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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.

Introducing CLC’s New Assistant Director

We are excited to announce that Ali Koenig will be our new full-time Assistant Director. Ali joined CLC last summer as the Kaya Division Leader and quickly became one of the leaders of camp. Whether in the bunks, on the fields or at line-up, Ali’s positive energy and welcoming smile has an impact on everyone she comes in contact with. She has a passion for camp and we look forward to her working with us all year long.

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For as long as I can remember, I have always loved summer camp.     I had the privilege of attending camp as I grew up and the memories, friendships, and opportunities that camp provided me are still with me today. I am now lucky enough to go to summer camp each and every day! I am very excited for the opportunity to work full time with the Chestnut Lake and Trail’s End Camp families. I had an amazing first summer at Chestnut Lake as the Kaya Division Leader and through my campers, staff and the rest of the CLC Family, I was able to learn the meaning of “our summer home.”

I grew up in Colleyville, Texas; a suburb just outside of Dallas/Ft. Worth. I played competitive soccer growing up and continued my passion for the sport playing at Jacksonville State University. I received a Bachelors of Science in Physical      Education and continued my education working as a graduate assistant in the athletic department at JSU. I will receive a Masters of Education with a major in Physical Education this December. I am looking forward to continuing my growth as the Assistant Director of Chestnut Lake Camp “Bringing out the Best” in         everyone!

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We Love Chestnut Lake Summer Camp!

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Jake and Lucy Sher just completed their first summer at Chestnut Lake and wanted to share some of their favorite things about the Summer of 2015.

Jake Sher:

My first summer at Chestnut Lake Camp was one of the best summers that I’ve ever had. Even though I missed my parents the first day, all the fun stuff at CLC made it easy to be away from home.

One of my favorite things about CLC is the food, because there are so many different varieties of things that you can eat. I really like the chicken nuggets and the french toast! The food was the best!

I really like the bunks because you have a lot of space for your stuff. The counselors were awesome. They didn’t act like a parent, but almost like a big brother or sister. I     really liked my counselors, David, Martin and Joe, who slept in my bunk. I also really liked my division leader, Curtis, and my bunk’s partners, Garin and Joe (aka J-Fresh).

Two of the best activities were Outdoor Adventure (which includes ziplines, rock       climbing and ropes course) and the lake. At the lake, I loved the inflatables like the    water trampoline, the Blob and the Rock-it.

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Another thing I really enjoyed about CLC was Tribal. I really liked the activities and the friendly competition. I’ll never forget when I ran from the soccer field to Outdoor          Adventure as part of the Apache relay race. Unami Turtles forever! These are some of the things that made my first summer at CLC the best. I can’t wait until next year!

Lucy Sher:

My first summer at Chestnut Lake was one of the best times I’ve ever had. At first, when I got there, I didn’t know anyone and I was a little nervous. But after a while, I got to know a lot of kids and a lot of counselors who were so nice and friendly. It felt like home, and I didn’t want to leave.

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The counselors were like big sisters. Without them, I don’t know what I would do! One of my counselors, Kenzie, even taught me how to play the ukulele. The counselors are       always there for you whenever you need them, and they always know what’s best.

 

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One of my favorite activities is the lake. Once I even got to eat breakfast at the lake. At the lake, there’s always lots to do, and you can have so much fun. Another activity I like is basketball. I started playing basketball before I went to camp, and I really liked it. But at Chestnut Lake, it was so different. The counselor who taught me how to play was really nice and he knew how to help make me a better player. I love playing basketball at Chestnut Lake!

 

Outdoor Adventure is a really special thing that I think everyone needs in their life! At OA, these are some of the things you get to do: rock climbing, ziplining, climbing ropes, and working on skills that you’ve never worked on before. And last but not least, Tribal is my favorite activity because there’s so much to do and so much competition. That’s one of the things I like best. It was one of the best experiences to be an Unami Turtle.

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I love Chestnut Lake because the first time I went, it felt like family. I can’t wait to go back next summer!

 

My Best Summer at Chestnut Lake Camp!

At the end of every summer as campers return home, they always have many stories and special moments to share from their summer at Chestnut Lake. We thought it would be fun to connect with some of our first year campers and find out first hand about their summer at camp and what they loved the most about CLC.

First up is Drew Bick who attends camp with his brother, David.

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“My first summer at CLC was awesome. I had great counselors and a great Division Leader named Mike. My favorite part of camp was going to the Lake. There were so many fun inflatables like the blob, the swing and slide. All of our evening activities were awesome: some are shows, some are talent shows and some are sports. My favorite activity was fruit ninja. Your counselor throws you a water balloon and you try to hit it with a baseball bat-whoever hits the most wins. Paul and Debbi are great. There are a lot more activities at CLC than what I told you like all kinds of sports and free play time. And the food is great!  That’s why this was my best summer!”

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Next up is Claire Lenkin who attends camp with her brothers, Ethan and Noah.

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“For my first summer at CLC, I was in lower Yazhi. My favorite activities were Lake and OA (Outdoor Aventure). The Lake is SO much fun. You can go tubing and waterskiing!! They also have paddleboarding, fishing, a blob and a rope swing on the water trampoline. During Visting Day, your Dad can blob you very high!! My Dad blobbed me 10 feet in the air!  At OA, you go on the humongous zip line and the flying squirrel. They also have archery and rock climbing.

Another exciting part of the summer was when I found out which Tribal team I was on. I am a Minsi Wolf. One of my favorite parts of camp was Tribal. There are lots of fun activities like Apache Relay  and Rope Burn!  For one of my night activities, we went on a cookie hunt. Also, if your parents don’t let you stay up late at home you can stay up at camp! You also have a special snack in bed called Midnight snack. During Midnight snack you can read during “Flashlight Time”. Flashlight time is just time when you can read, whisper with your friends or doodle with your flashlight.

If you have siblings at camp sometimes at lunch there is a sibling cookout so you can eat lunch with your sibling. I had 2 older brothers at camp – Noah and Ethan.  One time in Arts and Crafts I made a wooden letter holder. In art and crafts there is sewing, woodworking, cooking and video. Also in sewing you can make pillows.  I can’t wait to go back next summer to see the new friends I made at camp. I loved my  counselors and Chestnut Lake!  That’s why this was my best summer!”

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A Summer Camp Tradition at CLC

Every summer, Lou and Sue Flego visit Chestnut Lake Summer Camp for one of the campers’ favorite traditions: Square Dancing! Younger campers learn simple calls like “Up to the middle with a tap, tap, tap.” while returning campers perfect calls like “Step to an ocean wave.” For two days, the campers practice in their 8-person sets, preparing for the competition on the final night.

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Once the squares are set, the girls take over and coordinate what each set will wear. The build-up to the final competition is pretty intense. The championship bracelets that the winners receive are highly coveted at Chestnut Lake Camp. The campers show up for the final competition decked out in coordinating outfits…there is plenty of plaid and pigtails!

Before the competition begins, Sue lightens the mood with some line dancing. Staff and campers join in as they slide and turn to “Popcorn” and “Montego Bay.” Once the line dancing is finished, the sets form their squares and prepare for the dance-off. Counselors take their spots outside of the squares, cheering on their campers and coaching them through the difficult calls. Lou, Sue, Debbi and Paul judge the squares and ask the sets that miss calls to sit down. After a while, there are only two sets left. Lou pauses to congratulate the final two squares and then moves them to the center.

As the music starts back up, all of the campers and counselors cheer the final sets on as they concentrate on executing each and every call. After the calls become more and more difficult, Lou finally has one of the sets sit down, which means that the only square still standing has won the special Lou & Sue bracelets!

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Square Dancing with Lou and Sue is a favorite Summer Camp Tradition at Chestnut Lake!

Chestnut Lake Summer Camp 4th of July Regatta

The first week of Chestnut Lake Summer Camp 2015 has been amazing! We started preparing for our 4th of July celebration on Saturday.  The lower campus decorated their bunks in patriotic themes while the upper campus turned our golf carts into parade floats.

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On the afternoon of the 4th, our older campers organized a parade for the younger campers. Kaya, Sani and Varsity marched in formation and drove their floats down Chestnut Lake Avenue. As the procession passed the campers, the Kaya, Sani and Varsity threw candy as everyone cheered. Uncle Sam even made a guest appearance at Chestnut Lake Summer Camp!

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Next up for our Independence Day celebration was Regatta. Campers organized into their tribes and started preparing to sail their boats in the pool, but first they watched their division leaders compete in a belly busting competition which was amusing as well. Later that evening the whole camp gathered together on the slope.  We all joined in for the singing of the National Anthem. As the National Anthem ended, our annual fireworks display began high above the stage.

Now the campers are anxiously waiting to see their families on Visiting Day at Chestnut Lake Summer Camp!

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.

Staff Talent Show

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The first few days of the CLC Summer of 2015 have been full of energy and                excitement. Campers and staff have been spending time getting to know each other and enjoying all of the fun activities that CLC has to offer.  One of the activities that campers always look forward to is our Staff Talent Show. Our staff never disappoint when it comes to entertainment. This year, there were a variety of performances      ranging from musical numbers to choreographed dances and other crazy acts! Highlights of the evening included the performance of the Beyonce hit “Single Ladies.”     Many of the campers said it was one of their favorites!

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Our campers are now very excited to put on their own Talent Show next week.

CLC Opening Campfire 2015

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The lighting of Opening Campfire officially signals that our summer family is back together. This summer’s Opening Campfire had more spirit and energy than ever before! As we all gathered at the Campfire Site, everyone was singing, laughing and dancing as they waited for the special moment to begin.

 

Every Opening Campfire at Chestnut Lake actually starts when we say goodbye the summer before. The ashes from Closing Campfire are gathered in a container and buried, waiting in the ground until the following summer’s Opening Campfire.

During our first day of camp, each age division was given a special piece of wood that every camper and counselor was asked to sign. They talked about what Chestnut Lake means to them. These planks of wood were then added to the campfire. u472085_p15052934

At Opening Campfire, CLC’s youngest campers dug up the ashes and during Debbi and Paul’s welcome speech, they sprinkled the previous summer’s ashes onto the fire. This represents how each and every camper’s spirit carries forward summer after      summer. As we always say, once you’re a part of Chestnut Lake, Chestnut Lake is a part of you. Since the Ciqala dug the ashes up last summer, the Yazhi received the      privilege this summer. All of camp anxiously awaited as the Yazhi located the spot where the ashes were buried and pulled them from the ground.

After Debbi, Paul, Masey, Kelsie, Dan, Niki and Mike welcomed the campers, Varsity led the entire camp in the CLC alma mater. As alma mater ended, Garin lit the             traditional “Hello 2015” sign and camp broke out into our favorite chant, “Chestnut ‘til I Die!” We are all looking forward to another amazing summer at Chestnut Lake Camp.

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