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

Coniston’s New Program



In my last video update—I mentioned that exciting opportunities were in store for our Coniston Community.

I told you about Community Days. You heard almost 3,500 visits were made to Camp this summer.

Even though we closed our normal operations this summer, we didn’t let what we couldn’t do, stand in the way of what we could do. That is exactly the type of journey I’m asking you to take with us.

I’ve always tried to care for every kid at Camp. This project is just an extension of that philosophy.

Through funding from the State of NH, Coniston is starting a virtual tutoring program. Our first cohort will be New American, middle and high school-aged students from Concord. We need our community to step forward and serve as tutors.

Six years ago, we intentionally began to bring kids from this community, and others, to Camp. We wanted to ensure that Coniston looked like the state we’re in, and the state we want to live in. Now we are interested in beginning a program that may just light a path for all Coniston campers in the future.

Volunteering is open to everyone in our community. You can be anywhere in the world. All it takes to be part of this is access to a computer and to say “I’m in.”

Sessions will be on Zoom. We have a staff member who will help orient you. Her name is Izzy Caruso.

English, Math, Science, Social Studies—we need folks who can be matched with students needing help with a variety of subjects.

So click here. It will lead you to a google form. There you can give us information and Izzy Caruso will contact you.

If you are interested in more details we have a webpage for that. The address is www.coniston.org/tutor

Coniston needs you. Our community needs you. Campers THEY need you. Please.

I’ll be back with even more good news soon!


YMCA Camp Coniston Land Acknowledgement

YMCA Camp Coniston in Croydon is located on the lands within the Lake Sunapee watershed in N'dakinna, the traditional lands and waterways of the Abenaki, Pennacook and other related Wabanaki Peoples past and present, we acknowledge and honor with gratitude the land itself and the people who have stewarded it throughout the generations for thousands of years from the beginning of time.

Paul W. Pouliot, Sag8mo and THPO Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People COWASS North America, Inc. Abenaki Nation of Vermont, Inc.

The following is a little lesson in Ethno-Etymology:

We have been in the process of decolonizing the numerous colonial narratives and town folk tales and histories that seem to always be embellished to create a sense that someone or something unique happened in that local.

What we can tell you is that most of the “place name” tribal identities were created by colonial people and later by ethnologists that were seeking to micro-manage our histories.

As for the Sunapee area, it was probably inhabited by extended family groups from the Merrimack valley areas of the main village of Pennacook.

For your information here is a little narrative that we previously submitted to another interested party in Sunapee.  The Sunapee translation has been revised and anglicized by and for historical commercialism “Goose Lake” such as seen lately – “Soo-Nipi.”

The actual translation in Abenaki for Lake Sunapee is “Seninebi” = rock = “sen” + (in) water = “nebi” == “Seninebik” = = rocky lake place.

Within the word Sunapee or Soo-Nipi – there is no Abenaki reference to the wild goose or a lake in the shape of a goose.  Our case in point is that the Abenaki translation for:  Goose = “W8bigilhakw” / Goose (Canadian) = “W8btegwa” / Goose (wild) = “W8btegua” or “W8btegwak” (locative word form).

We think that there are possibly two explanations for the changes:

  1. Goose was added for some commercial, tourist, or hunting purpose.

  2. The Goose reference was removed from the original lake name – which we actually think was the case because colonial people could not say the word.   It is our belief that the original name was something like “the Stoney Waters of (or where) the Geese (came) or were to be found.”   This would be something like this – Seninebikw8btegwak = “rocky water place where the wild geese were located.”

For example: This was found to be the same case in Rochester’s Gonic” area where the actual name was “Msquamanaguanagonek,” “at the narrow salmon spearing place,” later shortened by early colonial writers to “Squamanagonic,” and finally condensed to “Gonic” (Rochester).

FYI – In the Abenaki language the “i” is the strong “e” sound and “8” = Ô or ô = French nasal long “o” sound.

We know that we have been going off track from your original inquiry, but we think that it is important to first “de-colonize” the history related to any place name inquiry.

CARES Act Tax Credits

In late March 2020, Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill in response to COVID-19, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and with it came many tax benefits for almost any taxpayer who makes charitable contributions in 2020. This blog is written to help educate our community on how it can impact your charitable contributions in the 2020 tax year. Please consult a tax advisor to discuss your specific circumstances.

The window for taking advantage of these benefits closes on December 31, 2020. Be sure to plan accordingly.

Are you planning to itemizing deductions?

Prior to 2020, households who itemize their deductions could only deduct a maximum of 60% of adjusted gross income (AGI) for cash donations. For 2020, the CARES Act has eliminated this cap and households can deduct 100% of their adjusted gross income.

This could theoretically mean zero taxable income. For example, if you have an AGI of $100,000, you would normally be able to deduct up to $60,000 for gifts to charity.  With the temporary changes in the CARES Act, you could now deduct up to your full AGI of $100,000 if you give that much to charity in 2020.

In the event you have made a multi-year pledge, you might want to accelerate payment of the pledge balance in 2020 to take advantage of the deductions available.

Are you planning to take the standard deduction?

The CARES Act allows for up to $300 in charitable contributions per individual and $600 per household to qualify as an above-the-line deduction, meaning you don’t have to itemize deductions in order to claim the deduction.

For example, if your individual and you don’t have $12,400 in qualifying expenses to deduct then you take the standard deduction (standard deduction for an individual is $12,400). The CARES Act increases that amount up to $12,700 if you donate $300 to a non-profit. Thus you would get more money back in your return. Pending your tax bracket it could be anywhere from $50 to $150 back. 

Are you interested in corporate giving? 

In the past corporations were able to deduct charitable donations up to 10% of taxable income. The CARES Act raises the cap to 25%.

The Missing Summer by Alumnus Jack Berthiaume

What are your greatest camp treasures?

Skills and lessons? Yes. Lifelong friends? Absolutely. But when you gather a group of alumni together though, camp stories become equally treasured. The sillier, wackier, and more unbelievable, the better. Camp stories beg to be shared and stretched like silly putty across our collective Coniston memories, gaining magic and bending accuracy with each pass.

There is one story, however, that did just the opposite. It disappeared.

A couple years ago, alumnus and camp legend Paul “The Wall” Marcotte donated some amazing items to the camp archive that he came across online. There were postcards and letters that gave a bit more insight into what camp life was like through the last century. Even among this wealth of new archival material, there was one item that stood out: a letter from former camp director Maynard L. Carpenter, who helmed Camp Soangetaha (which eventually became Coniston) during its early years.

The contents of the letter were as shocking as they were brief. It read: “As you know there was no camp last year on account of the War but I hope that you will be able to be with us this year.” It was dated May 14th, 1919. Camp was cancelled for the summer of 1918.

Fast forward to this spring. I was devastated to hear that traditional camp programming was not going to happen this summer. But after the initial shock set in, I could not stop thinking about the other missing Coniston summer and the war that cancelled it.

To me, the truth behind why we never heard about that summer is because the real story is not about what did not happen. The real story is about what happened afterward. In the summers following 1918, summer camps all over began to change. People returning from serving in the military, many of whom were about the same age as summer staff, introduced elements of their experience as they redesigned camps. Camps went from weekend outing clubs to far more structured, sophisticated organizations.

Consider Camp’s layout for example. Coniston’s layout dates to the early 1920s. We have rows of uniform cabins with a central base area. We have daily flag ceremonies. We start the day with reveille and end it with taps. These traditions were adapted from the shared hardships and military experiences of the counselors who would come back to camp starting in 1919. In contrast, suburbs were popular in the 50s and 60s, and camps from that time are spread out like suburbs.

The traditions that were introduced almost 100 years ago, because of that missing summer, have become a part of the DNA of Coniston. In the same way that you can tell the story of a tree by looking at its rings, our shared experiences in 2020 will join to shape the Coniston community of the future.

It is hard to imagine the camp that would become YMCA Camp Coniston during the missing summer of 1918. At that time camp was just a group of individuals with some supplies, borrowed space in the woods, and the belief that time outdoors, together, was the cure to a lot of what was wrong with the world. Through the darkness of this year, I find inspiration in picturing how much we have grown in the past 100, and how that growth has been able to positively affect the lives of countless individuals. I find hope in imaging the summer of 2118. What will it look like? History would dictate that the answers begin with the Coniston community of 2021.

The fact that for the two times camp has been canceled, they are almost exactly 100 years apart, during a pandemic, going into the 20s is a special coincidence.  It reminds me of a dining hall quote from Ivy Baker Priest: “The world is round, and the place which may seem like the end, may also be only the beginning.”

Jack Berthiaume spent each summer (and a couple winters) at Coniston from 2005-2019. Today, he applies his camp lessons daily as a graduate student at the University of Washington and in his work at a nonprofit on Vashon Island, Washington.

Coniston has a track record of success in the face of society’s biggest challenges. If you found this read interesting, you may also like coniston.org/history. There, you will see how Coniston has used the power of camp to overcome everything from the Great Depression, to international political strife, to the plight of wild songbirds.

Summer 2020 Update



Hello. I wanted to give you an update on Coniston.

It was May 14th when I announced the cancellation of summer—it’s barely been four months. I remember using the phrase “we prioritized the health of our campers over the health of the organization itself.” But in the end, the community came together & prioritized Camp’s health. The support is remarkable.  

So yes, Coniston is the recipient of a lot of love. There’s an old adage “to those whom much is given, much is expected.” That’s why with the help of a generous donor we pivoted. We opened up Camp on a daily basis for families. So many people who had never experienced Coniston were able to come to Camp for the day and safely see grandparents, friends, and just enjoy one of the many beautiful days we had this summer—with a smile. We hosted almost 3500 visits! Part of that was serving local day camps every Thursday! 37% of the participants came from Sullivan County where more than 1 in 10 families live below the poverty line.  
Relaxation feels like a luxury right now. But access to the outdoors is good for mental health. 

People are tense. These are trying times. By coming together we provided a mental respite for people. And that work is opening up other possibilities to work more deeply with populations that need access to world-class youth programs like Coniston.  

Coniston is more complex than most people think. I always say, parents drop their eight-year-olds off thinking they will learn a little archery and make a new friend but have no idea that their child will often fill out their first competitive application, have their first job, identify their college, select their career. To make this happen we hire more than 200 employees over the course of a year. Our normal $4–4.5 million budget will be around half this year. But a combination of generosity & management leaves Camp right where it needs to be—vibrant, creative, & weighing options for the future. 

I will have some exciting announcements about that future in my next video—I can’t believe the opportunities this work is creating for Camp. 

In the meantime, I hope you will view a report of  Coniston’s work this year. As our kids go back to school, I’ve never been more proud of how we spent our summer. You’ve given a gift to families, and in the words of a thank you note I received this summer from the Newport Recreation Department—I want to thank you for making our kids believe in the kindness of strangers.

We’ve made a difference. 
You made a difference.
Thank You.

Alumna Helped Keep Coniston on the Map

Alumna, Rachel created a Facebook fundraiser to Keep Coniston on the Map. Below are her written words about how important Camp was for her and why such an amazing place needs to be saved.

Anyone who has heard me mention YMCA Camp Coniston has probably also heard me say I don’t know where I would be today if I hadn’t ended up there.

With my parents busy raising three kids and working full time, I was left to my own devices a lot and the majority of my guidance and role models was found in teachers and my friends’ parents. I was volatile, often (usually unknowingly) mean, mostly because I had trouble identifying and expressing my emotions. I had no idea at the time, but as someone who has dedicated a huge portion of my adult life to understanding human behavior for my work, it has become abundantly clear to me how much Camp Coniston altered my future.

I came to Coniston less than two months after suddenly losing my older brother. My parents (justifiably) were lost in their own grief. I found myself at the age of 13 having to play the role of caregiver while fumbling my way through my own devastating grief. I had signed up for one session at Coniston months prior. But when the time came to actually go, I had a lot of mixed feelings about going to a place where I only knew two people, especially when I felt so sad and not in control of my emotions. It turned out to be arguably, the best decision of my life.

At Coniston, I was given critical time to heal and to just be a kid. To let myself smile, have fun, process my feelings and just take care of myself. It quieted my anxiety, it helped me find strength in myself, but also the strength that comes from being part of a community. That it’s ok to lean on your community when you need help. In two short weeks, I made lifelong friends, I shot an arrow for the first time, I learned how to swim, I played outside, I learned to hug, I felt safe. The counselors were fun and supportive and cheered you on when you tried new things. It was paradise to me. I fell deeply and madly in love with Coniston that summer; with the people, the breathtaking views, the energy, the shared love of this place.

I returned to those shores for another 9 summers, the very happiest summers of my life. Coniston gave me the tools I needed to grow socially and mentally. I learned to be adaptive to situations, I learned what it means to be a good friend, I learned how to lead, to be still, to look up, to love, to guide, to persevere, to nurture, to be respectful and respected, to challenge myself, to encourage, to support, to care, to explore.

Camp is an exquisitely unique and valuable experience that I wish every child could have. After what I can only imagine was a heartbreaking and incredibly difficult decision, our Camp Director, John Tilley has wisely and compassionately decided to not open camp this summer to protect the staff and campers from COVID-19. My heart breaks for all the campers and staff. Especially for those that need camp. For those kids who are sustained the rest of the year by these 2 and 4-week sessions. Although I haven’t rested my head at Coniston in nine years, it will always be my home and my family. I will eternally be grateful to this family for giving me the building blocks I needed to flourish.

The amazing year-round staff at Coniston are incredible humans. They have dedicated their time and energy to creating a safe and beautiful space for all children ages 8-18. Coniston has a wonderful philosophy that camp should be accessible to everyone. So other than offering camperships to help fund campers who wouldn’t normally be able to afford camp, they have also worked incredibly hard to keep the session costs way below the national average.

Prior to the outbreak, they had already invested a lot of money in making sure this summer was something special for their campers. In their efforts to prepare the camp for an amazing summer, they now find themselves facing a $1.3M loss. If you are able to share anything to help this amazing place survive this loss for future campers, I know my entire Coniston family would be incredibly grateful.


Community Days Allowed New Campers to Experience Camp with Loved Ones

A note from a family who participated in Community Days…

I just wanted to take a moment to say a huge Thank You to the entire Coniston staff for the community days that you have set up. For us, our daughter was supposed to be a first-time camper this year, and clearly this couldn’t happen.

For her, being able to spend a day with us, her grandparents, uncle, and niece was HUGE and allowed her to make memories at camp before she goes away for the first time next summer.

Getting to explore the grounds and activities was so important for her. As with all kids, new experiences can be daunting at times. And this day at camp allowed her to know that next summer truly will be amazing. She knew it. But now she has experienced it.

So a huge thank you to all that made this happen. Everyone in our group was thrilled. My parents loved being able to see where she will be and can now picture it in their minds for when she sends letters next summer. We loved it for knowing what she will be telling us after it all. My brother and his daughter loved it and are considering coming when she is ready.
So, a wonderful day all around.

2000 CITs Raise Money to Keep Camp Alive

CITs of 2000 were bummed to have their 20th reunion cancelled due to COVID-19—they had been looking forward to reconnecting and learning how the program has changed over the past 20 years. Additionally, their hearts went out to the 2020 CITs knowing how crushing news of cancelation must be after riding the high of opening the acceptance letter.

…CIT summer had a major impact in shaping my personal growth and self-confidence…we had to do something to make sure future campers have the opportunity we were so fortunate to have...

Brian Doucet

…challenges bring new opportunities...

Jack Calcutt

The 2000 CIT group are all over the country and in many different walks of life, but rallied together and raised $15,000 for the Keep Coniston on the Map Campaign and “rebuilt” the CIT cabins they lived in for summer Y2K. 

The group was proud to participate—in stronger numbers than any other CIT year—in the Coniston Trivia Fundraiser held on ZOOM and they continue to gather for virtual reunions to catch up on their lives. Many have kids of their own and some were going to head to Coniston for summer 2020. They are looking forward to getting Coniston back in session for campers and reuniting in person the near future. 

…camp taught me the life lessons that have enabled me to lead a happy, fulfilling life. I want to make sure many more campers and staff members have the opportunities I was given to be a part of this amazing community for generations to come...

Gen Izutsu

A Reflection from Alumna Beth Farrey Worthington — Bookends

I received two videos from John Tilley this year that bookended my summer. The first one I received with many of you on May 14th in which he announced the heartbreaking, but necessary closure of camp for the 2020 season.  His tone was somber as the multi-layered realities of the decision loomed, yet he called on us to stand by each other and get through the difficulties ahead as a community. The second video I received came to me in mid-August. John’s voice was filled this time with giddy gratitude for what Coniston had evolved into over the summer: a place of respite for families, alumni, communities, and organizations.

Between those bookends, for me, were many connections to Coniston that would not have happened had it not been for the pandemic.  I’ll frame my reflections with Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics to “Bookends”.

Time it was and what a time it was

In mid-May, I hosted a Zoom Sunday chapel service that was a re-creation of the “Reaching Out to Others” theme from 1982 that I had organized when I was chapel director. Forty people from the Sanders Era joined in, and many of them read the exact same passages that I had asked them to read back in 1982.

In the same time traveling theme, I hosted a Zoom vespers where I shared a story about trying to get some “quiet time” and “alone time” when I was on staff by taking a solo overnight. But in true Coniston fashion, I was interrupted by my friends who felt they needed to check in on me to see if I was okay. I tied that experience to this summer of COVID where I have more alone time than I want, and it is amazing that the same people who were checking in on me in the 1980’s are still in my life checking in on me now.

What a gift that began at Coniston. What a time it was.

It was a time of innocence, a time of confidences

A group of us “old folks” have been connecting via Zoom every couple of weeks and have an impromptu story telling contest of our Coniston memories to which we assign random points. It seems that each memory or story boils down to the same thing: how funny something was, how forgiving an environment Coniston was, and how thoughtful and supportive a leader Bob Sanders was. Bob has been able to join in on some Zoom events this summer and it is always wonderful to see him.

Long ago it must be, I have a photograph

Sharing photos on our Zoom screen means shouting out names of people we recognize while looking at pictures of Dale Ferguson’s retirement parade, days off in Claremont and Sunapee, and tacky day on the tennis courts. Today our phones and the cloud so easily capture and save our photos, but back in the “old days” it took great love and care to save printed photos (you had to wait at least a week to get them back in the mail!) Think of all the moves and life changes over that period of time, and yet we hung onto those treasured photos. It is so much fun to see them now.

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you

This line of the Simon and Garfunkel song can seem kind of depressing. The reference in the song is to an older person who is seemingly left with only memories. But I could write an essay on the syntax of the lyric and the many interpretations available. I always chose to see the lyric as a promise. I’m a sentimental person and knew all along that I was preserving my memories not because they would be all I would have some day, but because they would catalogue my journey. Not as a remainder (all that’s left of you), but as a whole (it is all left for you). My preserved memories provide my life with richness and depth.

By keeping perspective of what we have even during the unusual summer…good friends, good memories, and good technology to connect us, I have focused on the blessings and know that better days are ahead.  Thank you to John Tilley and his caring team for providing opportunities to connect and for filling the days of the 2020 season with meaningful and important work. By becoming, ahem, that bridge over troubled waters.

— Beth Farrey Worthington