Finding an Overnight Camp…

You may have read the blog “The Opposite of Spoiled” by Ron Leiber that appeared in the NYTimes in 2014, entitled “Finding an Overnight Camp that’s Truly Worth It.” If not, it’s worth the read!

Leiber raises five “essential” questions that parents should ask when choosing a summer camp that is truly worth it. Here are the questions from the article and our answers. We think that they truly set us apart, above and beyond others. Read on!

1) “Where are other children going?” 
As Leiber says, this is a trick question. There is a natural instinct to send your child to the same camp as his or her friends in the neighborhood. The answer should be that a worthwhile overnight  camp has a diversity of geographic areas represented. Overnight camp friends should not be the same as friends at home. That’s the biggest difference from day camp. Every child has friends from home and school, but let camp introduce them to a whole new group of friends, some that span great distances, with different interests, styles and stories. Let your child reinvent him or herself!  An investment in camp should broaden a child’s circle of friends.

Here’s our demographic split: our campers are equally represented in NY, NJ, and PA. Close behind is MD and FL. There is not one city or town (not even one state!) where we draw from, and we love that about our camp families! Camp friends are sacred!

2) “What are the retention figures?”  
This is one of our favorites. Once a child starts at camp there is a 90% return the next year. This continues until “graduating” as 11th graders. Our retention rates are truly amazing. The author asks if we do follow up on those few who don’t return, and of course we do. Every camper is an integral part of our camp family. Honestly, the few children who depart before their final year do so for reasons unrelated to camp, a family trip is planned, a team requires practice at home, etc.

The blog also asks the retention rate of counselors and the percentage of counselors who are former campers. Here’s an answer that you might not expect: first as to counselor retention, our standards are high. Counselors are not automatically asked to return, in fact we are very selective about who meets our standards. Also, the truth is that not every former camper makes a great counselor. The transition is not easy. Not every young adult can make the change from being the one who is looked after to the person who does the looking after. New counselors bring new ideas, new energy and a gung-ho spirit, that not every former camper possesses.  Our experience and firm belief is that the best counselor team is a mix, new and old. We want the most enthusiastic, positive  role models for campers, whomever they are!

3) “What can they do here that they can’t do at home?”  
Here’s the beginning of a truly endless list that starts with wake-up and goes till lights-out. Rock-climbing, mountain biking, creek stomping, sailing, canoeing the rapids of the Delaware River. Travel to to play another camp in individual and team sports without having to try out for the team. Play Capture the Assagi, be on a dance team, use a potter’s wheel, join a rock band, hike the Appalachian Trail, go on an overnight, sing in the camp play, cook wood-burning pizza, participate in a bunk skit,  link arms with a whole camp, sing songs around a campfire!

And by the way, we try not to do things that you do at home. We avoid amusement parks, bowling, movie theaters. It’s on purpose! You can do that at home with your parents!

4) “What makes your camp unique?”
To us, that really is the most important question. Our camp organization is 89 years old and has been in one family for 5 generations. There are thousands of camps in the USA, hundreds that are old but very few,  if any,  can say that. Our longevity and track record is truly unmatched. Our facilities are modern but campy. The range of activity choices, amazing. Our camp is staff second to none, filled with coaches and teachers and camp folk. The ratios of staff to campers, almost 2:1. We have a rare range of campers from all over. But it’s our 5 generations and 89-year story of success that is truly extraordinary.

5) “Can you tell me about the ties that bind.”
Here the author was really asking about the soul of a camp.  He mentions his daughter, at lineup, watching two staff members honored who fell in love and became engaged at camp. He’s speaking to a sense of self, a sense of identity that links a person to his or her camp community for all of time. All you have to do is look around camp to see ties that bind: from names on courts and fields to names of current and former camp folk on plaques in the dining hall. The ties that bind are Polar Bears Club, songs, cheers, traditions of rope burn, camp fires, Old Timer’s Club, and culminating camp moments. We say it at campfires, and it’s true. Camp isn’t just a place on a map, it remains a place in each camper’s heart. It’s these lasting shared memories that link each generation to the next, and we’re lucky enough to have many camp folk span generations.

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