being 10 as I was to 30, which is unnerving in itself. Second, I felt like the 20s had a sort of weight to it, a pressure to hit most of my major life accomplishments in just 10 short years. Most terrifying of all I was saying goodbye to my childhood.

I have always had a fear of leaving things. I think I hid in the bathroom every check out day as a camper, cried my eyes out graduating elementary school, and middle school, and high school, and pretty often as I ended TV series or comfort movies. To be even more dramatic I always count my lasts, even when it feels ridiculous. For example I distinctly remember thinking to myself at 14 as I walked to my bedroom it would be the last time climbing up the stairs in my house with braces on. It has become such a constant fear that anything and everything will always come to an end and no matter how many lasts I count I always feel like these ends have a way of sneaking up on me.

This fragility of happiness and grasping the last whispers of the moment, as you could put it, has always lingered in my mind and has taken up much of my headspace as I lay in bed at night. As with many things in my life, days feel long, weeks feel short, and it feels as though eventually I will be faced with the fact that whatever I am doing will inevitably end and I will have to move on to the next thing. 

I wish I could say I have developed some sort of strategy for all of this, something that was foolproof enough to stop me from getting intensely emotional at the drop of a hat. But I have come to find out that only with experience, time, and loss have I truly understood what it is like to face the fears of leaving. 

I have watched my birthday pass year after year, seen the end of many milestones, aged out of things that once defined my life, and said goodbye to people pretty indefinitely, I have found that there truly is always something else out there. I won’t lie and say that I don’t still mourn the loss of childhood, the end of my competitive dance career, my ski team friends and my camp friends from summers and summers ago, but I do know that as I continue to move through these goodbyes, I find more things to consume me and fill my identity. 

As I bid adieu some of the activities and memories that have defined my life as I know it I have found that there is peace in there endings. Peace knowing that every moment and memory I made will not leave me, and that the cumulative experience of these memories will still be apart of who I am. Looking forward to the rest of my 20s, I know that my childhood is still within me, I dance on my college dance team, I find the occasional weekend to play in the snow with my ski friends, and somehow year after year I still find myself coming back to this place. 

Someone was telling me once about the way they think about goodbyes. They said, if your going to miss something, it means it meant something to you. As I look back on all the things I miss, I realize I’m incredibly grateful to have such a feeling. Although it feels hard for me to move on from the sorrow of the last 19 years of my life, as I  start to look past it I’m overwhelmed with the happiness that I have something worth looking back on. 

I’m still the girl that hid in the bathroom, cried at graduations, and wipes tears at the crux of a movie, yet I am also the girl who can move past these things. After taking my time to face these fears and truly move on and find the next beautiful thing, I am able to tackle what feels like the 10 most intimidating years of my life step by step, goodbye by goodbye. 

So, as you start (or continue) to count your lasts, really embrace them, but let them go. It may be hard to say goodbye to this place for a year or more, or it could be the easiest thing you have ever done. Whatever your next destination is, don’t be afraid to say goodbye to this place, as it will always be a part of you, and you apart of it. 


Honor Heisler – Girls Camp Director – Vespers

At the end of last summer, I packed up everything I owned into one large hiking bag and then traveled over 30 hours to live and work in Thailand. I spent 6 months teaching English to 50 1st graders and then 2 months living out of a backpack while traveling. For those of you who were here last summer, you may have heard me talk about my decision to go to Thailand in a vespers, and I have probably talked a few people’s ears off this summer about how much I loved it.

For a while after I came back, I pretended that I had completely thought that decision through, and I knew that I was going to switch my career path completely from criminal justice to teaching in the middle of this year. But that simply is not true. I essentially ended up on a plane to Thailand at the end of last summer, as a result of what was supposed to be a joke. Essentially, I responded to Izzy Melia’s, who some of you may remember as a former staff member here at camp’s, private instagram story that she had posted asking if anyone wanted to come with her to Thailand. I said, “actually, yeah” and she spent the next three weeks facetiming me to see if I had actually sent in my application. And me, being afraid to tell her that I was joking, submitted my application and committed to go.

For a few months prior to applying to teach in Thailand, I had been toying with the idea of wanting to switch my focus to education and I wanted to get involved with classroom teaching. But I had literally no idea how to do it. I didn’t go to school for teaching, I had no formal training in teaching, and I wasn’t licensed either. I would have to start from the beginning, and I was apparently going to do it in a whole new country which I knew nothing about and hadn’t learned a single word of the language.

Although I was excited to go on this adventure and I knew I would enjoy learning and experiencing a new culture, I was admittedly freaking out about being good at my job. What if I got there and I was just a bad teacher? What if I hated teaching? What then? Would I really come back to America to try teaching just to fail?

I had a lot of unknowns, and so much I had to learn how to do. I spent hours watching youtube videos about lesson planning, classroom management and how to teach elementary reading and writing. I scrolled through endless pdfs of reading packets, worksheets, phonics lessons, and had playlists of children’s songs to help with language acquisition but I still felt like I wasn’t prepared and I would fail my students.

During my extensive panic research about teaching, I also spent a lot of time trying to learn as much as I could about Thailand itself. This led to a whole lot of doom scrolling on various travel influencers’ feeds for any and all information I could find. Every video I could find about Thailand always included the phrase Mai Pen Rai. All of the Tik Toks I watched about ‘the 5 most important words to learn in Thai’ all had mai pen rai as the number one most important word to learn, ranked higher than the word for hello. They were all right, almost immediately, I noticed how often I would hear that phrase being said by Thai people. Mai Pen Rai essentially translates to ‘its alright’ or ‘everything is fine’. And I came to understand in my first weeks living in the country, that Mai Pen Rai was not just a common phrase used in conversation but essential to understanding the Thai way of life. The first answer to most questions, problems, or apologies was always “Mai Pen Rai”.

When I first started teaching, I was full of questions and anxiety about whether or not I was doing the right thing pretty much all of the time. I asked a lot of questions. When I would worry about missing the bus, someone would say ‘mai pen rai it will come back for you’’. When I was confused about how I should structure my class, my co teacher said, ‘mai pen rai you’ll do whatever you think is best’. When Izzy thought she had contracted dengue fever, the answer was ‘mai pen rai, you’ll be ok’.

To be honest, there were times that I would get a little frustrated when someone would say mai pen rai to me, because sometimes I really wouldn’t feel like everything would be ok and I really wanted to be told what to do. I never felt like I could answer these questions myself.

Slowly, I realized that the people who were telling me it would be ok weren’t just brushing me off to let me struggle on my own. Instead they were using it as a motivational reminder that I was capable of overcoming struggles, insecurities, and confusion. Yes, it’s ok to ask for help and need support from the people around you, but often you have all of the knowledge and skill to answer your own questions. That feeling of imposter syndrome that I had was completely self imposed, and I allowed my own worry to cloud my understanding that I knew what I was doing. I’ve worked with kids for pretty much my entire life, and that knowledge and wisdom didn’t just disappear now that I was in a new environment.

Once I had let go of my internalized fear of failing, I began to actually enjoy my job. It allowed me to focus on getting to know my students, and be creative in my classroom rather than stick to a ridgid plan that I thought school was supposed to be like. When I would feel like I just had no idea what I was doing, or when I missed home I had to remind myself ‘mai pen rai’ . I just have to trust that it will be ok. I’m going to be ok, because even though I might not have all of the answers I can trust my inner ability to overcome hardships simply because I know I’m capable of doing so.

For all of you sitting in this circle, you are all here in this new environment surrounded by old friends and new ones. You may have been excited to come to camp, or maybe a little nervous, or maybe a little bit of both. And that’s totally normal! Feeling nervous, confused, happy, sad, excited, or unsure about something is all ok. You just have to trust that you have an inner strength and power that can help you through whatever is standing in your way. If you are ever feeling unsure while you are here at camp, just remember, Mai Pen Rai. It will be ok, because you have yourself and so many people around you that believe in you. So you just have to believe in yourself.



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.