Tag Archives: campfire

Campfire Tales | Week 7 (8/11/23)

[Did you see the Second Session/Week 3 video yet? Click here to watch it!]

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

One summer about 30 years ago, a close friend of mine from camp told me about his summer job. We had moved on from the summers we spent together as counselors and before he started medical school, he had taken a gig working with a trucking company. He described the job as lugging trunks and duffel bags all over the East Coast in the summer heat. The company was called, “Camp Trucking.” My friend went on to become a prominent physician and the Associate Dean of Admissions at a terrific Medical School. Camp Trucking went on to have a 34-year run until they went out of business on August 3rd. In the middle of a camp session. Without giving any notice. While keeping lots of money from parents.

If you have not already heard about the sudden closure of Camp Trucking just over one week ago (click here to read the NYT piece or click here to read a funny piece from “Daily Camp News” on the subject), it’s likely to be the story of the summer for the camping industry. And that’s a very good thing, to be honest. Camps are places where challenges are very much part of the experience and mishaps that get told and retold (often these are sensationalized) can be far more serious. In this case, it’s a story about a company that got in over its head after many years as the leader in this niche service to camp families helping to ensure that their bags would get to and from their child’s camp. Chestnut Lake Camp had stopped pushing Camp Trucking last year as the only recommended option after we started to sense that the company’s service to our families had become a bit inconsistent, but we also embraced their leaders to partner on better strategies and enhanced service to our shared clients. This was obviously to little avail, and when the company sent an email to us (five minutes before sending a similar one to camp families all over North America) we were not so much shocked by the announcement that they had gone belly-up as much as the timing of their admission of failure. Like most camps impacted by this, we were less than two weeks from the end of our summer and we had over 300 bags at camp that were meant to be delivered by Camp Trucking home.

This absurd turn of events was a gift to our leaders at Chestnut Lake. We relish the opportunity to find solutions and we thought this would be a good test of our mettle. As we immediately began to craft a strategy, our staff (big Shout Outs to John, Alex, and Sam, along with a seamless partnership as always with Marc and our friends at Trail’s End Camp) came up with great ideas and swiftly secured resources. Before 24 hours had elapsed, we had a good sense of how we would get those bags back to our families.

The most important thing about this process what not the development of a sound process nor the dedication to doing all of this at no cost to our families, it was actually the fact that while we handled this challenge we never stopped focusing on the most important concern: camp. Campers don’t care how bags get delivered, and the staff that care for the kids care even less about the bags. They only care about each other, and they care a lot about having fun. So that’s what we’ve kept doing while a few people rented trucks, bought luggage tags in every color imaginable, made all sorts of lists, and negotiated door-to-door bag delivery for New York City and Florida (where it’s impossible for us to have bags go to a centralized location reliably). This session that is soon winding down will be remembered as a spectacular one, not the one about Camp Trucking. Who really cares anymore about Camp Trucking (besides the parents that will hopefully someday get some money back from them)?

Tomorrow we will say goodbye to the kids that have experienced three or seven weeks of camp, and it will be hard to do so. The hugs and fist bumps will come with many tears, and then it will all be over for 2023. I always look forward to that last morning of emotion, as it gives us all a chance to release and share the love that we have harnessed for the summer one last time before heading home. But I will not be able to have that moment tomorrow, and I will miss watching each and every child get onto a bus or picked up by their parents. I will miss all of that because I will be driving a Penske box truck filled with bags to Philadelphia.

Thank you, Chestnut Lake Camp, for giving me the gift of a truly awesome summer.

 

 

Campfire Tales | Week 6 (8/5/23)

[Did you see the Second Session/Week 2 video yet? Click here to watch it!]

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director & J.R. Havlan, Communications Director

While we’re at camp, we mostly tune out the real world. But a few days ago, Aaron stumbled onto a story in the Wall Street Journal that was of particular interest to us. The title immediately caught his eye: “Obsessed Parents Overanalyze Photos of Their Kids at Camp.”

If you read the article, you may find (like we did) that elements of the content simply do not speak to the wonderful parents that we have at Chestnut Lake Camp. This was confirmed after several conversations with parents, who, thankfully, do not share the elevated levels of anxiety that can sometimes be experienced based on a specific aspect of a single photograph. And all of this made us want to share with you a few insights on our own process for providing these photographs and other media to our valued Chestnut Lake parents.

At some point today, we will surpass 25,000 photos uploaded to Campanion/MyCLC this summer. To end up with that number of photos, our CLC Communications Team took approximately 200,000 pictures around camp. They spent over 2,800 hours being present at activities, capturing beautiful, often action-packed photographs as well as wonderful posed photos from every corner of our Chestnut Lake campus. In addition to this, the Communications Team leadership sorts and edits all of these photos as well as doing the other administrative work necessary to get this media in front of parents every single day. There is also a staff member dedicated to collecting, editing, and posting photos, stories, reels, and highlights to our camp Instagram account, and another whose main focus is to film, edit, and present the meticulously produced “Weekly Highlight Video” that has been a wildly popular feature for our campers, staff, and, of course, our parents at home. Together, they set an extremely high bar for creative ingenuity that is required to produce this quantity and quality of media for the benefit of our families.

This year, countless parents have repeatedly lauded the work of our Communications Team, and we greatly appreciate that recognition. These talented staff members (most of whom also have responsibilities to be in our cabins to work as counselors as well) are doing some of the best work we’ve seen, and though there are countless stories here at Chestnut Lake throughout the summer, we believe their work consistently reflects the amazing adventures and overall joy your children are experiencing here at camp.

One particular issue raised in the article is that parents tend to use these photos as diagnostic tools to measure their children’s enjoyment and moods. As camp parents, we can understand this compulsion. Sometimes, campers are captured on camera looking less than fully present or perhaps even “left out” of certain activities. But we can assure you that any examples of this are fractional moments in time and that the many photos of our campers laughing, playing, and engaging with their friends are by far the more accurate portrayal of their time here at Chestnut Lake.

The purpose of our communications department is to not only reflect the joy your campers are experiencing but also to help relieve parents of the natural anxiety that comes with being apart from their children for so long. They work diligently day after day to be as equitable as possible with the photos, always striving to find balance with the different divisions, age groups, activities, and, of course, boys and girls. That balance is not always exact, but we’re confident in our main goal, which is to post as many of the wonderful, thoughtful, and often beautifully artistic photos taken by our experienced, hard-working team. We at Chestnut Lake Camp want all of our parents to feel connected, and our ultimate goal is to not only help parents experience the joy their children are having.

This is camp. It is meant to be experienced in person. But we hope that the photos and videos you’ve already received, along with those still to come, will help you continue to enjoy the view from home as we close out the Second Session of our 2023 season. We sincerely hope that when your children return home (which is in just one week!) you will enjoy reviewing all of these wonderful images together and sharing the hundreds of stories that go along with them. We recommend buying some marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers to have some homemade s’mores while you relish the memories and spirit of camp.

 

Campfire Tales | Week 5 (7/29/23)

[Did you see the Second Session/Week 1 video yet? Click here to watch it!]

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

The first week of our camp’s Second Session is nearing a close, and at this point of the summer I always start to get anxious with a feeling of “time is running out.” The 3-week session at Chestnut is jam-packed with activity so that campers can experience the special moments that they deserve, and after one week, we’re already running at full speed. Our Varsity campers just left on the multi-day Mid-Atlantic Adventure trip, trips for the rest of camp come in the next couple of days, we’ve had our Tribal Campfire, and the “Tribal Spirit” is palpable, Specialty Camps are currently running (this weekend has featured basketball and dance), and despite occasional rain, the kids have had lots and lots of activities.

As I shared last night with our entire staff at camp, it’s time to cherish the remaining time that we have while we push to engage and guide our campers through the core of their session. Our 3-week kids have a lot still to come, and our 7-week campers are also at a great moment of the summer. They have spent 5 weeks at camp already and we are committed to stoking their deep passion for camp.

One highlight that was a key aspect of our first week of the Second Session was the arrival of our Discovery Camp kids for their 5-day program. These 2nd/3rd/4th-grade boys and girls (65 in total) were here for their very first time and we designed a “taste of camp” program that was meant to give them a real sense of what Chestnut is all about. It’s only the second year that we have offered this experience, and again this summer we enjoyed a great time. The staff members that shifted from their usual cabin assignments into the Dico Camp cabins and programs were amazing, and as we said goodbye to them at the end of the session, there were countless kids saying that we would see them next summer.

One moment that might have felt like a bad omen at the start of the Disco week was the arrival of their bus. Half of the campers in the program come from New York City and a partnership with the 92Y (and their amazing day camp), so we welcomed a charter bus during our Second Session drop off. The driver was told to back up to make his way out of camp, and he instead decided to drive forward. Then he backed up. Then he got stuck on wet grass. Then he hung his bus up on the road, unable to move. And then we towed the bus. The photo (see inset) is a classic.

Time is running, but not running out. Our Second Session is underway and we’re having a lot of fun in Beach Lake. Let’s enjoy all of the moments and not take for granted when everything feels awesome at Chestnut…and if we need to get “towed” out of trouble, we can handle that!

 

 

Campfire Tales | Week 1 (7/1/23)

[Did you see the Week 1 video yet? Click here to watch it!]
By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

When the summer of 2022 ended, Ann and I felt great relief. After two years of hard work during the unique transition into being new camp leaders guiding a young camp through a global pandemic, we were so relieved that the kids had the summer that they deserved. After a season lost in 2020 followed by another that still had us working out some kinks, we just wanted a more normal, fun, and meaningful summer for our community. It happened. Our staff leaders made sure of it. And after we all took some deep breaths and allowed ourselves a moment to appreciate how good it felt to be here at Chestnut Lake, we started working toward 2023.

Our first two years at Chestnut featured plenty of laughter and great programs, but as camp professionals for a few decades, we came here to make our camp the very best. Since the last campers boarded the buses last year, we have been committed to making 2023 a different summer, an even better summer, and maybe even the best one ever for each of our campers.

A great summer doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of planning, time, coordination, talent, leadership, and even luck. Seven days of a camp summer are not enough to determine whether you’re having the best summer ever. But without question, we are experiencing some big moments in just one week. We have wonderful staff, the activities have been awesome, and we’re growing as a community and institution right before our eyes. The energy here is high, and even though campers and staff are still settling in and the typical bumps in the road are there for some, Ann and I are feeling more and more proud to be part of this special place.

Aaron and Ann with Directors of the Day (from left), Chase Bailey, Hope Welson, and Ben Shiffman.

Yesterday provided great examples of what has us so excited. Before breakfast had ended, we were told which campers had been named as Directors of the Day from each of the three campuses (Boys, Girls, and Varsity). This is an honor bestowed on kids weekly by their staff, and since we introduced this in 2021, the opportunity to empower campers to take part in leading Chestnut has yielded great insights. Based on the feedback gathered and provided by our Directors of the Day, changes have been made to the camp menu, we have added water bottle filling stations across the property, there have been various facility improvements both big and small, and other ideas that have become realities meant to enhance Chestnut Lake. The campers chosen this past week were two first-time Chestnut Lakers and a sixth-year teen from our Varsity program. Each was recognized as a peer leader, and as is the case whenever we spotlight community members that are living CLC values like these three great kids, they have already inspired others.

Friday evening brought our first Community Campfire, and it was a powerful sign of our continued growth. The ritual of the “Tribal Campfire” – when our first-time campers and staff learn whether they will forever be a member of the Unami Turtles (green) or the Minsi Wolves (white) – was awesome, and the moment was compounded by celebrating in our new outdoor space: the Great Lawn. As the new campers and staff (wearing red) came through the green and white procession, they arrived to find Chestnut’s new performance stage and amphitheater that will be used for campfires, camp musical shows, and so much more. We retold the story of Tribal as we lit our first giant campfire in the new steel fire ring featuring the Chestnut logo etched into the side. Campers and staff found out their Tribal assignments with deafening cheers from their teammates and the Unami and Minsi mascots dancing across the stage. The lore of Tribal mixed with coming together at the Great Lawn for the first time made for a spectacular activity and a fitting end to the first week.

As Ann and I have shared before, we are dedicated to the children, families, and staff at Chestnut and to the camp, itself. We are honored to help – along with so many other leaders and staff members – with Chestnut’s development into a “forever” camp. For the last ten months, we have worked hard to ensure that the 2023 season in Beach Lake would be our finest of all time. And after one week, we’re proud to be seeing that we are on our way.

 

Campfire Tales | 8/13/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

Fifty days ago, over 500 kids began to arrive in this special place in Beach Lake, PA. About 20 days before that, the first of over 200 staff members began their orientation and training for their roles as leaders and role models for those campers. Approximately 290 days before that, our year-round directors wrapped up the 2021 season and began preparing for a program meant to instill meaningful values, started building an inimitable community and culture to reflect our camp’s past and future, and kicked-off developing the fun that children truly deserve while they spend time with their friends in this awesome place. Here, in this uniquely familial and intentional environment; here, among the trees that surround Chestnut Lake and nestled in the Poconos Mountains; here, with the endless flow of smiles and the sounds of voices filled with spirit and laughter echoing through each and every day of vibrant activity. The evidence of what works about camp is right here, and it’s as clear today as it ever was before.

This summer has been inspiring. With only one day left together (and tonight’s extra-special Campfire), this group of campers and staff will finish packing and will depart from our home here at Chestnut Lake Camp. Of course, there will be joy in returning to our home lives; we’ll have our favorite meals, will reconnect with family and friends, and will share stories and special moments with others to try to describe what went on over these weeks. But the events of this summer – for me and for so many other Chestnut Lakers – will make the transition back into the “Real World” tough. There are some things that we have seen and been a part of while here at camp that simply cannot be duplicated or even understood at home.

At home, we seldom get to witness the sensitivity and thoughtfulness of a young adult caring for someone else’s child in the way that it happens here. Many of our counselors – those that may have grown up here and those that have made Chestnut their new home this summer – have extended and challenged themselves to make sure their campers are safe and able to develop their own identities and independence here. There are the regular embraces, pats on the back, high-fives, fist-bumps, and kids and staff arm-in-arm that show the essence of what happens here every day that may never be possible at home. The relationship between the young adults and children at camp is one of the things that we leverage to teach and affect in a totally immersive environment, and that cannot be imitated in someone’s home or school, or most other settings. Camp is a place where we can make fun of ourselves, where we can compete with compassion, and where we can let ourselves make an incredible mess and then clean up afterward because we care about how we take care of this place and each other.

When I return home, I will miss the opportunity to work with so many amazing leaders. It’s been so gratifying to see our staff accept challenges to further their skills and develop themselves into people that are sure to make a difference in the world. Counselors at camp work hard and are pushed to maintain such high standards that might be unheard of at home. Ask a counselor after the summer is over if they learned anything working at camp and be prepared for a long list of insights that will make them more capable and confident students, employees, and even parents (someday) in the lives that they live away from Chestnut Lake. Those that have led them – the “Blue Team” and “Upper Leadership Team” members that have dedicated themselves to round-the-clock oversight and commitment to camp and the campers’ needs – have done mostly thankless work, and without them, our directors would never be able to successfully steer this ship nor would our camp parents at home be able to hear about all the successes their children will have had while at camp. And of course, there have been all the staff members that care for health and wellness, feed us, keep camp clean and working, and so many others that are part of this community and contributed each day to everything coming together.

At the end of the summer, I’m always reminded of the core principles of camp that go beyond what type of camp this might be: we are an immersive experience that is without a child’s parents for an extended period of time. We create a virtual city for a couple of months that attends to every need of its residents, including every aspect of their experience. We have parents choosing to send their sons and daughters to us to be taken care of by – essentially – strangers, and the only contact that they have directly with their children tends to be through slow-paced and often too-brief letters, the viewing of a handful of photos, and maybe one or two phone calls. And we do all of this for weeks at a time. It’s kind of nutty when you really think about it. But that’s also what makes it awesome and so different from anything else.

Like all of us here, I will leave in the coming weeks to restart my life at home with Ann. Our family will reconnect briefly before saying goodbye again to our daughter as she returns to college. I’ll lose track of the amazing routine created here at Chestnut Lake, and I’ll miss the people here more and more each day. I will go from a world where everyone says, “Hi” to one where people tend to look at the ground or at their ubiquitous screens as they pass you. I won’t putter around in a golf cart from place to place to engage with young people when I leave here. And I won’t get to see children growing up right before my eyes. I’ll have to wait – just like them – for the countdown to camp to slowly reach zero when we come back for the summer of 2023.

It’s been a summer of new experiences and development at Chestnut Lake. After the summer of 2021– a difficult restart after almost two years apart from each other, coinciding with the start of our tenure as directors – we have helped to celebrate what camp is really about. We’ve protected the foundation that was started here before us, and have started to build around and on top of it to be sure that our camp will be strong forever.

I will continue to relish the opportunity to share my passion for camp, whether sitting at the Campfire each week with campers and staff or dreaming of the next time I’m together with them in this extraordinary spot in Beach Lake, PA. I have cherished the moments that we have enjoyed together in 2022, and I hope that every child and adult that has been here does, too.

Thank you for this incredible summer.

Campfire Tales | 8/5/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

This week’s Friday night gathering for the entire Chestnut Lake community brought back the Varsity Campfire. Our 9th and 10th-grade teens, with support from their exceptional staff, planned a special campfire ceremony that featured some of our standard rituals (like “Community Service Awards”) and a wonderful tradition of division lip sync songs presented for the whole camp family. Emceed by young Varsity leaders, the program welcomed each gender/grade group to stand before the audience with the backdrop of a bonfire and show off their choreographed renditions of their chosen songs. We had some Billy Eilish, One Direction, and other popular hits, but the music was not the best part. It was clear with each group that came up that our campers (and their dedicated “Dance Mom” and “Dance Dad” staff!) had put in the time to learn some great moves and were out to win. It brought a great spirit to the Campfire, and though we could only have one first-place finisher (way to go, Sani!), everyone in attendance got into the fun.

But my deeper thoughts this week are more aligned with the sharing and conversations around the Community Service Award portion of the program than anything else. It was a week of watching and listening to campers about their time here and about each other, and what you hear from the people living here each and every day is what matters. The awards are always sweet and heartfelt, and this week was no exception. Campers who have never spoken in public somehow have the presence to share their kind words about another person and how they have made a difference in their camp experience. Staff members recognize kids who they say have taught and inspired them simultaneously while the staff person is trying to do the same. Friends recognize each other’s respect and love and can speak to that in front of hundreds of people. The themes this week included advocacy, patience, support, fellowship, joy, and other things that we try to teach and reinforce. But no matter how hard we might try, it only works when someone actually does it, and it may only impact others in the community as fully as it should when we share it aloud. Being a part of that this week was touching.

I listened this past week to campers modeling teamwork, with one player passing the ball selflessly to another for a shot and then being thanked for that later. I heard a camper tell another quietly before trying something for the very first time that they were really scared, and then after they took a “Leap of Faith” at Outdoor Adventure, they jumped into the other’s arms to tell them how proud they were for doing it. In the Dining Hall, I sat with a group of campers to hear about their day and summer so far, and story after story was about people – how this person did this, how another person said that – without even a mention of a scheduled activity. After the Talent Show this week, I listened to a 13-year-old boy tell a 10-year-old girl (that he didn’t really know) how great they were on stage and how hard they laughed. A group of campers enjoying a visit to the Canteen told me that there were dozens of things to improve or add at Chestnut for next summer, but when I asked them to rate their session after I dutifully jotted down every suggestion (or demand!), there was a unanimous chorus of “10 out of 10!” And a camper told me this week that being at Chestnut Lake this year has made them feel more like a “whole person” because they have finally made a true friend that they know they’re going to keep forever.

Our camp has great facilities and programs, but it is a people place. The people have spoken this week. And I am listening.

 

 

 

 

Campfire Tales | 7/29/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

The Tribal Campfire is fantastic. We gather the campers in our usual spot near the woods on the way to the lake, and we use storytelling and ritual to inspire excitement and camp spirit. The two Tribal War teams (Unami Turtles and Minsi Wolves, dressed in their white and green outfits and belting out cheers and songs) sit in two sections of the site, while our first-time campers are wearing their red Chestnut Lake Tribal t-shirts awaiting the official news of which team they will forever join. Tonight, without the threat of rain, we were able to incorporate all the rituals we cherish at Chestnut for this special night.

To begin, I read the Tribal Story (you can click here and see the same words we shared tonight). The story connects the dots between Chestnut Lake Camp’s history and the sustenance of the Tribal tradition. Following the recitation of this tale, our campers on the Minsi Wolves and Unami Turtles move to line the bridge to the lake, each team standing across from each in the Tribal colors. The first-time campers in red make their way through this gauntlet and arrive at the lake to perform the Tribal Oath (also available to read here).

When the campers return to the Campfire Site, they learn of their team by virtue of the white or green pain that is added to their cheeks by our camp leadership team. They turn to face their friends, and they react to the responses those new teammates have to the paint seen on their faces. Now, they are part of a new community. Forevermore, they will be either Minsi or Unami.

The ceremony tonight is analogous to our first week at camp. Our Full Summer and Second Session campers that have either been here all summer or are back after a previous season here are our leaders. Their job – while they are enjoying themselves and able to just be kids in such a remarkable place – is to help our new campers settle in and discover the joy that we have here in Beach Lake. During the first 5 days, they did so with 50 additional campers here to experience Discovery Camp. And now, as they continue through a sprint through our remaining two weeks of the summer, they have indoctrinated their peers into the Tribal experience. All that remains now is to wait and see when Tribal will be “broken” in a creative way, and then the actual games will begin.

We keep track of the Tribal winners each session and from summer to summer. But there is no doubt that we all win when we can dive into such a meaningful activity and connect each camper to one another and to the rich history – and future – that we have at Chestnut Lake.

Campfire Tales | 7/22/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

The end of a session at camp is hard to describe to the uninitiated. Without spending a summer in a place like this for at least a few weeks, you will struggle to fully understand the mix of emotions, joy, exhaustion, and excitement that comes in these final days. Right up to the last second that a camper is here – as they hop onto the bus or into the arms of their parent here for an in-person pick-up – they are still in the bubble. The space and community that we create envelop the campers while they are here, and for weeks on end, nothing in the outside world can really penetrate the bubble. We are in this unique, intensive, and immersive environment that cannot really be replicated. You’ll have to take our word for it…or you might have to come up with a reason to apply for a job here next summer.

The campers are at the center of our universe. Everything else over the last four weeks kind of revolves around them. Their needs are more important, their schedules are what we work around, their feedback is golden to us, and we focus on them always. But it is our staff that makes it all happen. They give their time and attention, and each day you can see how much influence they have on the experience for all. There are some exceptional adults here to support the children, and at our Campfire on this final night of our First Session, all of this was on display.

Tonight’s Campfire included some usual things and also some special rituals, but even the typical pieces were different. Before even getting to the Campfire Site, we all gathered in the Basketball Stadium to watch this week’s highlight video. It was extra long and extra special, and the campers were entranced watching themselves and their friends at Tribal and other activities over the last days here. Once we moved to enjoy the Campfire, I had the honor of starting us off with a brief speech and then followed up with the leading of a song, “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” by John Denver. This was the song that was sung to me in 1976 on the last night of my first-ever summer at camp, and it was beautiful to hear the camp join in tonight. Sam Roberts, our Director of Staff & Camper Experience, went next by facilitating the Chestnut tradition of burning a list of Bunk Memories that each cabin had made as a symbolic way of commemorating all the great moments we enjoyed. After this, it was time for Community Service Awards, and they did not disappoint. There was great applause for each person honored, whether they were campers, staff, or camp leaders.

Ann was next, and her job was one of the most fun. We like to present “Legacy” (or longevity) gifts to campers and staff that are marking their 3rd, 5th, 8th, 10th, or even 25th summer at Chestnut Lake. We read hundreds of names and took pictures of the campers with their new camp apparel. For those campers that did not yet have the chance to rack up enough summers for a gift, theirs are just another summer or two (or a few) away. With each name read, we climbed the ladder toward the next level. Most amazing were the awards for 10 years. Thanks to Jacob Labkovski, Benjamin Schnure, John Derrick, Laurie Craig, and Mike Smith who reached that number this summer and represent so much of what makes Chestnut Lake the best.

We joined in song for, “Linger,” and then sang the camp’s alma mater with all our hearts (and whatever was left of our voices). And then just as quickly as it felt like the summer started, the Campfire came to an end, and right behind it will be our First Session.

Tomorrow won’t be easy. But it will be so important. Tonight’s Campfire represented so much of what is special here…I only wish it didn’t happen. I would like more time.

Campfire Tales | 7/16/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

I started as a camp director in 1994. It was a camp that had been open for 75 years by that point and had a rich history. Later in my career, I ran a camp that was 60 years old, similarly established, and entrenched in traditions that had withstood the test of time. I’ve worked as a consultant with many camps that were even older. But I also have opened camps, supported newer camps, and now – with such honor – I relish the chance to work with Ann here, at Chestnut, where we are still at the earlier stages of our development into a camp that will be around forever.

What makes a “forever” camp? How do you know that a camp is even beginning to reach that stage when what you’re seeing throughout the summer is something that’s going to be truly sustainable? Lots of ways. Too many to share in a short post that is about our weekly Campfire. But there were two things that happened at (and before) the Campfire this week that represent a special element of Chestnut that has already been built and is anchored in our identity, and another that is evidence of new growth.

Our sister camp, Trail’s End, started Chestnut 15 years ago. In doing so, they allowed Chestnut to borrow from many decades of proven success to give our new camp a head start. Many of the elements of Chestnut that our campers have come to enjoy were derivative of something at Trail’s End. One such program was the “Community Service Award.” It continues to be representative of what Chestnut is all about, and last night was an example of why.

Throughout the week, Head Counselors make “nominations” available for campers and staff members to present a case for someone they know to be selected for a Community Service Award. A special 4″x4″ round patch that has the recognition stitched into it is handed to the recipients after the nomination is read by the person or persons that selected them. Last night, a stream of campers from many Divisions stood before our camp family and shared beautiful perspectives on how others had helped them, befriended them, listened to them, celebrated them, comforted them, and cared for them. The words were honest and powerful; the Head Counselors shared that they had many more nominations than they could choose for the Campfire, so we will have more recognition to tackle throughout the rest of our Session. When campers applaud and yell to support their friends that are being distinguished for doing great things, your camp is on its way towards forever status.

The next measurable example of growth started the night before the Campfire. As you all know, we are approaching the start of our Tribal War (Color War) between the Unami Turtles and Minsi Wolves. In the last few days – with only about one week left in the Session – the campers have started to ask when our Tribal Break will come. It is an eternal question. So, too, are, “Who will the Chiefs be?” and “When will you be announcing the Chiefs?” (Note: “Chiefs” are the male/female staff members that are chosen to lead each team – it is considered a coveted honor). Our camp leaders come up with countless ways to answer without divulging anything. But in the past, there does come an inevitable point at Chestnut Lake when the community (or at least some of its sharp members) realize that the Break of Tribal must be happening tonight. They notice that we might be at an all-camp program, they pick up signals that something off-beat or surprising will be happening, and although there is still a great deal of excitement when we announce the start of our favorite program and read the names of each Chief, once the Break begins, everyone knows what’s next. That is where a “Fake Break” comes in.

We do not like to lie to children. And we are all about kindness at Chestnut. But a bit of trickery and fanfare can go a long way to building suspense and excitement about an already-special event. That is what we did on Thursday night. And then we did it again on Friday (at the Campfire).

As we ended an awesome all-camp Lip Sync Battle, we turned off the lights in the Basketball Stadium and fireworks started to stream from behind in the woods. Music started blaring, and I walked with a bright orange bag in my hands to center court. Anyone at camp before knew that this was the Tribal Break and in my hands was the list of Chiefs, and any new camper jumped right in so that they, too, could claim to know what was going on. I calmed everyone down, removed the envelope from the bag, and with a bit of flair, announced a Fake Break. A moment of devastation was followed by minutes of joy. A surprise. More suspense. A bigger deal. It’s what we needed. And it is the mark of a forever camp.

At our Friday night Campfire, we did it again. A bit more subtly (which made it so much more believable as a real Break) but no less effective. The only thing better than one Fake Break is two Fake Breaks. That’s what forever camps do.  And that is what we can do at Chestnut Lake.

Tribal Campfire

Tribal Campfire is one of the most popular traditions at Chestnut Lake Camp. On our first Friday night of the session, after the Community Service Award winners were announced, new campers and staff found out if they would be a Minsi Wolf or an Unami Turtle. The returning campers, who were dressed head to toe in white or green, were bursting with excitement as they prepared to accept new members to their tribes.

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Dressed in red, the new campers and staff were led from the campfire site down to the lake where they stood in a large circle and recited the Tribal Oath with Debbi and Paul. d7290a4e-d25f-4f54-9297-26aab9236e43

As they walked back to the campfire, the Unami Turtles and Minsi Wolves lined either side of the path creating a special and unique atmosphere.

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At the campfire, the two teams sat with their tribes and sang their tribal chants. The new campers and staff in each division were called to stand in front of the campfire while blue team members painted a stripe of their new tribe’s color on each of their cheeks. Excitement grew as they waited for Paul to tell them to face their new tribe. As each group turned around, members of the Unami Turtles and the Minsi Wolves ran to greet their new members. Next up….the first tribal competition.