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.

#oneconistonfamily
#inthehillsofoldnewhampshire
#tomorrowisanotherConistonday

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

Coniston Hosts Newport and New London Rec Department Day Campers

Each Thursday, this summer, campers from the New London and Newport Recreation Departments Day Camp joined us at Coniston. Permanent use of Coniston buses this summer eased socially distant transportation requirements. YMCA staff helped keep kids safe on the water and help train visiting-staff in group management. Below is an email from the Newport and New London directors.

When Coniston called to invite our camp to visit this summer there was no hesitation in my response. At the time of the call we weren’t sure how we were going to conduct our camp and I was searching for activities to do with our kids. Ordinarily we would travel across the state to various attractions, but those trips were canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

I was ecstatic to learn that our campers would get the opportunity to experience what Coniston had to offer. I have lived in neighboring Newport for most of my life and have never had the opportunity to visit Camp. I worked in the same school with one of the camp nurses and the horseback director. Both of them rave about their summer jobs and frankly I was a little jealous.

This “hidden gem” in Croydon with the rustic cabins and the pristine lake is breathtaking. Our campers loved every minute of their visit. Of course the swimming, tie dye shirts and field games were nice, but the kayaking and archery were our campers favorites. Many had never done either activity before.

Each time I looked at our campers participating in the various activities, I kept thinking how lucky these kids are to be able to enjoy this facility and the many different outdoor adventures it has in one location. Our days at Coniston pale in comparison to anything we would have done at our camp this summer. One camper even asked if we could go back to Coniston next year. Hopefully (for your sake), this won’t be possible, but if it was, I would put you on our calendar right now. This would easily replace our trips to Weir’s Beach or Chunky’s Movie Theatre.

Our campers live in a town without a lot of opportunity and we were grateful that they were able to get the chance to use the Coniston facility. Additionally, we were beyond grateful to have the Coniston staff available to instruct our campers without any cost to us.

Your generosity has made it possible for our campers to create memories that they will cherish for a lifetime and in a time when our campers didn’t have much to be thankful for, I want to thank you for making our campers believe in the kindness of strangers.

— Becky Merrow, Day Camp Director Newport, NH Recreation Dept.

On behalf of all of the New London Recreation day camp staff and campers I would like to thank you for your part in making this summer as incredible as it was. We are immensely grateful for your generosity in letting us use not only both of your vans, but also your facilities on countless occasions. With this summer being difficult for many families and campers it was amazing to see them have the change to experience camp and just be kids. The vans gave us the ability to take daily trips to Bucklin beach, as well as trips to Mount Kearsarge, Rye Beach, Quechee Gorge, and many other locations. Without your help day camp would not have been as successful, fun, or memorable for both the campers and staff.

Thank you again for your commitment to our community! Coniston is a special place and you have opened your doors for so many! 

— Scott Blewitt, Recreation Director, New London Recreation Department

 

Conistonians Volunteer in Their Local Communities to Keep Camp on the Map

This summer, many campers, alumni, community members, and afterschool families are volunteering in their local community to help the “Keep Coniston on the Map Campaign”. Thanks to a generous donor each hour of volunteering converts to a $5 gift to Camp. A big thanks to all Conistonians for making a difference in their local community! We hope you enjoy some of the stories, quotes, and photos from Camps volunteerism program below.

“The map is just incredible. What a clever way to engage campers and teach them the importance of being a part of positive change in the world.”

— Coniston Parent

Campers, Grace and Molly helped pick up trash around their town and local beach. Making the environment a healthier place for their community to enjoy.

Camper, Terry cleaned up a flower bed in his neighborhood that had a lot of litter and trash so the local gardener could replant flowers. 

Camper, Addison helped moved books for her local public library for a project to expand the Children’s section.

Alumna, Jennifer from the UK, virtually ran a Guide and Ranger program for girls aged 10-17, who previous to COVID-19 would meet in their community weekly. Similar to Coniston the girls are all from different backgrounds and many are going through personal struggles, making regular contact with friends so vital. Through projects, skills, and activities the girls learn to make new friends, build self-confidence and independence, while also learning how to be part of a larger community. Many of the morals, ethics, and life lessons we teach come from things learned at from my summers at Coniston.

Every Wednesday, CIT Claire and her mother have been volunteering at the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Their jobs have varied from sorting canned food/dry goods into categories so they can be distributed; filling plastic bags with bulk oatmeal and sealing the bags with a heat sealer; packing fresh fruits and veggies from large crates into small mesh bags for distribution; and cleaning up when she is done.

“We’ve decided to volunteer at the Arlington Food Assistance Center because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused food instability to skyrocket — people are dealing with unemployment and can’t afford food.

Everyone at AFAC is super careful to wash their hands, and wear masks, gloves, and hats when we work together. They play music while we’re there, and every now and then songs come on that remind me of Camp There’s a nice community feel, and we look forward to our Wednesday afternoons.”

—Claire

Camp Winning Spirit Community Day

First of all, I need to tell you how grateful I am to YMCA Camp Coniston for its continued efforts to make the world brighter, despite the drastic changes COVID-19 has brought to all of our lives. The decision to offer Community Days is a shining example of your commitment to your community as a whole, and I feel tremendously blessed to be a part of it.

It was such a joy to see families enjoying all the beauty that Coniston has to offer; whether on or in the water, or running across the lawn to make s’mores. I will never forget the absolute joy with which two friends from Camp Winning Spirit ran out across the lawn, dancing in the rain.

So please know, I deeply appreciate Coniston’s invitation to pediatric cancer families this summer. On behalf of all of us at the Childhood Cancer Lifeline, thank you.

— Sylvia Pelletier, President of Childhood Cancer Lifeline of NH

The sentiment is shared by many families as well. Below are their messages and photos of appreciation.

For families of pediatric cancer survivors, the pandemic has further complicated our efforts to keep our kiddos safe and healthy. For our family, this meant continuing to remain on lockdown, even as summer has brought chances for others to head out safely into the world again. We are so appreciative of Coniston’s Community Days as one of the only true “days of summer” we’ve been able to enjoy as a family this year. We all left the day feeling energized and relieved that we were able to have some summer fun as a family. Thank you, Coniston!

— The Pepin Family

We cannot say enough about your amazing Camp and staff. Even though this year looked different at Camp my kids looked forward to it for weeks and had a GREAT time. Camp Coniston is for us about lifelong memories and bonding with the special family of Childhood Cancer Lifeline. The counselors do everything to make it fun and you can tell they love the Camp and greeting us every year. A heartfelt “Thank You” from our family for helping our special kids feel like kids and forget if only for a short time the weight of their illnesses.

— The Anderson Family

It was refreshing to have a day of respite at Coniston in the midst of COVID-19. Beth really enjoyed the opportunity to connect with some friends in person. We appreciate all of the efforts that made the day possible. Seeing some familiar counselors was great too. During this time of “social distancing” the day was a bright reminder that we all are in this together.

— The Brooks Family

Thanks so much to everyone for this event. It really means a lot to us. This year was a pretty big deal for Bradley because it was the first time he could go in the lake (so the first time we could all go in the lake). He had his port the last two times so he couldn’t go in because of the risk of infection. This was also his first time at camp since he finished his two years of chemo so he did a lot more running around. He even fell asleep on the car ride home

— The Rainford Family

July 2020 Community Update

It’s been almost two months since we announced the closing of Camp for the summer.

Those two months feel like years. Years of quarantine. Years until the end of school. Years of watching the world grapple with hatred, racism, and ultimately—love.

While our goal is always to work for others, it is difficult not to make these times personal—especially when it is easy to feel like all we have is ourselves.

So we have set about to intentionally bring a little light to what can feel like a very dark time.

A generous donor has enabled Camp to open this summer for Community Days at no charge. These days at Camp are open to essential workers, local families, and the community in which Coniston exists. We hope grandparents can feel safe to see their grandchildren for the first time in months. We hope families can be together and boost their mental well-being at the lake. We hope to share our beautiful facility with local day camps and perhaps help their programs with the 15 summer staff the grant enabled us to re-employ. Find more details here.

As you may have heard, the Coniston Community has banded together to make certain Camp is here in future summers. While there is still work to do on the fundraising front, another donor has stepped forward to encourage the Coniston Community to volunteer near their homes this summer. There, campers, alumni, families, and you can sponsor your favorite program area by volunteering close to home this summer. Your children can help a neighbor, your family can work in a soup kitchen, teens and college students can work to bring justice for others. Those hours will help color in a beautiful hand-drawn map of Camp and keep their program areas “on the map.”

I want to state that I am unequivocally committed to making Coniston an antiracist organization that is welcome and reflective of our larger community. To that end, we have begun to examine our training, culture, and traditions operationally. In addition, we have assembled a board committee to promote diversity, equity, and anti-racism at the organizational level.

On August 7, we will host Carolyn Finney, PhD, author of Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors. This event will be open to community and board members and will be uploaded to the camp website so that all community members can watch and participate.

We are also preparing and grappling with opening Coniston’s five afterschool sites that serve over 200 families throughout the Upper Valley as we all prepare for what school schedules will bring this fall.

In conclusion, I look forward to the constructive changes 2021 will bring to our community. With over 800 applications already in, we can tell our families are as well. Our efforts at creating a small light during this time are reinforced by the fact that the first program to fill for next summer was a Service Trip. The concept that we can make a difference in the lives of others is one that lives in our community.

I look forward to a world where those lives help change the world in which we live.

With much love,

John

Alumnus Helps Shape Community Days

With lockdown stretching on, it became apparent that there was a need to ease the anguish of isolation. Society was stressed. Indeed, we all were stressed. The psychological benefits of being outside and making connections are innumerable. People suffer from a lack of contact with others and from being confined to their homes.

Earlier in the spring, Coniston received correspondence from Howie Kalfus, a Sanders’ Era alumnus and former camper Parent. He visited our 1600-acre property with his family to see his parents in late April. It was the first time these Grandparents had been out of there house in a month and a half. His powerful letter to Camp is on our blog and told us of how his reunion reminded him that no matter where he gathered, because they were together, that place became home.

Coincidentally, at the same time Coniston staff had been separately musing over the concept of running a program where families would drop by camp and participate in activities while maintaining social distance. This would enable multiple generations to see each other safely, perhaps for the first time in the summer.

Our plan was simple. During July and August a community program would be run on-site. Sign up for the program would occur on the new Coniston website. A small staff of fifteen additional staff would be rehired to run activities like swimming and sailing, hiking and field games, and even arts and crafts.

On July 12, we launched Community Days with a group of fifty two nurses and family members. They spent the day at Camp rediscovering a sense of normalcy, joy, and connection. It felt incredibly important for something so straightforward. Through a generous gift from the Brown Foundation Coniston did this free of charge all summer for local families. By the time it all ended, almost 3500 visits were made to Camp without a single report of COVID-19!

Virtual Vespers Keeping the Coniston Community Connected

Keeping people connected during this time is important work Camp can easily do. To that end, we have reached out through social media to our Community and beyond, providing activities in which families and youth may participate, weekly inspirational and spiritual presentations (aka vespers). Through this type of programming Coniston’s engagement has seen an extreme rate of growth and we even have people join us with no previous connection to YMCA Camp Coniston. Read a few testimonials below:

“Evening Vespers was always a time of quiet contemplation and inspiration.  Bob Sanders would frequently offer a message dealing with camp life and how to make the best of it.  His presentation usually had to do with developing relationships.  45 years later Coniston’s virtual Vespers are very nostalgic and often very personal.  But the themes haven’t changed that much, and I still find them refreshing as they remind me of the importance of relationships that the Coniston experience always provided.”

— Dave Barden, Sanders’ Era Alumni

“Aaaahhh, Virtual Vespers!  It’s a time to decompress after a day at work.  It’s a chance to reconnect with camp friends, for whom camp represents a happy place, filled with lingering memories, and sometimes a growing-up place where we discovered who we really are.  It’s a virtual visit, a step back in time to days when we walked along the pine-needle-covered roadway under a green canopy by sparkling lake waters to late-afternoon vespers.  The vesper speakers inspire us with their earnest words of reflection and leave us smiling.  Thank you, Camp Coniston, for continuing the summer magic.” 

— Karen Fitch Parker, Camper and Staff Member, 1967-1977

Just like every evening at Camp, a little after 5:00pm (EST) the Camp bell rings and cabins make their way in silence to Boys & Girls Vespers. To so many Conistonians, this reflective time as we come together and sit by the lake is an extremely important time. At 5:15pm (EST), Vespers begins by a counselor who shares a personal message or life lesson that helped shape them into the person they are today. 

To stay informed and join us each week we recommend you add Virtual Vespers to your calendar by clicking this link.