From the CLC Porch | FINALLY!

Before I share my excitement and joy for the arrival of our campers 2021 camp season at Chestnut Lake Camp yesterday, I want to take us back in time a little bit…

The final day of a camp summer is bittersweet. The hard work of an entire year combined with the joy that is felt when you send the campers and staff back to their families and their real-world lives bring so many feelings. Even though there’s sadness mixed in with all the joy at the close of the season, I’ve always taken for granted that we would be back soon. The close of camp would give way to the first stages of preparation for the following year; processing and evaluating would start right away, and then off we would go to start getting ready once again. Only 10 months stood between the celebration of one great summer and the opening of yet another.

In August 2019, Chestnut Lake’s campers and staff gathered for their final Campfire, and then hours later started to board buses to head back home. Everyone assumed they would be back in less than one year to pick up where they were leaving off. Goodbye hugs and tears were tempered by the subconscious understanding that the camp cycle would recharge us before we lost track of the friendships, lessons, and memories found in Beach Lake, PA. But then a lot of things happened.

Months of planning moved along, but we were about to find ourselves at a crossroads. As our camp family looked ahead to 2020 for another amazing summer at CLC, our founding directors contemplated a big change for their own family. And then we learned of COVID-19. And then camp was closed for 2020. And then…well, the world went a bit haywire. Now let’s fast-forward back to June 27, 2021.

I started my first post From the CLC Porch (a metaphor for the vantage we have as leaders at camp, and the literal front porch that Ann and I have at our house here, where we will host campers most days of the summer for treats and fun) with reflection because it’s impossible to appreciate the power and meaning of yesterday’s arrival day without looking even further back. Last night, as we gathered for our Opening Campfire, seated on the log benches, we invited some of our youngest campers to help us with a traditional ritual at CLC. Passing a shovel from Ciqala camper to Ciqala camper, the boys dug up the metal can that held the ashes from the Closing Campfire of 2019. Never have the ashes been buried underground for 22 months – as we sprinkled them over the top of the fire, you could appreciate that this was a poignant moment symbolizing our own process of rejuvenation.

The time away from camp has certainly had an impact. The trees on our site are a bit taller, and so are many of the campers. Nearly two years of development has returned campers and staff to us looking a bit different, but I think they are also wiser. Many have developed more grit, and the events of the last 15 months have stretched your children’s capacity to adapt. But they’re still kids. We can see some of the familiar signs of adolescence and our counselors are supporting the typical feelings of separation from home, as we know that it takes a little while to get into the groove at camp. But being able to see campers here – to see them walking, running, hanging out, eating, playing – is such a gift. Their spirit and laughter are contagious, and we’re ready to leverage and celebrate it every day this summer.

Ann and I are thankful for all the support, and we are grateful for having so many talented and dedicated staff members here to work closely with your kids. This crew of Chestnut Lake staff are very special, and we are having a great time watching them maintain the greatness of Chestnut while simultaneously growing it.

We’re back. Finally.


Aaron Selkow and his wife, Ann, are the owners/directors of Chestnut Lake Camp in Beach Lake, PA.

Lost & Found

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

These are indeed remarkable times for camps. Most camps – including our beloved Chestnut Lake – have pivoted from the lost summer of 2020 towards 2021 amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic trying to make sense of how we got here, what we’re meant to be doing right now to get ready, and what the fast-approaching summer is going to look like. The variable factors, the disparate protocols being shared by camps, and the constant onslaught of information intersecting with concerns could cause even the most reasonable parents, children, or prospective camp employees to feel confused or conflicted. But maybe it’s not so complicated. The worldwide outbreak of a life-threatening virus is certainly causing an unfathomable impact on too many people and businesses, but there’s something about camp – something that has been part of the very essence of what camp has been for more than 100 years – that is strong and vital enough to sustain through this rough patch and provide lessons and opportunities that can be as valuable, or even more valuable, than ever before.

Angela Duckworth, in Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, speaks to an aspect of summer camp that I can personally relate to as a leader at Chestnut Lake. Let’s call this, “attitude over aptitude.” In her book, Duckworth states, “When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them. When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won.” At camp, we expect challenges. And we know that our ability to overcome them can be informed by our skills and past experiences. But those that have spent considerable time at camp know that the real key to success at maintaining our stride over hurdles is how we approach them. If we accept that some difficult experiences will be unavoidable and commit ourselves to make the best of them and applying a solution focus, we stand a chance of success.

My memories of camp are filled with difficult times. There were occasions as a camper when I cried over losses, ranging from hard-fought basketball games that I took just a bit too seriously, to the unrealized fantastical relationships mostly conjured up in my mind with adolescent crushes. I recall a particularly hard time when I struggled at school and fell subject to my parents’ ultimatum that I would have to miss the first few days of camp. I was embarrassed and terrified that the identity I had finally crafted for myself at camp would be gone forever. I cried a lot on the day I arrived, but what an amazing chance that was for me to grow-up. I had a summer when my parents came to see me unexpectedly at camp to share the news that my mother was experiencing a health crisis. That was not a great day at all. All of these times were difficult for me, but because they happened at camp, each challenge was a valuable opportunity to gain understanding – about myself, about the world around me, about others – and to build some grit and coping skills. Of course, I relish the good times I had at camp that far outnumbered the rough ones, but the moments that felt scary or overwhelming at the time shaped my experience more than anything else. And this informs how I approach my work today as a camp leader.

I look at what has happened over the last year for our campers and I feel almost silly for thinking that any of my camp hardships were significant. Everything I can remember was still, in and of itself, a positive element of my time at camp because it happened at camp. I was in the Pocono Mountains, away from my parents, away from school, in what felt like utopia, being taken care of by the coolest people I ever met and wanted to become, running around playing endless sports or painting set backdrops for Banquet, eating as many hot dogs as I cared to, barely showering, and though I felt hurt or excluded or even downright scared every once in a while, I always felt safe and I always felt cared for. Being at camp – inside a self-contained, controlled environment – made everything okay. The sympathy I have for every child that looked forward to the 2020 camp season only to watch it slip away too fast and too harshly is not only for them missing out on the friendship building, the firewood gathering, the s’mores eating, the waterskiing, and the belly laughing but also for the chance to tackle challenges and fall in a place that has been built for just that. 

On the last night before camp would start when I was a child, I would lie in bed with butterflies in my stomach, unable to fall asleep. I was incapable of controlling the sense of anticipation that overcame me in the remaining hours before I would help load my stuff into our van and drive north on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Those emotions were from when I had to wait ten months for camp to begin again. Not 22 or 23. For Chestnut Lake campers and staff, the dashing of their hopes to board buses to Beach Lake, PA combined with the impact of COVID-19 on their lives has turned butterflies into something much bigger. On the cusp of finding our lost summer, we are too excited to even contain ourselves.

The aptitude that we will apply to this situation will help us make certain the found summer of 2021 will be everything we could hope for and more. We will use our skills in planning, risk management and mitigation, participant care and programming, and the endless tricks we have up our sleeves to create the sense of unending joy and spontaneity that we crave. We will even benefit from the aptitude of many others – including pediatric epidemiologists and infectious disease experts – to chart our course through the maze of complexities of COVID-19. But as Duckworth shares later in Grit, “Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.” We are excited by the efforts we have already been making to achieve success this summer using all of our talents, and we will not let up until we wave goodbye to the last camper as they wipe a tear from their cheek while a broad smile still predominates their face. 

Recovering from hard times – as a camping industry, as a camp, and as people – is a chance for us to grow. Although I can only imagine what losing camp would have been like when I was the 10-year-old version of myself, I do know what it’s like to find camp again now. I feel accomplished already, I feel like I’ve learned so many new things that will help me be better and stronger, and I am consumed by a passion to make this summer awesome for every child and staff member that will be rejoining our community in earnest. The resilience we have built will be an asset, and our approach to the summer with positivity, creativity, and productivity will be just what we need to make us all feel just a little bit better all over again.

See you back in the 18405 this summer, Chestnut Lakers, and don’t forget to pack your love of camp. It’s one thing that you can bring this summer that will never be lost.

Explore and Enjoy CLC’s 2020 Insight Survey Report

The last six months have been full of change at Chestnut Lake Camp. First, our camp’s founding directors made the thoughtful and steadfast decision to cancel in-person programs for 2020. A few months later, we learned that Paul and Debbi Schorey would be stepping aside to be with their family year-round in Missouri. And soon after, Aaron and Ann Selkow were introduced as CLC’s new leaders.

The end of the summer and start to the fall have been filled with introductions, sharing, and lots of great learning as Aaron and Ann — and their amazing team — have hit the ground running. We are already well on our way to a much-anticipated return to our summer home in Beach Lake for a special 2021 season.

Surveys are just one of the tools that we have been using to gather constructive feedback and support our planning for next summer. Along with hundreds of meetings and conversations and the start to Focus Group gatherings, the information accumulated through an online survey completed by nearly 40% of our parents and with insight from the experiences of more than 50% of our campers provides us with terrific resources to use as we move forward.

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The 2020 Insight Survey report — as you will see when you click through at your own pace or download the file to review later — reinforces the love that our community has for Chestnut Lake, the consensus that our camp is “all about the people,” the appreciation for the great care and robust experiences provided in our flexible program, and the excitement for our continued evolution as an institution as we come back strong in 2021. 

Explore and enjoy the report, look forward to more updates and opportunities to support our continued growth this year, and accept our gratitude for the many kids and parents that have taken the time to provide feedback and guidance.

What Can Color War Teach Us?

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

Aside from family and the Philadelphia 76ers, the institution in my life that has been the most constant and influential is summer camp. Camp is where I figured out who I wanted to be as a kid, and camp is where I’ve been afforded the space and inspiration as an adult to try to get closer to that ideal. When I need to laugh, a story from countless summers spent in the woods without television can be counted on. And when I face challenges, there are few occasions that a lesson learned within the bubble of camp won’t provide valuable perspective. In the last week, I’ve needed both the laughs and lessons of camp.

As I write this, my current worldview is cast through two lenses, one made of my usual optimism and hopefulness, and the other that colors everything with unprecedented disharmony and polarization. No matter the side that each American may feel that they’re on with regards to the recent presidential election, there’s something broken. I continue to look up to make sure that the sky hasn’t fallen and plea with others to see silver lining in the clouds. If only I didn’t turn on a device, try to go any place, or speak to anyone, I might not feel encumbered by the uncertainty and anger that seem to be inching closer and closer to me. I’m not a philosopher nor a pundit, not an expert on the democratic process nor nearly the agent of social change and activism that many others may be. I’m just a person that was born too late to truly experience the impact of epic conflicts that America faced long ago, too white and privileged to understand what it’s like to live in fear all day. When gunshots ring out in my neighborhood of West Philadelphia, I don’t immediately think they’re ripping through the chest of someone I know. And though my home life and career have been rocked by COVID-19, I’m in no position to complain. I just want to find solace where I can, to try to make some sense of all of this chaos. So, I turn back to camp – the ever-present surrealistic rock that I’ve leaned on for so many years – to find something, anything, to shake some sensibility from the trees swaying in the high winds of present-day challenges.

At camp, we connect young people to each other. Of course, when families are looking for the right camp for their child, they consider the campus, the programs, the schedules, and many other facets. But at the end of the summer when they reclaim their daughters and sons and assess whether sending them away for weeks to be cared for by strangers was actually a good idea, they just want to hear them say, “I made a friend.” Camps create the environment within which children that start as strangers become lifelong members of an extended family with bonds that are astoundingly strong. They do this with intention, with character, and with a devotion to whatever their unique mission and methods may be. Building harmony is a mantra at camp, and yet one of the most common similarities between many camps no matter where they are and what their tradition may be is the presence of something we call, “Color War.” A Color War by any other name such as Olympics, Maccabiah, or Tribal is still a Color War – an intensive, often multi-day activity that engages the entire community in battles both inane and profound – with intensity, excitement, and the antithetical splitting of camp friends between different sides of the war.

Although the tradition of Color War has come a long way since its creation (purportedly) at Schroon Lake Camp in 1916, including renaming, reframing, demystifying, and deconstructing some of the trappings to make it more effective and acceptable in today’s world, one common and consistent element can teach us a lesson. As camps strive each day to build healthy communities inside of their cabins in the woods, working dutifully to create coalition and establish peace in these temporary homes, Color War often tests that process by making teams. Whether it’s Green and White, different countries, or themed groups, bunkmates are divided. Friends that might usually choose their programs based solely on what the person who they sleep just a few feet away from is doing, or kids that would break-up with someone if it was important to their BFF for any reason, now will spend hours upon days on opposite sides of this camp tradition. The competition can be fierce, even if the activities with the War include carrying an egg on a spoon. There are athletic contests that may be watched by the entire camp, rope burning rituals that make for some of the most important moments – and awesome photographs – of the summer, and the design of plaques and songs that can become part of the camp’s folklore and decorations forever. It’s a big deal at many camps, and no matter what camp professionals say and do to suggest that it is not the end-all and be-all of the summer, the dividing of kids and their staff between two or four teams cannot be understated as a tricky variable.

Camp leaders are not ones to do things without thought, and while they create environments that have inherent risk in order to give campers a chance to build resilience and independence, Color War continues as much because of the challenge of having friends on different sides as it does in spite of it. They establish rules and structure to the program, of course. There are still shared values that govern the play, strong enough to sustain even when conflict arises. There are people in charge – independent and unbiased observers, referees, and surrogate parents – to shepherd the participants through their battles. And there is an explicit agreement that all combatants must adhere to that when the War is over that we will congratulate all for their efforts and then return to camp as we left it. There will be sad faces, tears, and lost voices, and the colored face paint may take a few days to fully disappear. But when Color War is over, the colors fade. The issues that pitted teams against each other are over, we are back to working together for the betterment of the whole community, and the winners and losers of Color War are just part of the nostalgia of camp with some funny or hard moments that we talk about at camp reunions for generations to come. Remember that fight song from 1978 with that line about the Green Team captains being hippies? Davey wrote it, and he’s now retired and living in Davie. Remember that Apache Relay from 1985 when Rachel cheated and edged Alex out at the end? Rachel is a prosecutor in the US Attorney’s office now. The fights on the fields of competition don’t linger, even if the tales of them sustain. Color War creates stories, it builds spirit, and it proves that people who find themselves on two different sides of something can vie for a trophy without setting aside the decorum and humanity that is at their core.

America is not summer camp. And the recent presidential election process was not a Color War (although there was a Blue Team and Red Team). But the application of the Color War credo that we will disagree and compete with each other fairly within the rules to determine a winner, only to shake hands or high-five at the conclusion to return to being on the same team could do us a lot of good. For me, Color War is an ideal where people that might otherwise be friends can grapple with divergences in a healthy way, never forfeiting their convictions or dedication to a cause, but also accepting that their adversary is only wearing a different color t-shirt. Seeing them wearing that color is okay, but holding that color against them is not.

This summer, camps expect to be back to running their extraordinary programs despite the ongoing pandemic. Camp directors may need to be creative and flexible with travel, trips, and testing, but you can be certain that the essence of camp will sustain and there may never have been a more important summer to allow our kids to get back to those far-away places to experience joy and togetherness than right now. There will be Color Wars, whether they go by that name or something different, because we know that giving people the chance to clash and yet still be able to put our arms around each other when it’s over is an antidote for what ails us today.

Join the Chestnut Lake Team!

Chestnut Lake Camp seeks a Summer+ (full-time summer, part-time off-season) Assistant Director to join its Professional Staff. The AD joins CLC at an exciting time, as we return to camp in 2021 after the unprecedented loss of the last summer to COVID-19, as well as the arrival of new owners/directors in Aaron and Ann Selkow. Over its 13-year history, CLC has continued to see a rise in enrollment and camper and staff retention, increased engagement with families, enhanced program development for campers and staff, and is poised to grow exponentially in the coming years. Together with a team of talented individuals already on-board – including longtime Assistant Director, Masey Hammons, and Operations Director, Alex Ward – the AD will help to implement camp’s values.

This is an outstanding opportunity to leverage previous professional experience and launch the next step of one’s career in a role that offers great flexibility and the opportunity for growth. Our AD will employ strategic thinking and develop mutually respectful relationships with campers, parents, summer staff, and colleagues that, together, enable excellence to be achieved. Central to this position’s success is the desire and drive to handle a variety of responsibilities, tackle a wide array of challenges, and participate in all aspects of camp’s planning, operations and implementation, with a specific focus on CLC’s residential life (Campus) areas that include approximately 350 children in 3rd through 12th grades and their staff.

Click here to learn more about the position and become a candidate

Memories from a Summer Lost

By Aaron Selkow, CLC Owner/Director

In her book, A Manufactured Wilderness, Abigail A. Van Slyck refers to summer camps as, “ …a central feature of North American life – for the children who attend them, for the adults who work at them, and even for the former campers of all ages who cherish vivid (if not exclusively pleasant) memories of their camp experiences.” Van Slyck’s examination provides many other insights into how camps became such a valued and dynamic asset to the American experience, but at a time when we watch the summer come to a close after most camps (including Chestnut Lake) were unable to operate for the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 crisis, I underlined this sentence while searching for some inspiration.

My memories of camp – as a child tugging at the leg of my parents to let me stay, as a camper for ten summers, as a young adult staff member for four seasons, and as a camp professional for more than 25 years and counting – are vivid, and as Van Slyck suggests parenthetically, they are not exclusively pleasant. As a young child, I made a friend that is still the person I turn to when I need to laugh. In subsequent summers, I would arrive as an only child to find my brothers waiting for me at camp; ten months apart without so much as a call could do nothing to dim the powerful glow of positive energy, shared exploration, and reinforcement that we offered each other. I found my first crush at camp, stumbled through my first kiss on the bridge after a dance, and learned to make a fire. Of course, I also had other experiences in my youth at camp that counter-balanced those idyllic ones. I upset other campers by excluding them from our inner circle. I told untruths to counselors to get out of trouble, and I flexed my ego in ways that have led to a lifetime search for more self-awareness and humility. And while I may have learned to build a fire – once even starting it with a homemade bow drill – I also threw caterpillars in a few. And once, after an overnight trip with my own campers as their beloved role model and counselor, I was the one that encouraged us all to throw eggs from the van while I stood atop the moving vehicle. When we returned to camp, a phone call from a civilian with great vision and a pencil landed our group in a conversation with the camp’s director. He threatened to send the kids home if they didn’t confess, and he meant it. As my co-counselor and I watched our boys stand up to the pressure being asserted by a man who once served as a translator in a Japanese POW camp, we felt pride to see them protecting us. Later that day, however, we cracked. As we walked to the director’s house – certain we would be sent from our summer home – we felt the weight of our poor decisions and anticipated the course of our lives veering towards a much darker and lonelier place. I have wondered for years what might have been different had we actually been fired that day. He must have somehow known that the second chance afforded us as 18 year-olds would contribute to our rehabilitation into upstanding adults, professionals, spouses, and parents.

That was not a high point in my counselor career, though it taught me a valuable lesson. Better memories were formed and more lessons learned when I bonded with children that continue to reach out to me today to share good news and tough times because we trust and respect each other. In my first summer as a counselor in 1987, I was shifted to live with a group of 14-year-olds at my ripe-old-age of 17 and – for the first time – allowed myself to be truly vulnerable. When I said goodbye to them, I let tears flow freely. For all of the years since then, I’ve become more aware and protective of the need for being real, allow my emotions to show, and provide a counterpoint to the toxic masculinity that can be absorbed by kids when they’re so impressionable. When my role shifted to leadership in the summer, I suddenly understood that camp was not only just for me any longer – I was there to serve others and my job was to be a protective factor that could help the next generation of campers make their own memories in an environment that was safe: safe for them to try new things, to be open to new people, to fail forward, and to be given second chances to discover the best versions of themselves that were somewhere amidst the woods, lakes, cabins, dining halls, and other architecture of these intentionally-constructed, but still simple, environments.

Now fast-forward to the summer of 2020 and a virus has ruined these kinds of experiences for too many of our children.

There are camps that ran this summer despite the restrictions and hurdles of COVID-19, but not enough to serve the needs and desires of all children, young adults, and parents across North America who want the memories due to them this year. Those camps did so at great risks and costs, while others – like Chestnut Lake Camp – made their own decisions to shutter for the season to protect our campers and staff from those very same risks. Each camp needed to assess the massive complexities of this moment and be true to their mission and character, as our leaders did at Chestnut Lake. Never before was the very existence of summer camps threatened in this way; no time before forced the passionate and dynamic leaders of camps to make the choice of camp or no camp for families.

The advent of technology and a digital age that has altered how our children learn and connect to others, the greater risks of liability and security that plague society, the high costs of operating immersive programs, and even the destruction of nature and resources could not keep camps from opening before 2020. Camps and camp leaders adapted, innovated, and worked their way through contemporary challenges to ensure that another generation of children could discover themselves and each other at camp. While the pandemic outbreak we continue to navigate may have stolen the opportunities for countless campers, staff, parents, alumni, and other stakeholders to create new, vivid memories at camp in 2020, the very existence of this extraordinary catastrophe has become an opportunity for a true camp memory to form.

In years from now, our children will remember the summer that was lost to COVID-19. Some children and adults will actually look back at this summer as one where they felt like a Trailblazer if they happen to be at one of the camps that has found a pathway through the logistics, limitations, bureaucracy, and understandable concerns to operate in chaos. There will be memories therein for a relatively small group of children that will be able to look back on being among the first to wear a mask at Color War, to have temperature checks become as common as water breaks, and to submit COVID test results as a means of admission to their Happy Place. But it’s as much a memory for the exponentially greater number of people who have had to adjust to a summer without – what greater story of resiliency have we ever had than the need to cope with a summer of camp denied?

Simon Sinek – in Together is Better – suggests that, “Our struggles are short-term steps we must take on our way to long-term success.” The story of summer camp – whether one written by a researcher like Van Slyck or as part of a personal narrative – has always been replete with memories of joy as well as struggle. Friendships and broken hearts, successes and failures, and dreams realized and shattered all dot the scatter plots of experiences for camp people. The summer of 2020 should be that short-term, kick-in-the-teeth moment that can lead to even more special long-term success. This is our perfect chance to become stronger, smarter, and more creative. We tend to like the tales of comebacks and rebounds from adverse conditions because they inspire us to believe that things can get better, and that problems can be fixed. This should be a Comeback Story for the ages.

Right now, there are many broken aspects of our lives that are impacting the way that young people will someday grow into older people. Van Slyck describes summer camps as, “fertile sites for examining a constellation of concerns that have informed – that continue to inform – conceptions of modern childhood.” Let this season of missed memories inform conceptions for our children – and for all of us that continue to have a childish spirit that was shaped at summer camp – to help them to be more resistant and strong as they count down the days to their next summer at camp. Until then, let us appreciate the camp memories that are present now. And let’s continue our countdown towards the summer of 2021, when we reopen to families and staff never before more ready to celebrate the very existence of our society’s greatest antidote to a widespread viral threat: summer camp.

And They Lived Happily Ever After

By Aaron Selkow, CLC Owner/Director

Memorial Day weekend in 1994 was a very special time for me. It wasn’t extraordinary solely because of the fun I had with Paul, Michele, and Jill staying in a dilapidated motel in Atlantic City, New Jersey for a few days. The butterflies I was consumed by as I prepared to drive from the Jersey Shore to Pinemere Camp at the end of the weekend for my first season as a year-round camp professional were notable, but it was something that happened while I was walking on the beach with Paul that was the most remarkable. Something that changed the course of my life forever.

I met Ann Kleiner. Some of you know her as your best and most trusted friend, or as the consummate professional that has been the backbone of an organization for the last 20 years that you’re connected to. Ann is my inspirational and tireless life partner, mother of our exceptional daughter, and the catalyst keeping our extended family, friends, and lives together. And now she will be working alongside me as we become the owners and directors of Chestnut Lake Camp in Beach Lake, Pennsylvania.

That weekend more than 25 years ago was the first chapter in our life together. Before that, Ann and I had grown up two miles and two years apart without knowing how closely-connected and interwoven our experiences had been: mutual friends of our own and through our families, countless seasons on courts and fields playing sports not far from each other, summers at camps just miles apart, the same venue to celebrate our coming-of-age in the Jewish community with friends — Union Fire House in Narberth — and a simpatico that we would discover almost immediately on our first date in November of 1995. That first date was followed by an inseparable bond and relentless laughter that hasn’t stopped, even when our most difficult moments have surfaced since we were married in 1998. Meeting on the beach that day gifted us love and companionship that I have trouble believing anyone else has, and now we’re taking on a new challenge that will test our resolve and relationship while providing us with a too-good-to-be-true opportunity to ride off into the sunset of our lives.

When we asked the tough questions of each other that people raise amid career shifts, we agreed that it was time to prioritize a bit differently. The freedom to imagine new routes and routines can be welcomed and feared at once, but as we navigated those conversations, we found familiar ground. Joining forces to lead a summer camp was not so different, in that sense, from the decision to get married in a backyard tent with origami birds and only a few months of planning, or stopping and starting infertility treatments and an adoption process in the same few minutes sitting in a car on an August afternoon, or buying a house without talking about selling the one we already couldn’t afford. Run a summer camp together? Okay, sure. We can do that.

But like those examples of spontaneity, there was nothing truly astonishing about exploring camp in this way. The foundation of understanding, trust, and the willingness to push each other were just beneath the surface allowing us to feel spontaneous. In actuality, we had been working towards this — separately and together — since we met in 1994. Nine years of co-work at Pinemere while we started to raise our daughter at camp, learning that only one of us was ready to leave Pinemere in 2008 and being okay with that, sustaining love and sanity through almost three years of New York City commuting and lots of travel, and then running two camps 15 miles apart simultaneously for another nine years set us up for being able to pivot like this. There was also a massive amount of good luck, and very special people, that caused this all to materialize.

Running a camp together that has a history but room for growth, and being in charge but with the security of an exceptional family to guide and support us on our journey, gives us confidence in our decision to lean into the unprecedented weirdness and challenge of the present. COVID-19 drove so many camps to close (including those that Ann and I were helping to lead,) but the same pandemic helped to give way to this career needle for us to thread. There are risks and unknowns, just as there are enticements and opportunities. We are just the right mix of scared and joyful about what lies ahead. And off we go.

We’re beginning the next chapter in our lives, thankful for all that we’ve experienced so far, and looking ahead to the growth that will come. I can still picture being in my Jeep Wrangler in 1994, sitting on the Atlantic City Expressway in bumper-to-bumper traffic with angry commuters who were sad to be leaving the fun of the weekend behind them to return to the Real World. I didn’t know what would happen in the years to follow, but I must have had a sense that my life was suddenly better. The music was turned up, the time passed easily, and my thoughts of Ann consumed my head and heart on that day and every day since. Here’s to lots more moments like that…including those we will have in Beach Lake with our new family at Chestnut Lake Camp.

Bringing Out the Chestnut Lake Camp 2018 Memories

As you count down from 10 to 1 this New Year’s Eve, we hope you take the time to look back at all those great memories you made this past summer. In order to relive those memories, we asked our CLC family to tell us their favorite Chestnut Lake memories. You all delivered! Here’s just some of the moments you’ll never forget from Chestnut Lake 2018.

You’ll always remember the new friends you made!

When we asked about your favorite memories, a lot of you mentioned the new friends you made over the summer. We’re not surprised! What would any of these CLC memories be without friends to experience them with? When you run off the bus and through the tunnel of counselors, you’re running towards friendships that last a lifetime. This New Year’s Eve, try reaching out to a camp friend to tell them how great they made your summer!

You made a lot of memories on the brand new Aqua Park!

The Chestnut Lake waterfront is one of the most fun places in camp. Playing in the sand, learning how to water ski, splashing around with your friends – what could be more fun?! This past summer we broke in our brand new CLC Aqua Park, and it quickly became a camp favorite. Ava told us her favorite memory is “hanging out at the Aqua Park with my best friends. My favorite part was when we were jumping off the highest spot and doing silly jumps into the lake.” We can’t wait till we can make more fun memories down at the lake during CLC 2019!

What’s a Chestnut Lake summer without Tribal?

Of course many of you said some of your best CLC memories involve Tribal! Many of you will never forget the moment you dressed in red and got ready to join your tribe. Ben told us he’ll never forget the moment he join Unami! Others told us how much they loved watching rope burn, winning a track meet race, or cheering on their team during the apache relay. We think Avery put it best when she said she loves everything about camp but “especially Tribal! Just everything Tribal! I love the competition and all the spirit, it’s so much fun.” We agree, Avery!

It’s the little moments that matter.

There’s so many amazing events that happen at camp: Tribal, Messy Monday, Group Nights, and more. We love those big events, but it’s the small moments – those times spent with your camp friends, the conversations with your favorite counselor, or those inside jokes that always make you laugh – that can make a summer great. Maddy told us how much she’ll remember the pet rock her bunk had this past summer, while Hillary remembers how much fun she had pretending to skydive with her friends using the goal nets at soccer. They’re the moments that might not seem huge at the time, but they create memories that last a lifetime.

As we reminisce over those amazing CLC 2018 memories, we’re now looking forward to the new memories we’ll make at CLC 2019! Who knows what memories we’ll make as soon as we step off the bus into another summer at Chestnut Lake Camp.

Goodbye Chestnut Lake Camp 2018! ‘Til 2019!

Dear CLC Family,

The buses just rolled out with all the campers and counselors headed back to the “real” world. As the summer of 2018 just officially ended, it’s amazing to already hear the Blue Team sharing memories from the summer, and I imagine that all the campers and counselors are on the buses doing the same. It’s truly heartwarming to hear how one great story leads to another which leads to another as great memories keep coming back to all of us.

At CLC, we always say, “It’s not the minutes, it’s the moments.” This is never more evident than at Closing Campfire as every bunk shares their Bunk Memories with the rest of camp. With all of the great, camp-wide traditions we have at CLC, one might expect many of the Bunk Memories to be the same from bunk to bunk…but they never are…

G8 Talent Show, Counselor Makeovers, Ross’s Bedtime Stories, Bunk Ball, Compliment Wall,
Junior the Bug Slayer, Shake-Grab-Slide-Fist Bump, Mini Basketball, Family Meetings, Honor
Bunk x2, The Slime Explosion, Chicken Fried, Dinosaur, Yeet, Friendship Plant, Roof Ball,
Rainbow, The Greatest Show, Let’s Get It…

These are just a few of literally hundreds shared at Closing Campfire and thousands of others that don’t make their list because we limit it to ten. If you’re thinking you need a CLC Decoder Ring in order to understand them, you’re not the only one! But that’s part of what makes our summers at Chestnut Lake so special…unique moments shared with friends that we’ll never forget…friends that we would never have had in our lives had we not spent our summer together at CLC.

While Chestnut Lake is a very special place for us all, let’s take the opportunity when we go home to bring a little CLC to the rest of the world. We probably don’t have beads at home and definitely don’t have line-up, but why not find a reason to compliment someone new every day. We won’t have campfires every Friday night and don’t have Community Service patches at home, but why not write someone a note to let them know how they’ve made a difference in your life. And while we’re all excited to see our friends at school and work when we get home, why not go out of our way to introduce ourselves to someone new…after all, who knows better than us how special new friends can become.


‘Til 2019!
Debbi and Paul

Bringing Out the Play at Chestnut Lake!

An interview with CLC Athletic Director, Kevan Reilly!

May is a very exciting month!  Not only are there a mere 52 days until Opening Campfire, but it’s also National Physical Fitness and Sports Month! This is the perfect time to bring out our inner athletes and celebrate the ways we love to play at CLC. What better way to do this than by having a chat with our very own Athletic Director, Kevan Reilly?

Kevan is from Geneva, Illinois and discovered his love of sports at a young age. If a sport or activity was made available to him, he played it! This passion for all things sports motivated him to get a job as a junior high school physical education teacher. In 2011, he joined the CLC family as the Baseball Director, and in 2016 he was made Athletic Director.  Now you can find him on the Chestnut Lake fields and courts, ensuring every camper gets to bring out the athlete in themselves.

Luckily for us, Kevan joined us for a chat about sports at CLC and what “Bring It Out“ means to him.

Hey Kevan! What’s your favorite sports moment from your time at Chestnut Lake ?

The number one moment that stands out to me happened in 2014. We hosted a Wayne County championship game for Varsity 1 girls softball. For any inter-camp game, we walk our team down to the field before the game for warm-up and final preparations. On this particular day, I was not able to walk down with them. I can still remember meeting our opponents at their bus to escort them to the field. The first thing I saw as we approached the field was our girls warming up and practicing. They had completely organized on their own.

I knew in that moment, before I even addressed the team, that they were going to win. I don’t remember many of the details of the actual game once it started, but I’ll always remember how close-knit they were, and how much they cared about and played for each other, and how proud I felt that day. That group of girls epitomized what it means to be part of a team and bring out the best in each other.Softball at Chestnut Lake Camp

That sounds amazing! Any other special sports memories?

Right around the same time as the softball game, we also started a tradition of giving championship winning teams a golf-cart “championship parade,” which I also love, because they get to act like the pros and feel like big stars for a moment.

Over the summer we love to live by our motto, “Bring It Out”. What does “Bring It Out” mean to you?

To me, “Bring It Out” means unlocking someone’s hidden potential. One of the best things about CLC is that we really encourage campers (and even counselors) to try everything. It’s always awesome to see someone discover a new activity that they love to do. At camp, it’s about not being afraid to fail; it’s okay to not succeed at everything, everytime. At CLC, there’s always someone who cares to pick you back up and support you.

Football at Chestnut Lake CampAs Athletic Director, why do you believe sports are an important part of the camp experience? 

Sports at camp are a controlled environment to explore your own limitations, challenge yourself, and overcome obstacles.  

Sports are also great for camp, and kids in general, because it’s physical activity with a purpose. It encourages decision-making, communication, movement, and personal expression. In addition to the fitness benefits, kids gain social and cognitive skills through an outlet where they can also show off their unique personalities.

One of the best parts of camp is that campers with a variety of personalities and interests come together to create one camp family.  Now, what would you say to a new camper who may not consider themselves to be an athlete, or may be nervous about playing sports at camp?

If sports aren’t necessarily your thing, camp offers something for everyone, from the arts to science and nature, or even media. With that said, our sports programs are designed to be all-inclusive. Our area directors and specialty counselors run activities that teach basics for beginners as well as offering electives to challenge and develop more advanced campers or those who want more individualized instruction. If you want to play on a team, all you have to do is sign up. There are no cuts, everyone gets an opportunity to play and represent their division against other camps.  At Chestnut Lake, we believe in Attitude over Aptitude, and everyone gets an opportunity to play.

We couldn’t have said it any better ourselves – at CLC, “everyone gets an opportunity to play”! Whether you hope to spend your summer competing in as many out-of-camp tournaments as possible, or you just can’t wait to have fun with your group while splashing around in the lake, summers at CLC are all about bringing out the play in you!