Camp Winning Spirit — Good News

For 25 years Coniston has offered a care-free fun weekend at Camp for children and their families who have experienced the struggles of living with pediatric cancer. It was Aiden’s first time this summer and we were so happy to have met him and his mom, Sam.
Camp was AMAZING!!! I watched this kid just dive right in and just be a kid doing camp activities with so many new friends. I had a hard time keeping track of him because he was so comfortable being with kids his age he forgot to check in 😂.
 
Let me tell you, watching your little boy paddle away to kayak with his friends is a weird feeling. On one hand I was so happy he was trying something he had never done but on the other hand I was so nervous because, well hello, he’s floating in a lake with 1.5 legs!!! No fear I swear. He let me join him the next day though.
 
He stayed up late, played games, did gymnastics, and even figured out with the other kids how to play Gaga ball together. To see other kids hop around on one leg to even the playing field seriously made me want to cry. The compassion hit me so hard.
 
Aiden is already looking forward to next year at Camp winning spirit! The counselors, parents, and kids were just so welcoming to us and we can’t wait to see them again.
 
—Mom

Cheers to a Great 2021 Summer

We love appreciate hearing from our community so much. Thank you for all your kind emails, phone calls, and social media posts. This summer was a success because of all of us—together we can accomplish anything! We hope you enjoy a few of the accolades we received below.

I wanted to thank the Coniston staff for putting in the enormous amount of work I know it took to make this summer work around all the changing dynamics of this pandemic.  Our daughter got to do the service trip she has been looking forward to for over 2 years in addition to an incredible Sessions 3/4, and our son was back for Session 4.  While our 16 year-old daughter shed some tears today, she would not trade the bittersweet transition back into “civilian life” for all the world.  As cliche as it sounds, Coniston truly is a home away from home for them both, something they carry within their souls throughout the school year until summer rolls back around. I don’t know what you put in the lake water there but it is truly magical!!!

Also a shout out to the Service Trip counselors who created an unforgettable experience amid challenging weather conditions for our daughter who had not camped apart from her overnights at Coniston and LOOOOOVED it despite all the rain. Those kids bonded in their 11 nights beyond her expectations.

Thank you again for making this happen and have wonderful year!

—Camper Parent

Thank you to all the staff of Camp Coniston for providing our children a summer of laughter and wonderful memories and building friendships. Thank you for the great care you have shown to all our children.

—Camper Parent

I started Coniston at 17 and ever since that beautiful place has been so special to us, to our children, and now our grand girls! Thank you for taking great care of my three granddaughters this summer.

—Camper Grandparent & Alumna

Thank you to all who pulled off another Amazing summer for our kiddos big and small, and still navigating this never ending pandemic.
 
—Camper Parent

Thank you Camp Coniston for being a light of fun and hope for our kiddos during a difficult time. We know it was extra hard this year and we appreciate everything you were able to do!

— Camper Parent

The Impact of Being a Coniston Tutor

We hope you enjoy the testimonials below from first time Coniston Tutor’s—the impact was felt by the entire Coniston Community. If you are interested in become a tutor or receiving services you can find more details at the link above.

My time as a Coniston Tutor for the New American community in Concord, NH was incredibly impactful. When I spent time with my tutee I wasn’t just helping him learn geometry and history— I was forging a real, genuine connection with someone who could not have lived a more different life than I have. We found small things to connect over (a mutual love of TikTok, pepperoni pizza, and knock knock jokes), but also talked about his life plans and career goals. The more time I spent tutoring him, the more acutely aware I became that this program is about a lot more than after-school homework help. Towards the end of the school year, my tutee would show up to our sessions excited to show me his grades on the homework we had worked on together. This translated into him being proud; not just of his grades, but of himself.

I would recommend being a part of this program to anyone and everyone in the Coniston community. It was a way to give back, to help others, and (most importantly) to connect.

— Anna Feins

Weekly tutoring sessions allowed my student to pass his class and avoid summer school, and  allowed me to connect with someone I wouldn’t otherwise have met. I felt great knowing I was helping someone who needed it, and it made a difference to him to knowing that someone who had recently been a stranger cared about him and his success. I would encourage everyone to try their hand at this program, even if they’re a little nervous about it — there’s nothing like that moment when a student understands something which had mystified them before! 

Thanks to YMCA Camp Coniston for putting this together, it’s such an important resource for the community!

—Charlotte Perkins

At camp we see social and emotional growth happening all the time. Coniston tutors has been a great way for me to connect that with academic growth during the school year! I love that camp can now support kids in many dimensions and year-round.

—Kathleen Moore

While setting goals together at the beginning of last school year, my student identified qualifying for the National Honor Society and finding new ways to practice photography as ambitions he aspired to achieve. Throughout the school year, he worked with the Yearbook Committee to take photos and even enrolled in an independent study course in photography. In the spring, we heard the fantastic news that he had qualified for, and been accepted to the National Honor Society. I am so unbelievably proud of what my student accomplished last year and feel very grateful for the opportunity to support him along the way.
 
Through the success and growth of the tutoring program, Coniston has demonstrated how its commitment to helping children and young adults grow extends beyond Lake Coniston and into the surrounding communities. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this program and am eager to see it develop in the years to come. The person I am today has been directly shaped by the lessons I’ve learned and the people I’ve met at Coniston. I’m sure other alums feel similarly. Serving as a tutor is one way I can give back to an organization I believe in and a community that has given me so much.

—Gray Kaegi
It can be hard enough during normal circumstances to provide effective instruction to students. During this past year especially, it has been harder than ever to provide many students with the assistance needed to conquer subjects which their normal curriculum may not teach them properly. I myself did not learn as successfully through my former middle school’s mathematics program, and it took self study to master many of my curriculum’s skills. Different kids learn differently, and it has been a privilege to support students through the Coniston Tutors program in navigating material with individually-focused lesson planning. My student gained confidence with mathematics, history, and time management; and ultimately he didn’t have to go to summer school because of all that we accomplished. Coniston Tutors is a remarkable opportunity to grant educational assistance to the camp community. I am thrilled to have been able to chip in to this amazing effort and give back to students who faced challenges similar to those I faced. 

—Nevan Hughlett

Returning a piece of Coniston History thirty years later

Alumni, Jared Reid shares a wonderful story about YMCA Camp Coniston and how a piece of history got returned to the rightful owner, Alumni, Kitter Spader.

After reading Kitter Spader’s spotlight piece in the Coniston Chronicle I began to think about a piece of history that may have been linked to him. I had heard that Kidder was the director of waterskiing before I arrived at YMCA Camp Coniston and I had heard about the famous waterski shows that were put on by their staff.  When I became the waterski director I was fascinated with the giant round plywood disk that the previous staff would ride on while sitting or standing on a wooden chair. There was also an early Burton Backhill snowboard that had been altered and made into one of the first ever wakeboards by screwing a waterski skeg onto the bottom of the board. 

At the end of 1995 camp season I asked everyone at camp Coniston who the board belonged to and no one really knew. I decided to acquire the board as a piece of snowboarding and Coniston history.  This wooden snowboard was my prized possession. It traveled around the United States with me from Boston to Virginia Beach to Seattle and then back home to Western Massachusetts. It was going to be the focal point of my future mountain house.  

The alumni spotlight got me thinking about how Kitter Spader may have been it’s original owner. When I brought my two children camp for drop off I saw who I thought was Kitter from the picture in the magazine.  I went up, introduced myself, and inquired about a piece of Coniston history that was left at camp over thirty years earlier.  I think he was amazed that the board still existed and that I knew where it was.  I asked him if he wanted it back after all this time.  He said yes.  Two weeks later at camper pick up we met up again.  He told me some of the stories from when he got the board and when they used it at camp.  The abandoned board was back to its original owner and someone I knew would treasure it as much as I had.

Twas the Night Before Camp

Alumni & Camper Parent, Kelly Condon shares her story about the night before Camp!

‘Twas the night before Camp and the big boys were packed, They fell asleep counting their Class A claps, Wondering if they’ll get bottom or top bunk beds, While questions re: boating tests danced in their heads…

And what are skits like at opening campfire? Who do you think will climb the tower higher?  When do we eat? What’s the Camp food like? How far away are the overnight hikes We really nap at siesta? Or just read and write letters?  Will we like ropes, archery or riflery better? How will we remember where to go and when? What if we’re not placed with a friend How will we deal with missing home?! Do we walk to the bathroom – at night – alone?! And why do they call the bathroom the college –

Slow down boys, Mom will drop some knowledge… They’re nervous (I’m jealous;) all hows? And whys? But it will feel like Christmas in July.

LOON’S EYE VIEW: LITs Hike Mt Washington During Staff Training

By Girls and Boys Camp Directors — Fran and Will

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered” —Nelson Mandela

This quote played repeatedly in my head as I returned to Mount Washington and visited Lakes in the Clouds last week. It was my first time back since I hiked the 6,288 foot mountain as a counselor-in-training (CIT) in 2015. I was accompanied by 40 first-year-counselors (LITs, as they are known) who were robbed of their own CIT experience last year because of the pandemic, along with three other seasoned counselors. Michael, Maya and I were all East Coast CIT’s in 2015, and Will, a former West Coaster, was set to be one of the CIT Directors last summer.

The 40 supposed-to-be CITs who returned this year came back to Coniston ready for staff, but we all knew that they lacked the important buffer a CIT summer provided. The last time these seventeen-year-olds were at Coniston, they were campers (most of them our campers, in fact) and now they were leading cabins of their own. While they were fully capable of taking on that challenge, Will and I thought they deserved even an abbreviated CIT experience before the summer began.

As we were talking about how unfair all of these losses were for these kids, we brainstormed ways that we could recreate some of our most magical traditions for the LITs during staff week; we settled on a surprise cog-up-hike-down Mt. Washington on the Friday before our first campers arrived. We told the LITs to be at the camp busses at 6:00 am sharp, and they were under the impression that the remainder of staff would be meeting them at Mt. Kearsarge in their own vehicles. After almost two hours of driving, many of the sleepy LITs began to catch on, wondering if we had gotten lost on our way to Kearsarge. We spent the day simulating a real-CIT experience, keeping them on their toes without letting them know what was around the corner. When we arrived at the Mt. Washington Cog railway station, we distributed the trail mix we had made, and handed them their tickets for the 45 minute train ride up the mountain. Since we had stored all of their cellphones on the bus, the LITs passed around my phone to take a few group selfies while they took in the view. “We should all hike down!” one of them suggested…be careful what you wish for!

The climate at top of Mt. Washington was true to its reputation. It was frigid, windy, and foggy. Luckily, the weather did not stop each would-be 2020 group from getting together with their group and smiling for photos on our communal phone. We divided everyone into the four hiking groups and allowed each bunch to pick out matching Mt. Washington t-shirts. One group at a time, we began the hike down to Lakes in the Clouds—an ancient CIT tradition spot. When we re-grouped at Lakes, the sky had cleared up and the weather was warm. We handed each of the 40 counselors their individual envelopes stuffed full of letters from fellow staff members and let them find a quiet spot with a view to soak it all in. Michael, Will, Maya and I enjoyed a nice moment on a rock at Lakes, reflecting on our own CIT experience and noting the significance of this moment for these kids. As we looked around at the future of Girls and Boys staff reading letters from their former counselors and new co-workers, many of them crying—we knew all the work that we put into fitting this day into an already jam packed staff week was worth it. 

A nice hiker walking through made note of the dispersed 17-year-olds reading their staff letters asking, “Who gave all these kids so much homework?” Although he did not directly comment on the fact that each of them was silently sobbing to themselves, he definitely seemed a bit concerned. One LIT came up to me afterwards, trying to act casual, and asked how his older brother (who was previously on staff) knew to write him a letter—clearly touched by his brother’s well-wishes. Many LITs commented on how meaningful their letters were, and the mood post-letter became much more sentimental. Our hike down the steep Ammonoosuc trail was filled with questions about being on staff and general getting-to-know each other conversations, as we shared our hopes and wishes for the upcoming summer. The line-leaders of each hiking group shifted, as each counselor took their turns making us all count off as well as practicing camp cheers and songs they would use on their own campers this summer. The four hour hike down seemed to fly by, and before we knew it, we were all together again at the base of the mountain.

After some group hugs and pictures, we gave the LITs the opportunity to “ask us anything” about the realities of being on staff, our own CIT experiences, and their own personal questions. After inhaling a bit of pizza, (14 pies, to be exact) we were ready to make the trek back to camp. Ignoring any requests for them to check their cellphones, or their unconfirmed questions about whether or not they were going to run in the lake when they returned, we blasted music and sang all the way back to Main Camp Road. It was only when all three buses arrived on the A-field that we let everyone know that they were, in fact, running in the lake just like the CIT years before them. To the tune of Eye of the Tiger, we drove to the top of Main Lawn, where current and former staff members, many of whom were siblings of unsuspecting LITs, lined the path to the lake in their own CIT shirts. After a tight group huddle, we sprinted and dove into the lake. It seemed like everything happened in slow motion, just as I remembered it in 2015. As I took a step back to look around at the forty LITs hugging each other tightly as all of staff roared, a few tears came to my eyes, it was truly a magical moment. 

After our tears dried and everyone changed out of their soaking clothes, there was a deep sense of gratitude—and closure. Will shared this sentiment as well, telling me, “Something I heard everyone saying tonight was how much closure they got today…I didn’t realize how it was the closure I needed too.” 

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. No pandemic is too strong to break the bonds that we have spent generations creating here, and I am excited to move into the future with a strong and united Coniston staff. And so the tradition continues…as we move into the summer, I hope that we all remind ourselves of the strong sense of community that day brought to us all. When the summer gets tough for us at camp and in the real world, I hope everyone reading this takes a little magic from the unwavering spirit of camp with them to their own trials and tribulations.

LOON’S EYE VIEW: Welcoming Our Directors to Camp!

By Girls and Boys Camp Directors — Fran and Will

Ropes Director Rian Fried and Sailing Director Izzy Melia enjoying marshmallows at the staff S’mores Social!

Summer is finally here! This Monday, we warmly welcomed all of our program area directors to camp and couldn’t wait to kick the summer off—the best news however, was that every single director who arrived was fully vaccinated!

Although we had been at camp for about two weeks, we didn’t realize how much we needed the smiling faces of our old friends to finally let us take a deep breath and enjoy a sense of normalcy. It felt like Coniston again. There were hugs, laughs, recaps of our years of memories—it was camp.

The deep breaths did not last for long, as there was much work to be done the next morning. We started the first day of training with a meeting in the Pavilion, which gave us the perfect opportunity to christen a few of our brand new benches! Our wonderful maintenance staff, Aaron, James, and Dave, have been spending a large chunk of their time building over a hundred new benches for camp this summer. As Session 1 suddenly seems not so far away, we are happy to say that we now have enough benches to seat every camper and staff member in a safe and socially-distanced manner. We plan on using these benches for events and traditions such as the Talent Show, Vespers, Campfire, or really any large group activity. Middler Division Leaders Annie Gallivan and Cami Auger shared their thoughts on the new seating after their meeting with us, “They are very versatile, we are actually using them in the S’mores Social this evening” Annie shared. “We really feel like they could bring us together even if we have to be six feet apart,” noted Cami.

After our first meeting it was off to the races. We sent the directors to their program areas to take inventory, do some house cleaning, and get in any last minute purchase requests. “I’m really excited about them, actually! We’ve had some issues with durability in recent years but I think these ones are going to make it through the summer, and hopefully longer.” remarked Leadership Director Noah Glenshaw upon the delivery of his newest shipment of dozens of outdoor basketballs. Noah also shared how proud he was of the hard work done today, noting two first-time directors in particular. Ecology director Hayley Horton did such a thorough job taking inventory she actually needed to print out two more inventory forms! Basketball director Ryan Doebele spent his day grinding on the courts, rake in hand, sweeping two-years-worth of leaves into heaping piles.

After a few more meetings with our CIT Directors, Lifeguard aficionado Izzy Caruso, and John Tilley, we are wrapping up our first day and heading to dinner where Chef Mike has prepared some chicken and veggies. Tomorrow we are back at it again, preparing program areas and writing lesson plans. We absolutely cannot wait for the rest of our staff to arrive tonight! Let the games begin.

Special note from the Grantham School District, Superintendent

YMCA Camp Coniston worked with the Grantham School District to explore options for reopening schools. We offered our property to the school district to run open air classrooms. Even though our space wasn’t needed knowing we were there to help mean’t a lot. Read a special note of thanks from the superintendent below.

Dear Camp Coniston,

Kristen and I were both recently discussing Camp Coniston, and having some concerns about the fact that our teachers opted not to take advantage of your incredible offer this fall to use your space. 

I should have written this letter sooner, but I hope you know that your outreach to us and your willingness to help us through this horrible situation meant the world to us. Even though it didn’t work out the way I think we all imagined, your kindness and generosity was truly a bright shining light and a source of hope during a time where we were lost. 

The school board’s decision to open in hybrid and our teachers’ decisions to stay in the building this fall had nothing to do with how incredible and wonderful Coniston is. I think we were all trying to strive for the most normalcy we could find in this situation, and our staff was already facing too many uncertainties. They were focused on navigating their own spaces in a completely different way every day with our new protocols, and I think the prospect of navigating yet another space was just too much. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that our staff and students would have benefited immensely from time at Coniston. You have a special and beautiful place there — one that exudes a feeling of goodness, even just walking around taking a tour.

I hope you understand the perspective of the precarious state we were in with reopening. I also hope you know that — even without an actual program developing there — that the impact of your kindness resonated with many and will always continue to be one of the truly positive things that’s happened during the pandemic. 

Again, I should have written all this to you sooner, and for that I apologize. I’m not sure where you stand with your programming for this coming summer, but my hope is that you’re able to get back to some sense of normalcy. Thank you for the work you do with children and for all the good you do for the community. To use one of my very favorite quotes from Maya Angeou, “Good done anywhere is good done everywhere.” There’s no question that the Consiton good ripples out into the world. 

With thanks, 
Sydney

Dr. Sydney D. Leggett, Superintendent
Grantham School District, SAU 75

Editorial to Special Edition Coniston 2020 Chronicle

It has been such a crazy year and nothing demonstrates it more than these items we forgot to mention in the Special Edition 2020 Chronicle…

In May 2020, John Tilley spoke nationally on Here and Now and statewide with Laura Knoy on New Hampshire Public Radio about how summer camps could operate safely during summer 2020. You can enjoy the audio and articles at these links:

https://www.nhpr.org/post/how-do-summer-programs-operate-during-pandemic-and-whats-lost-if-they-dont

https://www.nhpr.org/post/iconic-nh-tradition-summer-looks-uncertain

What Camp Coniston gave to me…

I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in The Bronx, New York, in the 1960’s. My tiny world of a few blocks was very safe and sheltered. There were parks to visit, but no real wilderness that I was aware of.

Some years later, my mother informed me that I would be attending a summer camp in a place called Grantham, New Hampshire. As far as I was concerned I was headed to a far away land…possibly near Siberia. I went very reluctantly.

Up until that point I had only been to one other camp where I spent two months living in an open lean-two cabin…3 walls and an open door to raccoons, spiders and the occasional snake. I was terrified…but at the same time, I was starting to have an awakening to something special that lay beyond my four concrete blocks in The Bronx.

I remember the drive to Coniston…so many rows of pine trees on some never ending highway. I remember the first time we walked past the general store and down the slope leading to the lake. My first view of the lake that would begin a great adventure within my imagination. Little did I ever imagine that by summer’s end I would be sailing a Sunnie by myself, or learning to save a drowning swimmer when I could barely swim myself. I didn’t know I would be firing rifles and eventually teaching younger campers to do the same, or that I would be camping out in the dark woods and eating s’mores and being told it was lights out and  to put a sock in it! In what, I wondered?

At the end of my first summer, I remember sitting in the back of my parent’s car on the long ride back to New York…and I felt a sadness I had never known. I couldn’t believe it was already over, and that I might not see these incredible friends for a whole year. I just didn’t want it to end.

But I had a secret. A secret I couldn’t tell….

I was not the same person that arrived two months earlier. I was still Chris, but I was also now a member of the Church of The Great Outdoors. I just didn’t want to be inside. I wanted to be outside…to breathe the air, to smell the trees, to feel the river, to climb the hills…

And from that moment on, the insects were my friends, the thunder and lightning were music to my ears…

If not for Coniston, I would have always been a city kid…a little afraid of the dark woods, of the unknown, of the animals and sounds of the forest…

But no more….

And by the time I was 21 years old,  I was going down The Mighty Amazon River in search of the rarest monkey in the world, and soon after that driving in an 8500 mile race across South America…eventually discovering  that photography could take me anywhere I wanted to go…

And the adventures continued…

But I am here to tell all future campers…that you will never know what a summer at Coniston will unlock within you.

I had no idea when I drove down the driveway for the first time, that the key to my destiny might lie at the end of that road.

And here are a few photos from the life that I owe to 2 summers in the years 1976 and 1977….

Thank you Camp Consiton and to the many friends and staff I got to know in my youth.

…and to my dear mother, who raised us on meager means, but always sought out and found the meaningful adventures on our behalf.

— Chris, 70/80’s Alumnus