Gaining Independence

Any sensible mother would have realized an eight-year-old doesn’t need help putting her shoes on. But you know how it is: you help with shoes one day, and then you help the next day, and then 2,920 days later you’re still helping because, after all, it’s what you’ve always done. Of course, at that rate, we’d still be making our kids’ beds the day before they head off to Harvard. When I tried to help my daughter put her shoes on the day after she got home from her first half season at Wyonegonic and she refused indignantly, I realized what she knew intuitively: if she can do this by herself 25 days in a row in a cabin in Maine, she can do it for the rest of her life here in Brooklyn – or wherever else life takes her.

That’s what I love about sleep-away camp.

Once my child survived without me for three and a half weeks, I had an epiphany: other cooks could prepare food she liked, other caretakers could tuck her in, someone else could bandage her skinned knee, and the counselor who sang to her and her cabin-mates at night undoubtedly had a better voice than I do (because who doesn’t?) She isn’t and never again will be totally reliant on the care and comfort of Mom. Camp seems, to me, to be the perfect intermediate point between total dependence and total independence. It’s the training ground for girls who will soon be young women who have to take care of themselves, the place where they are all apprentices mastering the skill of living full lives. Just as you wouldn’t venture onto the high ropes course without a safety harness or the rifle range without ear protection, or out onto Moose Pond without knowing you could right a capsized kayak, you wouldn’t go out into the world to rent an apartment or take a job or even approach a stove to make macaroni and cheese without the baby steps of learning how to do such things with supervision.

We are our children’s first teachers, but we must not be their last ones. I can’t think of any better education than that our daughter has received at Wyo, and I’m so glad we found it and took the leap of faith it took to send her off to the woods with strangers for three and a half weeks that first year (and seven weeks the next year – at her insistence!) I can only look forward to marveling at what she won’t need me for when we pick her up next August and for many Augusts to come.

Sara K. Heard, mother of a two-year Wyo veteran.

Want to read more on this topic? See this Blog post from Maine Camp Experience. Or for additional parenting tips on developing independence see these articles. ,

Two Camps – Two Countries

“Are you sure you want to leave for three months? What happens if you don’t like it there? Maybe you should try looking for a permanent job here at home. This is a long time in a foreign country. Are you sure you want to do this?” These are some of the questions and comments I received from friends and family. Little did they know that I was not afraid, instead I was overjoyed. The 26 hours spent travelling to camp were worth every second.

I did not just work at a summer camp in the US. It was not another job to me. I lived it. I made new friends, improved my facilitating skills, got certified for Low Ropes, Youth Mental Health, First Aid and CPR. These new skills and certifications will all aid me in some of the work I do with children at home in South Africa. Most importantly, I made a difference in the lives of campers and gave them an invaluable summer experience they will never forget.

I joined CCUSA and was accepted to the program as a camp counselor to work in the United States at a summer camp. The J-1 visa every international camp counselor holds is called a cultural exchange visa. At first, I could not understand the cultural aspect of it. It is only when I got to camp that it all made sense. Being at a camp where there were approximately 33 countries represented, presented me with an opportunity to learn about other countries and their culture. What was even more beautiful to witness was the fact that the campers also came from other countries as well. I have learned a few interesting facts about the different countries but will only share a few. In Mexico, children do not receive presents on Christmas Day. They receive gifts on January the sixth-the day on which Mexicans celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men. In Poland, people generally peel bananas from the blossom end and not the stem end. In Slovakia, higher education is free which is still a struggle for most African countries. Lastly, America has six different time zones which I find quite fascinating. These are just a few of the interesting facts I learnt from both campers and counselors whom I spent my summer with. I also got to share with others about my country and what makes it special for me. I enjoyed hosting a presentation about my camp in South Africa and was able to show the Wyonegonic campers where I came from. As a result, all I want is to continue to travel the world because of this experience. I am looking forward to sharing with my campers in South Africa this amazing experience.

In South Africa, I work at camp Sizanani which is a South African project run by Global Camps Africa. Camp Sizanani provides a safe space for campers where they can have fun and enjoy being children. A lot of our campers come from disadvantaged backgrounds and most of the time are not inspired to dream big and make good decisions about their lives. Camp provides education on HIV/Aids Prevention, Puberty, Sexuality, Career Guidance, Drug Abuse and Leadership. These are topics campers do not generally engage in with their parents. Some of these difficult topics are often not delved into because most parents are very traditional and do not have the adequate knowledge to equip their children with correct information. I can relate having grown up in the same township as most of our campers. HIV/Aids Education remains the biggest part of the Life Skills that we teach at Sizanani because it is a very serious health concern in South Africa. There are a significant number of people living with HIV. As a result, some of our campers have lost their parents which has left them as orphans and the breadwinners of their families.

A lot of our campers come to camp with not much hope because of their situations. The six-day camps and Saturday youth clubs at Sizanani have given them a platform to dream big. There is no greater feeling than seeing a child blossom and becoming a better person because of the mentoring their get at camp. Another thing that makes our camp special is the support we receive from the U.S. counselors who come to South Africa. The cultural exchange goes both ways! These staff offer training and provide us with different styles and methods of running a camp. In total, we have had 150 American counselors at Sizanani and each unique individual has taught us something new.

Now that I have been to two camps in two different countries, I can see so many similarities. The kind of communities and background the campers come from are vastly different. However, these differences do not mean much once we are all together in a camp community. As Whitney Houston once said “I believe the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way, show them all the beauties they possess inside.” Through camps and cultural exchange, we can make kids realize their full potential. All the knowledge and lessons I have received from America will benefit the children I work with in South Africa. I am very appreciative because travelling is a gift that most South Africans will not receive. Coming to The United States and being at Wyonegonic Camps has been an amazing experience and one which would not have been afforded to me without the J-1 cultural exchange visa that I got through the CCUSA program.

I hope the J-1 Programs can continue in the future. I hope you can join me in closely following the advocacy efforts of the Americans for Cultural Exchange and the American Camp Association. These cultural exchange programs benefit the International Staff who experience America through summer camp and get to travel in the US afterwards. J-1 Programs also have huge impacts on the camp communities by allowing a diverse staff and exposing the children to wonderful ideas and customs from around the globe. I am proof of this!

Philisiwe Mthimkulu
Wyonegonic Camps 2018
Camp Sizanani

One Wyo

At Wyonegonic we have had summer themes that have guided the camp community through the last few seasons. As the use of themes has evolved at Wyonegonic, the importance has become clear and instrumental in our summer success. Themes at girls’ camps inspire communities of inclusion and camper and staff commitment. Though each age group in camp interprets the theme differently, the theme anchors the community members to a central idea. The theme encourages the blending and connecting of new and returning staff and campers of all ages. Everyone is part of a theme and owns a share in upholding the message.

The use of themes are popular in schools and are used in a variety of creative ways at summer camps such as daily, weekly or cabin themes. At Wyonegonic, we introduce the theme for the entire summer during the first couple of days of staff training. 

Slowly and thoughtfully the theme forms its meaning among the community through activities and discussions. One hundred percent buy-in is a challenge, but the theme serves as a summer motto, different than the camp mission but certainly reflective of its values. It reminds us why we are here and what is important about the camp experience. We then introduce the theme to the campers at the first grove service and let it evolve from there.

This summer our theme was ONE WYO. It is important that every member of our community can make sense of it individually and can also participate in the theme in the greater community. All around Wyonegonic, we also have visual reminders of the theme to enhance the effect of the message. We know that each staff member’s individual actions contribute to the greater good and that is what keeps moving Wyonegonic forward.

It is exciting to be part of growing the theme from the first day of pre-camp. Each staff member takes great pride in our community where everyone is a contributor regardless of age. We saw examples of this daily at camp this summer. ONE WYO became our mantra. Campers sang about it, talked about it, created hand gestures about it, painted about it and much more. Our hope is that each camper and staff member will take what they have learned at Wyonegonic this summer and apply it to their school and work communities.

Maybe you have heard your camper refer to ONE WYO. Take the time to ask her about what it means in her words… How it tied into her camp experience… How the theme can carry over into life during the off-season. This will help to keep the many camp lessons alive and also for your camper to continue to feel part of something special. She is now part of the ONE WYO history as many young women have been for the past 116 years.

Whit Ryan
Director of Staff Recruitment and Leadership Development
Whit was a speaker on the topic of summer camp themes at ACA New England Conference in March 2017

Dear Parent: A Letter From Your Child’s Counselor

Dear Parent,

You’re about to do something brave, and terrifying, and important: you’re about to send your child to summer camp. This child that you’ve spent every waking moment thinking about, caring for, motivating every decision you make around since before she was born. This child you know like the inside of your own mind. This child that drives you totally nuts but you love more than literally anything in the entire world. And you’re giving them to me – a young adult who you’ve never met in your entire life, to care for.

I can’t imagine how scary that might be. I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like driving home without them. I can’t imagine what it will feel like to wonder how they’re doing; are they making friends? Are they growing? Are they learning? Are they happy?

I can’t imagine what that feels like, so what I can do is tell you what I promise.

I promise I’ll never take for granted that this child is someone’s most important human being in the world.

I promise I’ll do everything I can to keep her safe – emotionally and physically.

I promise that her growth and happiness are my personal goals for the summer.

I promise to find the things that make your child special, and celebrate them, cultivate them, let her know how cool they are.

I promise to look you in the eye and shake your hand when I meet you, and to discuss any concerns you have about your child – or me – this summer.

I promise to be a role model for her that you’d be proud of.

I can’t promise she’ll never be sad. But I can promise I’ll be a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear and a comforting voice.

I can’t promise I’ll fight all her battles for her. But I can promise I’ll be there to mediate them and make sure she feels heard, and learns how to solve the problem productively.

I can’t promise she’ll enjoy every waking moment of her summer. But I can promise I’ll do everything in my power to make sure she has some of the best experiences of her life here.

I can’t promise she’ll never fail. But I can promise to help her succeed, and to build her up to see her failures as opportunities, to be a strong girl who can move on from the losses and dust herself off.

I can’t promise she won’t get covered in mud. But I can promise she’ll have a blast doing it, and that she won’t stay covered in mud.

When she’s homesick, I’ll listen, and seek out help from other campers and staff members. If she’s the type of kid who’s the star of the show and the center of the room, I’ll encourage her to become the best leader she can be. If she’s the type of kid who hangs back, who needs a little time, who doesn’t quite know how she shines yet – I’ll help her figure it out, and celebrate her for being her.

Whether this is your first time dropping her off at camp or the ninth, I’ll be just as committed to her growth and happiness. I can’t wait to see her eyes light up when the Spirit Princess canoes across the lake in the night. I can’t wait to see her be proud of herself for performing in the play. I can’t wait to see all of her work at archery pay off when she gets her first bulls-eye (or at least hits the target for the first time). I can’t wait to see her feel strong.

She’s going to be in the play, or sail in the regatta, or make a friendship bracelet, or swim in the relay race, or write a totally ridiculous song and sing it in front of the entire camp. She might also lose the game, or argue with a friend, or be homesick. But I will be there for all of it, and I will make it my job to know exactly what the best and worst part of her day was, every day.

You’re not going to know me until you drive down that dusty camp road – so who am I?

I’m someone who gave up other job opportunities or potential college application boosters to be here – because I care about camp and taking care of kids more, and because I think being a camp counselor gives you skills that may be even more valuable than an internship or a different job.

I want to be here.

I care about the safety of your child more than anything else.

I think hanging out with your kid is the best job in the world.

Camp has given or will give me more amazing friends, joys, memories and lessons than any other experience in life. I come back because I want to give that back to children, like my counselors gave it to me.

I am silly, and serious, and imperfect – I play guitar and do yoga and balance spoons on my nose, or I play a division one sport and can sing my favorite camp song backwards, or I’m an aspiring teacher who sunburns really easily. Whoever I am, I’m a complex, strong person who knows what it feels like to have lots of different interests and hobbies. I want to help your child find her own, or teach her mine.

I want your child to feel loved. I want your child to succeed in doing something she never thought she’d do. I want her to push herself. I want her to feel safe. I want her to try something new. I want her to make friends. I want her to learn. I want her to figure out what connects her to her friends, and also what makes her stand out from them. I want her to read a book, listen to a loon call, eat a S’More, hit a great backhand, tie a knot, make up a dance routine, run the road race. I want her to have the best summer of her entire life. I want her to love this place as much as I do.

But mostly, I want you to know that she’ll be in good hands, and that when you see her at the end of the summer, you’ll know it was all worth it.

Love, Her Counselor

Written by Morgan Ingari
Camper 2000 – 2007, CIT/AC 2008 – 2009, Staff 2010 – 2011, 2014 – 2017

The Happy Version of Myself

No one is one person. No one is only one version of themselves, there are certain sides of you that only show in certain situations. You’re nervous, you’re brave, you’re outgoing, you’re introverted, you’re the best version of yourself, or you’re the worst. Sometimes, there are sides of yourself you never discover. Some people never find the happiest version of themselves, some people never find the version of themselves they want to remain, but as I grow up and reflect back, I realize that I have. I have found the most genuine, the most daring, the most outgoing, the most happy, the most kind version of myself at Wyo. Who’s been a special place to me long before I ever drove up that entrance road, I knew all the words to “Wyonegonic Boom” before I ever sat in the Cobb. My mom sang and told stories about Wyo when I was younger, and they stuck with me. When I was nine, I went to Wyo for the first time, and in more ways than one, I never left.

Since I can remember, I’ve been exposed to this mold I’m supposed to fit into, mostly at school. I’m supposed to be quiet, I’m supposed to be content, I’m never supposed to question the way things are. At Wyonegonic, that mold is abolished. We’re encouraged to be loud and excited, we’re supposed to reach outside of our comfort zone, we’re taught to question the world around us. We’re cheered on as we attempt things we never thought we could do, and even if you’re terrible at it, someone will be rooting for you. Dressing like a crazy person on Wyoween, and wearing tutus and enough red white and blue to cover ten flags on the 4th of July is commonplace. Only getting out of bed when someone asks, “Was that the breakfast bell?” and then rushing to get ready and get up the hill to breakfast in no makeup and with messy hair is the norm. Through this different life, I’ve found the most strange, most weird, most hilarious, most incredible friends, friends I wouldn’t give up for the world, at camp. Friends who, one day, I hope to be counselors with, friends who I can’t imagine ever not having. Despite thousands of miles, they’re only a phone call away, and I cry with them when they’re sad, and they cheer for me when I’m happy. My age group of girls has grown closer and closer as we get older and older, and they’ve helped cement my experience at Wyo as one of the most special things I’ll ever experience.

As I prepare to return to Wyonegonic for my seventh and final summer as a camper, I think about the time I’ve spent living on the shores of Moose Pond, all the times I’ve laughed until I cried with my cabin mates, all the plays I’ve sang in, all the EP’s I’ve participated in, all the exploding chicken I’ve eaten, and every green and white outfit I’ve ever put on. I wonder what kind of person I’d be without Wyo, and I can’t. From who I once was, to who I’ve become at camp, I can’t imagine how different I’d be without Wyo’s influence on my entire self. From the little girl who begged to go to camp, to the proud young woman I’ve become, I can credit so much of my best qualities to Wyonegonic. Wyo taught me to stand up for myself and my ideas, to never be afraid to let your “freak flag” fly. The Wyo girl in me will exist forever, I’ve learned lessons that’ll last a lifetime from the amazing women who have been my counselors, and the girls I’ve lived with, who I’ll never forget. Pictures hang in my room right across from my bed, so when I wake up every morning, I remember how they looked when they hung on my window at camp, how they’d always fly off their pins whenever a heavy gust of wind swept across the shores. I remember how I felt when each photo was taken, and it makes me smile. The person I am when I put on that forest green sweatshirt I’ve worn for nearly seven years, the person I am at camp is the person that I wish I was every single day of my life. I want to be as genuine as I am at camp every single day. Someday, I want my daughter to find the friendship and joy that I found at Wyonegonic, and I hope she loves it the way I do. As I write this, all I can think about is how excited I am to go back to Wyo and see my best friends again.

Merrill – A Wyo Camper

Self Discovery and Confidence

For Sunday night cabin time, one of the Inty counselors had her five girls dress up in costumes and create an artistic representation of themselves on a piece of cloth. They then paraded themselves around proudly letting their “freak flags fly.”   

Developing self-discovery and self-confidence is a huge component of camp. The American Camping Association has a plethora of articles citing this. Children are able to shed their school personas and embrace their uniqueness. Individuality is not only accepted but celebrated at camp. Girls can participate in activities they want to, can belt out a song if they have the urge to, and can wear footie pajamas if they prefer to and still feel safe and loved. 

Understanding and accepting what makes you uniquely you is a challenging yet necessary element of growing up. It is what can cause difficulties and turmoil through all stages of life. Girls in particular may feel the pressure to conform to societal expectations and may create and hide behind a falsified persona. It is vital that girls feel supported as they walk down a path of self-discovery. There are many ways in which to do this including: 

  •  Enlisting the help of an older mentor  
  • Encouraging new activities (and trying new activities with them) 
  • Providing different social and academic outlets 
  • Dialoguing about big decisions  
  • Highlighting individual strengths 

How lucky Wyonegonic girls are to have a place and people who encourage them to let their freak flags fly.   

Rachel Kelly – former Unit Director

A Letter to My Campers

senior-cabin-3First and foremost, I need to say thank you. Getting to be your counselor was the best thing ever, and I cherish all the times you piled onto my bed, pulled pranks on me and most of all, the times you confided in me. You girls are the little sisters I never had, and I am so proud of everything you have accomplished in your summers at camp. There is no better feeling than watching you finally drop that waterski, shine in the play or pass JMG. Being a counselor is the best job I could ever ask for, because I get to spend the summer in my favorite place in the world and I got to be a role model for you girls. Doing this allows me to learn what is most important to me, and decide sky-wyonegonicwhat aspects of myself I think are most valuable. I am able to discover my strengths and weaknesses as a team member in place where it’s okay to fail. There are definitely benefits to spending the summer getting “real world” experiences, but they never seemed worth it to me. Spending my summer being there for you was just as real as an internship in an office building. Being a counselor is a lot of work, but it’s neither tedious nor boring, and I am grateful to you girls always keeping me on my toes, and helping for me be the best I can be while I tried to do the same for you. The relationship of camper and counselor is a mutual learning experience, and one without the other is useless.

As a camper, I could never have imagined the effect being a counselor would have on my life. Nor could I imagine the immense gratitude I feel to you and your parents for putting your faith in me, and allowing me to discover these things about myself. The only thing I could ask of you is that you keep on coming back, so that you can someday be a counselor in your own cabin and understand what I am talking about.

Thank you girls, and thank you Wyonegonic. I’ll see you in 2017!


Maggie Perkins
Camper 2006 – 2012; CIT/AC 2013 – 2014; Senior Staff 2015 – 2016

Build Character not Resumes

senior-allagashA writing program at Stanford University? SSAT prep classes for nine weeks at Ivy Bound? A community service trip to the Dominican Republic? How to best utilize the summer days for my son or daughter?

We constantly have our children on a treadmill. It seems that we are always planning our child’s next move so that she has an advantage in the next competitive process. It could be an admission process, a selection for a travel team, an audition for a regional orchestra, or capturing the all -important internship for young people at the right office. We have an image of success paved with the road of measured steps, carefully prescribed by advisors, counselors, friends and friends in the know. Seldom, however, is it offered that really, one of the best summer opportunities that help shape young people and position them for future success is to unplug and get outside at a residential summer camp.

What are the reasons that we consider for sending our children to summer camp?

Lifelong friendships

Inty TentlineBecause of the non-competitive nature of camp, our children are allowed to forge meaningful, genuine friendships with all types of people. Especially in a residential environment, campers are intentionally placed in a cabin or tent group in which different types of young people are brought together to learn different cultural and belief systems. Through learning new activities, campers are allowed to fail and to succeed in a safe environment and this shared experience brings campers closer. This connection, free of the competitive nature of school, is value added for the camp experience. Often times, camp friend remain the truest friend in your life, for your entire life.

Strong role models

Counselors can often times become some of the most important adults and young adults in your child’s life. Your child’s counselor may be from a completely different background than you. He or she may be an expert in a field or activity. Counselors at camps accredited by the American Camping Association are held to the highest standards of hiring. They are excellent mentors, can be from varied national, ethnic or cultural backgrounds and are skilled teachers. In short, you want your child in their care. The mentorship and support your child will receive are value added to the camp experience.

Decision making without you, parents. 

WT ApproachAt camp, campers have opportunities to be independent and make decisions several times daily. In fact, campers make decisions big and small in an atmosphere of safety. In other settings, young people make choices and decisions that have big impacts and consequences and often do not have the experience to make a poor decision with minimal consequences. After all, how do we learn to make decisions in a healthy way? Having mentors and the support of a community and its systems on hand to learn how to make decisions without the emotionally charged oversight of the parent – child relationship is a healthy way to spend the summer.

Lifelong new life skills

Developing a love for the outdoors, a new activity or skill, and being taught by young experts is invaluable. Campers progress through swim levels or develop skills as a canoeist. Maybe your camper will learn how to master archery or build a fire. These are all useful skills, the mastery of which is not just what they appear to be. While the value of developing a skilled swim stroke is obvious, perhaps the value of learning archery isn’t so obvious. Think of the set of decisions a young person must learn to make at the range. Managing the area, setting the body and the stance, controlling the breathing, sensing the tension of the bow and tracking the arrow, all have direct application in very grown up situations of life.

Community living skills

ropes-courseLiving in a family has limitations. Every family has a dynamic structure. Maybe your child is an only child. Maybe your child moves between school and sports and lessons and tutors and is on that treadmill while trying to get ahead. Being at camp, in a setting of a cabin or tent group or a smaller group of campers. Instead of always clawing to move ahead of his / her peers in competition, your child will be responsible for others around him / her, learn to live in a small confined space, learn to share resources and learn to manage a rigorous schedule alongside peers. Your child will have built in surrogate siblings all around the same aged kids.

There are many challenges and pressures facing our children. All the while, we are hoping for and position our children to have the best future opportunities. The best opportunities with the best outcomes for life, though, may well prove to be from a summer camp experience. There is a myriad of reasons, and five are outlined above. As you make choices for your child, consider steering away from resume building for the next competitive setting and consider the life changing experiences that can prepare your child for life. With these experiences and skills in your child’s personal toolbox, he / she will complement his resume and be better prepared for the unpredictability of life.

Whitney Ryan, Director of Leadership Development and Staff Recruitment

This article appeared in the Greenwich Sentinel Newspaper February 2016

Significance of Camp

Swim lessonEvery year when school starts, we are asked what we did over summer. Well in short, I go to a summer camp in Maine called Wyonegonic Camps. But Wyonegonic is so much more to me than just a summer camp.

I have been alive for 208 months and counting, the most significant months being the seven months I’ve spent at Wyonegonic. I started going to Wyonegonic the summer before freshman year of high school and I now am an assistant counselor going into senior year. Summer camp has been and continues to be the most important part of my life.

BackpackIn the two months I am at camp, I learn more about who I am and who I want to be than I do throughout the other ten months of the year combined. I learn how to lead with confidence and eloquence. I learn who my true friends are. I learn that I can and should make mistakes. And most importantly, I learn how to take responsibility for my actions. I breathe, I act, and I grow from these lessons. Without the knowledge I’ve gained, I simply wouldn’t be me.

As an assistant counselor this summer, I’ve helped to pass these lessons on to my campers. This is incredible because I love sharing my experiences with the kids, yet at the same time, I am still learning and growing up. Wyonegonic has provided me with this amazing opportunity to be a role model while still idolizing the counselors older than me.

CampersAnother amazing aspect of camp is the people I work with. These strong women have been there for me (not always physically, but rather on the phone) countless times throughout the year. Whenever I am feeling scared, happy, sad, or just want to talk, my camp friends are there. I have called my camp friends at all hours to tell them something amazing I did or just to cry about something that happened to me. In return, I do everything to help a fellow member of the camp family. I have no idea how I got through obstacles before I had my camp friends to help guide me and remind me that there is a whole community that loves and cares about me.

I cannot imagine who I would be if I hadn’t come to camp four summers ago. So when I am asked about what I do at camp, it is so much more than swimming or going on a hiking trip (although both are very fun), it is about the lessons I learn and the life-long friends I make. Camp is something I couldn’t do without. Camp Wyonegonic is my home.

Missy Carlson

Camp is a Launch Pad

When our Millennial-aged staff were young children there was a popular animated movie called Toy Story. My post collegiate-aged daughter loved Toy Story at age 3 and 20+ years later probably still does. Buzz Lightyear was going “to infinity and beyond!” He was literally going to launch into orbit. Those of us who were parents of young children at the time got the message. Cool story! Let’s consider the definition a bit deeper. Launch can be defined as to set into motion; spring forward or initiate. Sounds like camp to me!

Swim Jump 1As Tom Holland the outgoing CEO of the American Camp Association alluded to in his opening address at our recent ACA-New England Conference in Manchester, NH, and I paraphrase, “Camp is more than a pinnacle moment but a Launch Pad for the life journey.”

We often tell our millennial generation staff on any given summer orientation that they are about to start the most challenging yet rewarding job of their lives. Perhaps that is too much of the pinnacle moment mindset. As young adults they are still in the early stages of embarking into the life journey and camp is the perfect Launch Pad.

Hedgehog MountainCamp initiates community building, communication, teamwork and empathy. We set into motion a future of self-confidence, self-worth and self-reliance. We can provide the baseline to spring a young adult forward readily equipped with important life skills.

We know that how we train and influence our staff is our most effective way to broaden the reach and impact our campers. How many young adults and children can we affect this summer within our ACA New England member camps, our greater camp community and aligned partners in youth development? How many Buzz Lightyear’s can we assist to find the bravery, grit and determination to embrace the next step in the life journey?

You can do the math! Happy Launching.

Steve Sudduth
Co-Owner/Co-Director Wyonegonic Camps

Earth Day and Junior Maine Guide

Sitting by pondThis month we celebrate Earth Day,  we are now entering the 46th year of a movement that continues to inspire, challenge ideas, ignite passion, and motivate people to action. In 1970, the year of our first Earth Day, the movement gave voice to an emerging consciousness, channeling human energy toward environmental issues. This Earth Day, be part of a movement. On April 22, 2016, more than 1 billion people in 192 countries are expected to join together to protect our common home. People will clean up their communities, talk to local leaders about their environmental concerns and spend time with their families outdoors.

We love spending time with our Wyonegonic family outdoors. In fact one of our core beliefs is providing the opportunity for children to experience and learn to live in the outdoors. Each summer several Wyonegonic campers participate in the state of Maine Junior Maine Guide Program, which trains future leaders in the skills of camping and living in the wilderness. Enjoy the inspirational essay below about a recent JMG experience.

Map of AreaWhen the alarm rang to wake me up, I felt the warmth of the sun against the walls of our tent. It was 5:30 am and our first test was upon us; making breakfast. It was the second day of the Junior Maine Guide testing camp. The Junior Maine Guide program is a five-week experience where a student/camper learns about the wilderness and survival skills. It was my main activity at Wyonegonic Camp this past summer. Wyonegonic is where I have spent all of my summers since I was eight. It is a traditional camp, in which we sleep in rustic cabins that have no plumbing or electricity. Seven weeks of no electronics is an amazing experience because a girl can learn what a true friendship is. I took the Junior Maine Guide course this past summer at camp.

At testing camp there are twenty-one tests a camper must take. Eleven of them are worth two points and ten of them are worth one. If you fail some you are only allowed to lose four points overall to pass the program. The tests that made me the most nervous were Axemanship, Wilderness Regulations, Map of Area (compass work), and the Map of Maine.

The schedule of a contestant in this program is rigorous. Breakfast is served to testers at 7:00 am, and then tests start at 8:00 am until 11:00 am.  At 12:30 pm we make lunch that is also evaluated by testers. From 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm, it is testing time. Lastly, dinner is at 5:30 pm and we have all of the groups come together at 7:00 pm where we listen to speakers, announcements, and comments from the day. It is a packed day full of making sure our campment is clean, cooking meals, studying for tests, but also having loads of fun.

Splitting woodI did not pass at testing camp. However, taking the course was one of, if not the best, decisions, I have ever made. The program made me stronger, more resilient, and more positive. A person can attempt to pass the program three times, but after that the person isn’t able to try again. Not passing this year was really difficult to comprehend at first. It felt like I had thrown five weeks of intense studying all out the window.

When my instructor told me that I did not pass, all I could do was look at the paper showing me that I had failed. The first thing that I said was “I wouldn’t have changed anything. ” Even though I didn’t pass, I took away an amazing experience. After getting the result I thanked her and then left. I wouldn’t have changed anything. I completely mean it. The program changed my outlook on life.

As I settled into my cot the night I learned my results, I listened to the sound of my counselor’s voice singing “When The Stars Go Blue”. As I tried to close my eyes, and think about sleep, I thought about the pro’s and con’s of doing the program again the next year. Here is what I came up with: Pro’s: 1) Finishing something I started. 2) Getting the chance to go back to testing camp. 3) Having as much or more fun that I had this year. Con’s: I couldn’t think of anything. That moment showed me that I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else the next summer. Failing taught me that as hard as I may try, I must bounce back and keep trying until I achieve and be satisfied with my effort.

– 2015 Wyonegonic Senior Camper


CampfireLast year, my parents decided to rid their house of the “treasures” their grown children had accumulated and stored there. I met the moving container eager for the sentimental possessions that I felt belong in my childhood home yet my parents felt ready to truck across the country. Included in this delivery were boxes of “stuff”; athletic high school letters, dance trophies, photographs, stuffed animals and other mementos. One such momento was an entire box full of letters. Letters to and from camp.

I do not know why my parents held onto these letters; letters that were a tribute to my summers at camp from when I was a first year camper all the way to when I was a counselor. The letters were from people of all walks of life; loved ones who are now gone, elementary school friends who still remain dear, and names of people that I no longer recognize. Reading each letter one by one was like exploring a time capsule of my life.

Included in all of these letters was my very first letter I ever sent home from Wyonegonic. I remember the simple act of picking out my first camp stationary was a very big deal to my then eleven year old self and here I was reunited with it twenty-one years later. The letter was written in my very best cursive and told about the first day of camp including the details about swimmies and tippies and my cabin mates.

It was signed “Close to tears, but I’ll be okay. Your daughter, Rachel

swimmersI do not know how my parents managed receiving that letter. As a new parent, I can only imagine that I would have hopped into my car and driven straight up to camp to ensure that my daughter was in fact, okay. But my parents had faith in Wyonegonic, believed in the value of camp, and deep down knew that I would in fact be more than okay.

As a unit director in camp, I truly know that your daughter is just fine at camp. Not only is your daughter just fine, she is thriving and succeeding.

As a parent, you need to know that homesickness is an absolutely normal feeling. It is the result of missing a loving and supportive environment with caring people. Most people do feel some homesickness when away from their home for a prolonged period of time. Therefore, don’t feel alarmed if you receive a letter like my parents did.

There are several things that you can do prior to coming to camp to prepare for homesickness. The American Camping Association has a comprehensive list of strategies some ideas include:

  • Talking openly about homesick feelings before camp
  • Practice away time, without parents. Overnight at a friend’s house, a couple nights visiting grandparents
  • Writing letters to your camper that talk about the positives of being at camp (“Tell me all about the climbing wall. I wish that I had a chance to do it!”)
  • Avoid comments in letters such as (“ We had so much fun at the club the other day and I saw your best friend” , “We really miss you”)
  • Creating a plan of what to do when your camper feels homesick

As a unit director, I get to tell you what you don’t see as a parent. The homesick letter that you receive is typically only a snapshot of your daughter’s day. Child psychologist and author Michael Thompson confirms in a blog that even though the majority of kids report being homesick at some point, these kids also say that they are having a great time at camp. I get to see your daughter laugh with a group of friends, enjoy Moose Pond, and happily experience her cabin overnight while the thoughts of homesickness dissipate and are replaced with the magical memories of camp.

I can assure you that when you receive that letter at home, your daughter has already moved on past the homesickness feelings and is busy embracing camp life.

Rachel Kelly Intermediate Unit Director

Magical Screens and Friends like Sisters

CampersCamp takes us through the mystical journey of living without “necessary’’ electronics including smartphones, media, curling irons, etc. for a minimum of three and a half weeks. For any average girl, two thoughts may pass through your mind: How am I going to live? Is this legal? Well, to live, you breathe in and out, and yes, it’s legal. For me, being a bit spoiled in my parents’ eyes, I was also concerned being the high tech girl that I am. At Wyo I found that letting go of real non-essentials was relaxing and peaceful. I saw how much time we human beings spend on the magical touchy screen. I personally miss this no tech experience because at my school everything is surrounded by technology. That is one of the many reasons I wait for camp to come around, to cleanse myself of the magical screen.

Campers in CabinsWyo has given me the experiences and memories to last a lifetime. When I first came to Wyo, they told me camp friends are different from home friends in an amazing way and they were right! We have the chance to spend all day, every day together, without a care in the world. With my home friends, it takes a while to get close because we don’t get to spend a whole camp session together. So, it takes longer at home to make friends and build close relationships. At Wyo, it is easy to establish close relationships when spending so much time together, and I know that these friendships will last summer after summer.

Something really cool about living in a cabin is that you get to spend time with girls who end up feeling like your sisters. In my case, this was a revolutionary experience, since I am an only child. As an only child, I don’t have any idea of what the bond is like between sisters, but Wyo gave me the chance to experience this. The feeling of knowing that you are close to someone a few states way or even on a different continent is amazing. This sisterly bond has taught me so much, how to have each other’s backs whenever and how to deal with sharing space.

Bella – current Wyonegonic camper


Grove TreesIn our first grove of the summer, the entire camp community is asked to enjoy the beauty of the pine grove. We are instructed to smell the unique pine scent wafting in the air and listen to the sounds from the grove and the lake. Everyone is invited to lie back and look up at the towering pines and appreciate their longevity at camp as they sway in the gentle breeze. No one talks and campers and staff alike take the precious time to immerse themselves in their surroundings and grapple with understanding their place in it.

It has been about four months since the end of camp and for many of our campers that means juggling busy schedules with school and various extracurricular activities. It means being tied to technology, understanding social circles and bustling from here to there. For parents, it means helping our children find balance in their lives. Mindfulness practices are tools being adopted by organizations such as schools and families to achieve such balance and harmony. Camp, on the other hand, had been sharing mindfulness practices for some time.

Outside the CabinMindfulness is the act of being present, fully aware of the moment in a nonjudgmental way. It is being aware of one’s place both physically and emotionally at any given time and recognizing and appreciating those feelings as uniquely yours. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehearsing the past or imagining the future. It is engrained in camp life to appreciate the moment. For the camp community, this awareness or mindfulness happens from the shear simplicity embodied at camp.

The benefits of adopting mindful behaviors are numerous. Studies cite improvements in physical health, increased self-awareness, improved concentration and healthier emotional states. They also indicate decreased amounts of stress and anxiety.

There are many ways in which you can develop and practice mindfulness. Kristen Race and Sylvia Pique identify three simple practices to make lasting changes in your brain and in your life. These include the general categories of mindful breathing, mindful listening, and paying attention to emotions. How this looks for each child will be different. It may be a discussion of the day in which the child shares a highlight and a low light. It may be practicing belly breathing in which a child focuses on their breath sinking into their belly. Or it may be dulling all senses except hearing to appreciate the sounds around us.

Many people know the value of, living in the moment; we also know that this can be a challenge. As we all begin to immerse ourselves in life outside of camp, I invite you to imagine what it was like on that warm Sunday in grove in which you felt the sun on your face, smelt the strong pine, listen to the sounds from the lake and saw the contrast of green pines swaying against a blue background. The natural environment of camp lends to mindful practices but I challenge everyone to adopt these practices into their everyday life.

Rachel Kelly, Intermediate Unit Director and Program Development Coordinator

Family, Another word for camp

Wyonegonic FriendsRecently I have been looking back at my initial parental expectations of camp. Reflecting on the experiences that both of my children have had, this perspective has evolved enormously. To say that my initial expectations have been exceeded is an understatement. The values and blessings that Wyonegonic and Winona have imparted upon our entire family is remarkable.

By example my parents taught me to enjoy, appreciate and respect the outdoors. They taught me to marvel the natural world around us. My husband has a similar longing for the outdoors and as parents we wanted to instill this desire in our children. But neither of us had attended overnight camp.

The choice to send our children to camp came from the basic values our parents taught us. We wanted our kids to be outside, as opposed to inside watching TV. We wanted them to meet people from different places and learn how to get along, to appreciate a beautiful sunset, as well as a threatening thunderstorm. Additionally, we saw sleep-away camp as a place to learn coping and self-help skills that are sometimes best learned outside the home. Finally, we wanted to give our children a reprieve from increasing technology and the proliferation of digital devices and social media. We wanted to give pause from the onslaught of our digital world and to have our kids recognize the value in that kind of disruption. These are principles I am confident other parents share.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACamp has successfully accomplished these hopes. What we didn’t count on was that we would gain another family. Wyonegonic and Winona friends, counselors and staff have all become part of an extended family that circles the globe. There is a certain bond created from sharing the time, space and experiences with those at Camp. My children talk about their counselors as if they were true blood Aunts and Uncles (not just the camp title) and look to their camper cohorts as more than summertime connections. Between September and May they text, facetime and plan mid-winter Camp reunions to keep that sacred summer spirit. Holiday cards are exchanged and when traveling, the chance to connect with someone from Camp is always considered.
Part of it is hard to explain in simple words, it’s an understanding and an awareness. Just like with any family, everything associated with Camp is now part of us and lives at our core. We celebrate accomplishments and we mourn losses. As adults we are able to look back on the experiences in our younger selves and see the moments that have had a major impact. That is what I see from Camp for our children. Watching them blossom in this environment is everything we wanted and more. This is why I often share that I consider the choice of sending our children to Camp as one of the single best parenting decisions we made.

In reflecting on Camp and that first time we pulled down the dirt road, our car packed with the typical stuff, not much has changed physically but so much has been gained. That bendy dirt road, twisting through towering pines, shares a proverbially likeness to our life. Wyonegonic and Winona have given us so much more than just experiences and memories. It has given us a link with others that doesn’t end on Closing Day in August or with the pulling of docks in September. It is a part of us as we each meander down our own roads of life. Camp is Family.

Darcy Conlin
Wyonegonic parent and staff member 2010-present

Summer Camp in Senegal

ChristinaI just wanted to reach out because I recently participated in a pretty awesome project that made me think of my time as a counselor at Wyonegonic! For the past year I have been abroad working for the Peace Corps as a Sustainable Agriculture volunteer. I work with farmers to help increase their food security and the health of their families by increasing crop yields and diversifying gardens (veggies!). I live with an amazing host family here in rural Senegal and have no electricity but do have running water (a lot like Wyo!).

One of the best parts about Peace Corps service is that you can coordinate projects that fit with your interests. So, naturally I jumped on an opportunity to participate in a girls leadership and empowerment camp! Recently, volunteers and I selected 39 girls from more than 15 rural villages in our area and brought them together in a secluded campment (campground) on the coast of Senegal. Most of the girls who attended the camp had never been to see the ocean- let alone swim in it. They wChristina 2ere so eager to get into the water and learn how to swim. Who knew my time as a swim instructor at Wyo would come in so handy on the other side of the world! We taught sessions about health, the environment, identity, and future planning. Throughout the week I was extremely thankful for all of the things Wyonegonic taught me about being a counselor and working with girls. It was the most incredible experience to translate the things I learned at Wyo into a foreign language and culture. The girls absolutely loved every minute of the camp and I wanted to say thank you for everything you taught me! I have written about the experience in detail on my blog. Our week long camp gave me so much more respect for the amazing program you work towards all year long. It is definitely no easy task!

Christina Ertel
Wyo Staff 2009-2011

George’s Favorite Holiday

George N SudduthIs it any surprise to those of you who knew George Sudduth that his Tree Signfavorite holiday was Earth Day? George always strove to find new and better ways to protect the environment, educate children and improve the efficiency of camp operations. One of his earliest projects was to plant a red pine tree farm near the location of the original Freeman Farm, now our horseback riding facility. In the late 1960’s, he had planted 8,000 red pine seedlings which were pruned and cared for by George, his family and camp staff. Those red pines have since been harvested once for pulp wood and continue to provide shade for our horses. There will be managed cuts in the future when the pines are ready to be harvested for utility poles. We are members of the American Tree Farm System and the Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine, as well as registered with the Maine Forest Service. Along with many other family owned tree farms in Maine, these green spaces provide for the enjoyment of people, as well as protected ecosystems for wildlife.

Another small way that we try to be green is to purchase biodegradable products from Auto Be Green, a local New England company. They provide us with lubricants, oils, and car and boat wash for our vehicles, boats and small engine equipment. We much prefer using biodegradable products in our facility management, as so much of it happens near the lake.

Last of winter's snow melting in lagoon.

Last of winter’s snow melting in lagoon.

Water conservation and management of our septic system was also very important to George, as he knew that those practices would help protect the lake that we all love and cherish. In the late 1980’s, he began to plan for a unique septic system that would retire the septic leach beds along the lake and pump the effluent water uphill. That system was developed into a series of six pump stations that move our effluent water uphill from the showers, Greenies and Cobb Dining Hall to a man made lagoon. The effluent water in that lagoon is naturally treated by sunlight throughout the summer, then pumped through irrigation pipes back out into the environment. We are licensed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, who monitors and tests our system so that we are in compliance with all Federal and State regulations. We are proud to report that we have maintained a perfect testing record since the installation of this system, as well as the additions that we have added over the years to accommodate more campers and staff. Our Maine Summer Camp partners, Winona Camps and Camp Wildwood both in Bridgton, also have similar systems. We work with the Maine Rural Water Association to stay current on new regulations and best practices by regularly attending their trainings. Our Junior and Intermediate campers learn about this system in their Ecology Classes as part of our Outdoor Living Skills program.

GCITo this day, Wyonegonic has remained active in conservation efforts throughout our operation and communities. We have recently become members of the Green Camps Initiative, which is a collaboration of summer camps across the country that is promoting and implementing green initiatives. We are working towards accreditation through GCI of our sustainable practices.

Just a Click Away

blenderThe Wall Street Journal posted an article posing this question, “You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. The blades are about to start, what do you do?” The title of this article, How to Ace a Google Interview is ironic because the answer is not just a click away.

The answer to this question relies on the ability to critically and creatively think about the situation. It requires seeing the whole picture, brainstorming and making hypotheses. In some instances, it requires letting logic and rationale go and thinking without any confines. It requires being uncomfortable as you grapple with a situation and the many possibilities.

Sr Spider Web #1In her book, How to Teach Thinking and Learning Skills,  C.J. Simister, education expert, writes about how “critical thinking and creative thinking are, in many cases, interrelated as situations depend on gathering and absorbing information (critical thinking) leading to the transformation of this knowledge to generate new ideas (creative thinking)“. Promoting critical and creative thinking appears to be at the forefront of school’s agendas. Camps, on the other hand, have been developing these kinds of thinking for decades.

Imagine, a group of campers looking at the spider’s web low ropes course element; how are the campers going to get to the other side? Will they pick each other up? Crawl around? Each and every time this element is completed, a new strategy arises. Now imagine, a group of campers given a bag of non-related items such as a toilet paper roll, tennis racquets, bathrobes and flashlights. What can those campers make from all those items given a little bit of time and the freedom to think?

Wyo 04 JR Campers fairy houseAt camp, children are not able to Google the current wind direction, the elements of a ropes course challenge, the sounds of nature they are hearing, or the different ways to construct fairy houses. The answer is not a click away, and therefore they must rely on and develop the ability to think critically and creatively.

For more ideas on how to promote critical thinking for your camper at home, check out Parents Magazine’s article Inspiring Creativity: Raise a Trailblazer and the University of California’s article 7 ways to Foster Creativity.

Rachel Kelly, Intermediate Unit Director and Program Development Coordinator

Ideas for Indoor Fun

Trapped inside this winter?

Whether you are trapped inside due to the recent major winter storms in your area or have a house full Braceletsof kids home and bored for school vacation week, here are a few ideas from summer camp that may help entertain everyone when you are out of ideas!

  • Skits – Tackle a fun theatrical performance at home that kids can plan, practice and then perform. Have siblings work together or invite a few neighborhood friends over. Paper Bag Skits are great. Place 5-10 random items in a paper bag and the kids use these items in a skit they perform (the wackier the items the better).  Watch their creativity take off! Or have them plan and act out a commercial to advertise an item, play progressive charades, or perform a scene from a favorite musical.
  • Friendship Bracelets – Unpack the camp trunk and find the leftover embroidery floss. Kids can make bracelets for friends, family members or even themselves. Search online for “how to” videos or purchase a book at a craft store if you or your child does not know how to get started.
  • Write Letters – Pretend they are at camp with no electronic communication. Newspaper Fashions Grab the stationary and write fun letters or cards to friends, address the envelopes, and mail them out the old fashioned way! Perhaps they will be lucky and get a reply in a week or so. Start a letter writing chain, ask funny questions or create a “fill in the blank” style letter that a friend returns. Letter writing is a great life skill. As many a summer camp office staff can attest to, kids should learn how to address an envelope properly!
  • Evening Programs – Kids can think of their favorite games and Evening Programs from camp, and try a home version. Can you play an inside version of Capture the Flag? Build fairy houses if you can get outside (fairies like snow), organize a scavenger hunt around the house or try Dutch Auction, Chocolate Smugglers or Flounder (ask the kids how to play – they will know!)
  • Newspaper Fashions – Use newspaper to create fashion designs using nothing but newspaper and a limited amount of tape. Make a super hero, create an red carpet worthy design or use a theme. Kids can use each other as the model or dress you up. Don’t forget to take photos!

S'moreOf course get outside if you can (see our recent Children and Nature blog). Dress warmly and enjoy all the out of doors has to offer whatever time of year.  Fresh air does wonders for helping with cabin fever.  If you have a fireplace you could roast some marshmallows and make S’mores afterwards!

See you when the weather gets warmer!

Susie Hammond, Associate Director Wyonegonic Camps

Wyonegonic Dance

Cookie Dance photoI always wondered how my love of dance and the outdoors would coexist. Over thirteen summers at Wyonegonic, I grew to feel most at home in the woods, but my dance career seemed to require a different environment. In October of 2013, however, I invited two other dancers to make a new work with me in Denmark, Maine as an experiment. We immediately witnessed the advantages of making art here — the inspiring beauty of the place, the local community’s need for more creative outlets, and the copious amounts of space and time in which to work.

Denmark Arts CenterNow a full time resident of Denmark, I co-run a modern dance company, Hio Ridge Dance, named for the road connecting Wyonegonic and Winona Camps. Working with the Denmark Arts Center, we developed an evening length dance about the town last summer. As a part of the project, I wanted to collaborate with Wyonegonic campers. My attachment to this place comes, in great part, from my experiences at Wyonegonic and I hoped this year’s campers would help me convey Denmark’s immense and beautiful energy. The resulting dance film was projected in the six live performances of our dance about Denmark shown at the Denmark Arts Center and various locations on the East Coast.

Cookie Harrist, Wyonegonic Camper and Staff alumna

Directed by Hio Ridge Dance
Choreography by Wyonegonic Senior Camp 2014
Film Shot by Jamie Hook (Director of the Denmark Arts Center) with daughters Ivy and Ursula
Film Edited by Delaney McDonough