Tag Archives: summer camp

All About Camp: Insights from Apollo

By Aaron Selkow

Apollo joined our family in 2017. We had previously rescued two other dogs, and both had been special. But Apollo’s impact on our family was incomparable. He was born in South Carolina, horribly abused, and thankfully saved by a rescue organization in Pennsylvania. Ann looked into those soulful eyes in a photograph and somehow knew that he needed us. And as we mourn his loss, we cannot express just how much we needed him.

Helping Apollo took work. He was not just skittish because of the treatment he received in the years before we adopted him, he was deeply afraid. The training and coaching he benefited from influenced his behavior, and his gentle disposition was steadily complemented by a growing sense of confidence. Although we were unable to have him with other dogs extensively, he was immediately at home when I brought him to camp for his first summer in the Poconos (as the director of my last camp, before arriving here at Chestnut Lake). As he continued to settle into himself and became a mainstay in our lives, a very important shift occurred. At some point, Ann and I realized that Apollo was our teacher.

In the days since he left us, we have reflected more thoughtfully on the ways that Apollo provided us with poignant and powerful life lessons. We sometimes remarked to each other on the ways that his unique story and character impacted those around him. But in losing him, we find ourselves more philosophical as a way to cope with the sadness. Because camp is so synonymous with our family, camp became a cornerstone in Apollo’s life, too. As we remember Apollo now with only the ghosts of memories from the last six years to sustain us, it feels natural to frame some of the lessons we learned from Apollo in the context of camp.

Being a camp leader requires you to accept the blurring of lines between your personal and professional lives. Not only is camp an intimate setting that creates a familial environment for campers and staff, but the demands of overseeing a camp remove some of the usual boundaries found in other roles. You live at camp, immersed in the community, and committed to the success of others in every way possible. There is almost no personal space, and a camp leader’s willingness to be vulnerable and invite others into their family can have a prominent and positive influence. Apollo was a terrific example of and asset in this effort. Apollo was our dog, but he was also the Camp Dog. Even our prospective families had the chance to learn about Chestnut and our family by meeting Apollo, as our summer and off-season tours would frequently begin and end at our house where Apollo would be. In so many ways, Apollo represented our family to others and our care of him was representative of our values. Ann and I would say that Apollo was by far the most popular Selkow. When Lily would visit us at camp, her greeting for Apollo was the most enthusiastic and she relished seeing so many other children scrambling to be near her dog. We were humbled to be Apollo’s real family, knowing that countless others considered him to be part of their own at camp.

We often say that at camp you can become your best and truest self. It may be cliché, but every year I am reminded of this adage when I notice how people step into the virtual limelight of camp and show how impactful time and experience at camp can be in bringing out their finest qualities. Apollo was also at his best at camp. It was at camp that he provided the most happiness to others – as Ann walked Apollo around the property each day, he was like a magnet for the kids who needed him. They craved the chance to tap into Apollo’s energy while they might be many miles away from their pets and their homes, and he obliged them gently. His aloof demeanor was a great match for their sometimes-unbridled enthusiasm, and though he might be scared, he also would get comfortable enough at times to lay down and allow others to cuddle with him. But it was just being at camp that brought Apollo joy. The ability to run and explore when nobody was around, chasing (and never catching) a deer, bounding across the lake’s sandy beach, or just running until he completely wore himself out on any day that we were there was evidence of camp being his favorite home.

We have high expectations of each other at camp. Whether you are a camper or a member of our staff, we challenge our community to accept our rules and to always model our institutional principles. As we move throughout the day at camp, we inevitably see issues that cause us to correct or redirect. I can sometimes assume that the person I see struggling to live up to our standards is making a choice, but that is often not the case. Apollo was a dog that benefited from structure, and consistency, and living at camp – even as a dog – required him to behave well, too. Without knowing all the harm that Apollo had survived and the constant effort he needed to make to manage his fears, you might see him failing to follow a command or getting overly excited to mean that he lacked obedience or a desire to please. But that was so far from the case – behind his presentation as a large, strong animal was a history of being a victim. Apollo reminded us not to judge too much and to take things and people (even dogs) for what they are: inherently good, complex, deserving of love, and yet still flawed. We try to treat our campers and staff with respect, especially when they might be struggling because we can’t assume to understand what might be behind their actions. Apollo was not defined by his past, just as our community members should never be.

Research into the relationship between humans and their dogs details how much the unconditional warmth that is shared between owners and their pets is worth. Apollo was no exception to this. As some at camp could attest, when he created a bond with someone, his relentless attention to them and his drive to be near them was unparalleled. Apollo’s recognition felt like pure love to us, and that bond reminded us of the friendship and fellowship that we saw day after day between people at camp. Campers and their bunkmates, the kids and their favorite counselors, and the staff that worked so closely together all appreciate and provide love at camp. Camp is filled with opportunities for growth and learning, but at the core, camp is a place that values this love. Apollo’s deportment was a perfect representation of the power of showing love to one another.

When I sit with campers or staff members who are dealing with mistakes that they have made at camp, I always remind them that there is no better place to fail than at camp. Camp is a safe place. Although far from being utopian, it is still far more forgiving than the real world. People at camp chose to be at camp because they care about others, and high fives, fist bumps, and hugs are always available to help console those in trouble. Camp is also a place where we can laugh about the hard times, whether in the moment or after we have gained perspective. Apollo enjoyed the compassionate environs of camp, whether it was after he ate someone’s hot dog at a cookout, came out of the woods covered in unbearable filth, or went to the bathroom in the wrong place. One such example was at our closing Tribal (Color War) event in 2021 when the teams were gathered on the main athletic fields preparing to hear me announce the winner. Apollo slipped away from our house, heard my voice from hundreds of yards away, ran to me, and promptly crouched in front of the entire camp to leave his own Tribal trophy on the third-base line. Apollo was forgiven at camp for his foibles, and he helped us to keep that in mind when we or others around us slipped up. Camp is at its best when it is a place where – like Apollo – we can do the wrong thing and be forgiven for it, as long as we show that we meant no harm and are willing to do better.

As a teacher, Apollo was profound. His lessons were easy to understand, and he drew on the emotional connection that he formed with us to make them stick. In the wake of losing him, we are struck by the effect that he had on us. We know that there are members of the camp family who will also miss Apollo very much and are grateful for him being with us at camp over the last four years.

We know that many people reading this can empathize, too, with our struggle to deal with his loss. In fact, these recent days have been filled with much more significant despair in the world and there are far too many people that are coping with the loss of people and things that they love in their lives. As the leaders of Chestnut Lake, we are very aware that our work this summer will be important to (once again) provide the protection, freedom, growth, and joy that our campers deserve in spite of the real-world pressures and worries that our families face at home. Sharing these thoughts about Apollo is evidence of how much we value even the most subtle opportunity we have to model our values and the commitment we have to making camp a place that helps people in deep and meaningful ways. Just like it did Apollo. 

We will cherish the moments we had with him and understand how fragile life can be. Sharing him with you was an honor and pleasure – may his memory be a blessing.

 

If you would like to assist in the rescue of at-risk dogs, please consider joining us in supporting Home at Last Dog Rescue.

 

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 4 (7/21/23)

[Did you see the Week 4 video yet? Click here to watch it!]
By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

The final week of a camp session always makes me feel sad. I think about the time spent and how wonderful all of the great moments have been, but I also get stuck on some of the things I wish were different. I can dwell on some pretty ridiculous things. Let’s take the weather, for instance. Last summer we made it through seven weeks of camp without so much as one “Rainy Day.” This year? Over the last four weeks, we did not have more than 3 days in a row without rainfall. Our terrific program/experience team somehow kept everyone having fun despite the forecasted and unexpected conditions. The grounds on our gorgeous property resemble a construction site in some spots, and our parents will undoubtedly see some muddy shoes and socks when they unpack our campers arriving home tomorrow. Then there are the mistakes. I’m a big believer in the importance of messing up and have long felt that there’s no better place to fall down than at camp. But with only four weeks (or three) to deliver the spectacular outcomes that Chestnut should, a missed moment or a botched opportunity could feel like a catastrophic error. The end of the session makes me think about how much better we can do. And then – just in time – something always seems to happen in those last days that reminds me of how insignificant the weather and the mistakes (and the other challenges) are compared to the monumental power that is generated here in Beach Lake each summer.

As we gathered as an entire community to close out the competition between our Unami Turtles and Minsi Wolves Tribal teams last night, we were treated to just such a special moment. Minsi was off to a very good start, and it seemed clear within 30 minutes of the Rope Burn’s start that they would likely walk away with the win. Burning a very thick rope that’s suspended ten feet in the air is not an easy task, but their early efficiency at getting a fire built from scratch into one that was reaching the rope made them appear to be the favorites. Unami caught up with a great deal of hard work, but they seemed still to trail. The teams seated in front of the bonfires were in constant cheers, especially hyped because they were told before the start of the event that relatively few points separated the two teams after three days and the winner of this last activity would win Tribal. Minsi’s fire grew even bigger, and as time passed, Unami’s chances to come back waned.

Minsi’s rope fell, and their teammates erupted in celebration. As you would expect, Unami’s enthusiasm sank. But they had to keep pressing on – it is a Chestnut tradition that the competition is not over until both teams burn their rope. Ten minutes passed, Then ten more. And then there was a shift. We suddenly went from watching a team going through its paces to finish off a second-place effort to a display of how one camp can come together.

Without an audible request for help, the fire-building team from Minsi began assisting their Unami brothers and sisters. Wood from one pile went to the other fire. Unami fire-builders were able to take a brief break to be hosed down after the longest Rope Burn effort in memory. Then there were Minsi staff – people that had been seated or standing in the crowd – also assisting. At some point, there were not two teams helping each other to burn a rope; friends were doing something together in a way that modeled what we try to inspire and reinforce at Chestnut.

The Unami rope fell. It was 90 minutes from when we began. The Unami and Minsi leaders collapsed into each other’s arms. The crowd cheered for them all. And though the Minsi team was announced as the Tribal winner by virtue of this last competition, the true winner was camp. Camp won.

I love the end of the session. It’s the best part of the summer. You forget the hardship, you leave behind the hard feelings, and you remember that the things out of your control like the weather and making mistakes are not worth worrying about any longer. The session is about the moments that make you feel good about yourself and the people around you. That’s what camp is.

On behalf of our family and the dedicated leaders of Chestnut Lake Camp, we thank you for an extraordinary First Session. Here’s to another great session starting soon. We love you.

 

Campfire Tales | Week 3 (7/15/23)

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

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

We’re still a relatively young camp. In only our 15th year, this fact does not occur very much to our campers. The camp is older than almost all of them, so as far as they know, Chestnut feels like a place that’s been around forever. But there are a few things at Chestnut that are evidence of this relative youth, and one of them is the trajectory of our experiences for teens.

A camp of this quality, and one into at least its second generation, almost always has a teen leadership continuum that over many years evolves and establishes a culture of young leadership. Whether the summer programs are summer-long or single-session-length, and regardless of whether they’re called Varsity, LT, CIT, or other common names, successful teen experiences breed great spirit and support growth for all campers and staff. Former campers age into opportunities to shine, take on more responsibility, and gain independence, and these summers are the ones that all younger campers will aspire to reach. At Chestnut, we are still growing up in this aspect of our camp’s development.

There have been many great teens at Chestnut Lake Camp, and the Varsity, LT (leadership Training), and JC (Junior Counselor) programs have had participants for years. But the numbers have still been growing, and especially with the combination of being a young camp and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic a few years ago, we are finally on the cusp of establishing more concrete appeal and outcomes of our teen sessions and this summer is evidence of that.

Our Varsity 1 (rising 9th) and Varsity 2 (rising 10th) teens have had an incredible few weeks at Chestnut, and it is clear that what they are achieving and contributing to camp will have a lasting impact. There are two examples of this leadership that I want to share today.

Trips are a part of most camp’s curriculum. Whether they are afternoon excursions to an amusement park or more extensive travels, trips are a means of bringing camp into the Real World and giving our campers unforgettable experiences that they get to enjoy with their closest friends. At Chestnut, trips had become an important feature before the disruption from COVID, and that led to a few years of no major trips off-site. It was hard each year to make that decision, and though we look back and feel it was the right choice, it increased the build-up of anticipation and pressure for this year’s trips to finally get back off-site (including overnight versions). Just a few days ago, we completed all of our First Session trips and there is no doubt that these will turn out to be highlights for many campers. None more important than what our Varsity campers experienced.

For four days, our Varsity 1 campers traveled north to Massachusetts to enjoy Boston, Cape Cod, and other fun stops while they camped, stayed in hotels, visited cool sights, and had one fun moment after another. Traveling by charter bus, they came back from that trip with a greater sense of connection to each other, and that energy has been shared throughout the camp community in Beach Lake.

Yet it was the Varsity 2 campers that traveled to New Mexico that really stole the show. Heading our west on a flight and embarking on a full itinerary that included full-scale camping, climbing, rafting, and more adventures. The V-2s found themselves in a remote location and were challenged to step far outside their comfort zones, and they responded with incredible character, teamwork, and leadership. The trip continued from the wilderness to Sante Fe and Albuquerque, including time spent sledding sand dunes and exploring Southwestern culture. But it’s the strength in their resolve, their adventurous spirit, and the bonds that were made deeper between them that have truly stood out. They even dealt with a stomach bug that has taken down many of our kids and staff for a short time, though our Varsity 2s would not let that keep them from enjoying this trip to the fullest. Now that they are back at camp, we continue to honor them (and their V-1 peers) for being trailblazers, both literally and figuratively. Our hearts are filled with pride, and we know that the campers that follow them are already hearing the stories and are excited to follow in their footsteps. This is how young camps become more “mature.”

We are grateful to the Varsity leaders and their staff for being an inspiration to us all.

And as if their leadership through their trips was not enough, please enjoy the following letter written by these amazing teens and their staff about their effort to give back to the community and get more kids to camp. Your support is greatly appreciated by us all.

Dear Friends:

The Varsity campers (rising 9th and 10th graders) of Chestnut Lake are excited to be continuing an amazing camp tradition, the Color Run for SCOPE.  In Varsity, we look forward to being a part of events that help the greater good beyond the boundaries of Chestnut Lake. Camp has done so much for all of us, and we are thrilled to give back so that others can enjoy sleep-away camp like we do. 

As the oldest campers at CLC, we will be hosting the annual Chestnut Lake Summer Classic Color Run. It is going to be a very special event for the entire Chestnut Lake family. We have created a 5K course around camp, and we look forward to this event on Monday, July 17th.

CLC is extremely excited to again partner with SCOPE(Summer Camp Opportunities Promote Education), an organization that raises money to help provide access to the summer camp experience. We are asking members of our Chestnut community to participate by making a financial pledge by donating towards this great cause. Your child may participate in the Color Run whether you donate or not, but donations are greatly appreciated.  Donations can be made through SCOPE, who has created an online platform for our families to donate directly and here is the link.

Please make all donations by July 20th, so that we may reveal the grand total before our First Session campers depart on July 21st. 

Thank you in advance for your amazing support of this effort!

Think Camp!

Varsity Teens & Varsity Leadership Team

 

 

 

 

Campfire Tales | Week 2 (7/8/23)

[Did you see the Week 2 video yet? Click here to watch it!]
By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

The halfway point of a great session at camp always makes me feel two contradictory things at the same time: (1) “It feels like we just got here,” and (2) “It feels like we’ve been here forever.” The first feeling is due to the pace of camp and the amount of programming and experiences our campers and staff have enjoyed in just 14 days. There have been so many activities (new ones, traditional ones) and even with the spotty weather, the feeling of time flying by is a great sign of deep engagement. At the same time, the feeling at this point that we’re camp veterans with connections already running so deep is just as important. A great session comes when you’re immersed in camp life, including the emotional relationship that starts to form making camp feel like a second home.

The First Session continues to be jam-packed with good stuff, and the week that begins tomorrow will be just as exciting. There has been a great mix of daily activities across camp that have started to elevate the program for all ages, and that is only going to intensify. We’ve had intercamp games, the start of rehearsals for the musical, Varsity-led activities like Casino Night, Rak Dan dancing, and our own Talent Shows. The Lip Sync competition was inspiring, but so have been countless moments in and out of the cabins watching campers start to really build friendships and make memories that will last. As we move into Week 3, expect to see and hear about our first field trips off-site, the return of our 9th/10th-grade participants after spending multiple days in New England or New Mexico, more Specialty Camps and Academies, Late Nights for teens, pool parties, Lake time, big art projects, more campfires and Community Service Awards, and the list goes on and on.

The days have definitely felt full, and our staff members have started to really get into a groove. There have been many opportunities for me every day to be present to see counselors and specialty instructors make a difference for our campers. The patience, positivity, determination, openness, and spirit that so many staff present is what makes the, “Bring it Out!” philosophy come alive. Campers are challenged, but supported, They are given structure, but also the chance for independence. And we’re only halfway through the session. There’s so much more.

When we gather next Friday for our third Campfire, it will mean that we will be entering into our final week of the session. It will be here any second. And fortunately, it will also take forever to get here.

Your Input Leads to Excellence!

The summer of 2023 at Chestnut Lake Camp was amazing on so many levels. We had a camp filled with kids enjoying great traditions, building new friendships, and feeling the unique spirit of our “Bring It Out” vibe in Beach Lake, PA.

And 2024 at camp will be even better! We know that we are on track for an exceptional season because of the experiences and feedback we enjoyed in 2023. As a camp run by leaders who are constantly setting high standards and believe that listening is key to meeting them, we can point to countless improvements made each year that have helped our camp to grow. As we come off of a wonderful summer, we can see that the efforts Aaron, Ann, and their entire team have made since arriving in 2020 are paying off. Chestnut Lake is experiencing its greatest enrollment ever with our highest rate of camper retention (from 2023 to 2024) in our 16-year history. Many other indicators like this remind us how important it is to ask our community what’s working and what’s not, and methodically and thoughtfully integrate their feedback into the camp’s operations.

The 2023 Camper & Parent Insight Survey report — as you will see when you click through at your own pace or download the file below 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 for an even more terrific summer in 2024.

[Once you click the report, you can enlarge it to full screen to better read the contents]

Surveys are just one of the tools that we have been using to gather constructive feedback and support our planning in recent summers. This summer, campers will have even more input into their daily program so that we can ensure the best experiences for them while they are with us at camp. Explore and enjoy the report (above), and for all the families that contributed insight throughout this process, please accept our gratitude for the guidance.

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 | 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 | 7/16/22

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.

Campfire Tales | 7/8/22

By Aaron Selkow, Owner/Director

Preparing for this week’s special Campfire (called the “Varsity Campfire” because it allows our Varsity teens the chance to facilitate the weekly camp-wide gathering) came with great anticipation. I listened in a bit (kind of secretly!) to the plans and heard some of the cool things they were planning, and I looked forward to sitting in the Basketball Stadium to watch our weekly highlight video with the whole camp and then head to the Campfire Site to watch the Varsity teens take over. That part alone makes it awesome, as I was to have no role tonight other than to enjoy listening and joining their first chance to lead something as meaningful as our weekly Campfire gathering.

The community was treated to an amazing Varsity Campfire. They performed so well and brought the spirit out of our campers and staff to mark the end of our second week of camp. Since the program ended, so many people are talking about how well they did, and they should be feeling really proud.

But I missed it.

Being unable to sit and witness our young leaders and their staff do something great is one of the most important things that I could have been doing tonight, and really at just about any time. It is also one of the gifts of being in charge of a camp. Unlike parents or others that can only hear about or see still images of some of those great moments, I get to watch in real-time and be fully a part of it. But I’m also running a summer camp. And today was a day with lots of moving parts and one particular project (the decision, communication, and ongoing planning of some changes to 8th, 9th, 10th, and 12th-grade trips this session) needed my attention until now (you can read an update about this in a separate email sent to all families). This kept me away from a great moment, but I accept that sometimes I will have to do something that I would rather not do, and sometimes I am dealt a hand that feels a bit unfair and I know that I have to just press on.

Ironically, that is also what our Varsity teens had to deal with today. Just hours before needing to get up in front of the whole camp and show everyone how much they love this place and model leadership for others, they learned that some of the trips that many of them had been looking forward to all year (some Varsity participants have waited for many years to experience these trips, really) would be changed. Another summer dealing with unique protocols and the concerns of our community’s health and the “greater good” informed my decision to pivot from these long-anticipated trips with multiple days spent many miles away to day trips that would not extend beyond the types of experiences that we have already executed for campers this summer. They would still have so much opportunity for fun, but it is a change. Change can be hard. And then a short time later they needed to stand before the campers that look up to them and lead a Campfire that people really care a lot about. And they nailed it.

Next week will bring another Campfire, and I am hopeful that I will have the ability to be there. But today I can only give my apologies and offer my deep respect and congratulations to the Varsity teens and their staff that set aside any feelings of uneasiness for being great examples of what Chestnut Lake is all about. And I guess I can join all the parents that will be hitting “refresh” tomorrow on the Campanion app to see the pictures.