If you have called 207-452-2051 in the past two decades, you have been treated to the voice of a true Mainer. Karen Grey has been the Office Manager for 19 years and she has been much more than just the friendly voice that receives your call. Karen has been a reliable and capable friend with skills that helped her thrive in the job. She is a believer in camp, a helpful hand a laugh when needed and an employee willing to roll up her sleeves and do what is needed. She has been affectionately known as “Ma” to hundreds of summer camp staff that have passed through the office doors over the years.
Karen is a native of Fryeburg Maine; a graduate of Fryeburg Academy; a supporter of the North Fryeburg Community Chapel; an active quilter; a dog lover and Mom of two grown children, Jason and Jessica. Recently she has been the primary caregiver for her husband Larry as he recovers from serious surgery.
The time has come for Larry and Karen to retire, escape Maine winters, and join friends in Florida where they have recently purchased a home. She has trained her replacement Rhi Logan who has stepped into the role of support for the Sudduths and Wyonegonic.
We send Karen off with special hugs and gratitude. She has already offered to help in small ways as we turn the corner into 2021.
Kiyi Karen – thank you for your dedicated years of service. You will be greatly missed.
With Thanksgiving recently passing, I was reminded of a lot of things to be grateful for. One of them being the camp friendships I have been able to strengthen while apart due to COVID. Through my years as a camper, I have been taught about the importance of female friendship and inclusivity. When I first came to camp I was shy and often cried because I wanted to go home. Within the second week I was a completely different person. I was trying new activities and making friends with a smile plastered across my face. In junior, I was strictly an indoors kid, that meant no hiking, canoeing, sailing, or anything that had to do with the outdoors. One day, a CIT encouraged me to try something new, and I fell in love with trips. Wyonegonic has taught me to safely push myself to try new things in an environment that is judgement free.
As I grew older, I reflected on what Wyo has taught me and the person that I have evolved into. Where I was once quiet and reserved, I now am confident and outgoing. My roles as a captain, teammate, friend, and daughter are all a reflection of Wyo’s hard work and love. I am so grateful for all of the counselors and friends that supported and encouraged me to try new things. One of Wyo’s themes that I reflect and reminisce on is “Find the Kind”. The summer of 2019 was one of personal growth and trying new things. I had made friends outside of my age group and spread a positive attitude when engaging in new activities. The abundance of kindness that camp radiates taught me to not only do the same but to be thankful for it and share it.
I feel most in touch with myself at Wyo. Not only is it a beautiful, secluded environment, but we’re free to learn in an electronic-free zone. I consider this to be one of the most underrated benefits. This is where I feel most empowered because of the kindness, love, and care that camp fosters and instills in its young women/campers. Thank you for being such a large contribution to who I am and who I strive to become. In difficult times when it can be hard to remember a period before masks and frequent use of hand sanitizer, I bring myself to my happy place. It serves as a reminder to enjoy the outdoors, find achievements in the little things, and to maintain and grow friendships, but to especially treat others with kindness.
Melina “Govey” McGovern: AC – 2021, Wyo Camper 2012-2019
Thanks to Kate Humphrey for organizing–what a great mini-reunion! I have so many memories and so much pride for the women they have become that it’s difficult to describe, but it’s gotten me thinking…
There’s a lot to be grumpy about right now, true. I’m trying to take a moments to reflect and be grateful. One thing I appreciate, now more than ever, are the ties that bind. Wyonegonic has given me so much to be thankful for during truly stressful and challenging moments of my life:
When questioning my career path, I retreated to the office (remember when the office was in the Senior Wiggie?!) to consult my mentor and plan next steps. When strong women lift other women up, good things happen. I’m right where I need and want to be.
When our twins were born, I struggled with the reality of returning to my “work kids” only to leave my own children. Carol and Jill came to our house to snuggle cute babies, and theirs were the first voices who said, “Good for you,”. Until that visit, I had heard sentiments of commiseration and sympathy, but it was the voices of Wyo women who encouraged me to “lean in”. Katie Brown assured me, “You will be a better mother because you are a teacher, and you will be a better teacher because you are now a mother, ” and she was right.
And when feeling totally depleted after a difficult spring of meeting the needs of many as Dean of Students at a middle school here in rural Maine all while supporting my own children through 1st grade, the shores and my friends welcomed me with open arms, canoes and campfires. I had time and space to reflect, rejuvenate and even rejoice. Such pride and contentment I felt while watching my daughter make and sail her very own Candlenight boat.
I first arrived on the shores of Moose Pond 25 years ago and in that time, Wyo has given me experiences like meeting my very first camper at age 9, watching her be a leader in Junior, Inty and Senior camps, guiding 12 incredible and diverse girls through the Moose River Bow, coaching some as they became counselors and watching their adult lives unfold. And that’s just with this one CIT group of “mine”! These are precious threads that weave us together and keep us connected, no matter time nor distance.
I’ve enjoyed years of discovering the beauty that is Wyo, sharing that with my campers, CITs/AC, counselors, friends and family, and now we have a chance to help preserve that experience for others. If you are as thankful as I, please consider making a donation so that future generations will know these same values and connections. Visit the Giving section of Wyonegonic’s website for information on how to contribute.
Wyonegonic was founded on the principle of giving young women fuller and healthier lives through recreation in the outdoors, developing life skills and community engagement. Our philosophy involves actively creating a culture of acceptance and inclusion while focused on personal growth and enriching experiences.
We are responding to the gravity of the events unfolding across the country and the outrage so many of us are feeling regarding the continued presence of systemic racism facing the Black and Indigenous communities. We are confronted by the fact that Wyonegonic’s historical community has had limited representation of people of color. Wyonegonic, along with many of those in the camping industry, has been mostly represented by white experiences. Over the past several years, we have begun to raise this topic, both internally and externally – emphasizing that inclusion and diversity are essential for a successful camp experience.
While we hope those who have experienced Wyonegonic believe that our camp is tolerant and welcoming, we need to acknowledge that there are parts of the culture of Wyonegonic that may not feel inviting. Perhaps, as a fairly close-knit group, our community carries an implicit bias.
To the members of the BIPOC community in our Wyonegonic family, we stand with you. We support you. We join with our alumnae who are speaking up, and who are leading the way for change. As summer camp professionals, we believe in the power of camp and feel it is necessary for us to affirm that Black Lives Matter, as it is at the core of our identities and values.
Wyonegonic welcomes campers and staff from all countries, religions, races and cultures. Explicit and implicit racism, or any kind of discrimination has no place in our community. Personally and professionally, we need to continue to be active in creating a culture of acceptance and inclusion. We acknowledge that Wyonegonic represents multiple generations and that personal beliefs will vary. We are all growing and as a community, we depend on one another.
Our active steps going forward now include:
We will continue to educate ourselves and provide opportunities for learning. We will be engaged with others in the camping industry and grow together.
We will seek a more diverse community of campers and staff.
We are planning for increased Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training as part of our 2021 Staff Training and beyond.
We will listen. Plans are to form a diverse and multi generational DEI Advisory Group.
We will listen to members of the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities.
We are examining our past camp traditions as they relate to Indigenous culture.
We will do our best to honor the Abenaki Nation and reform inappropriate remaining cultural appropriation as we continue to teach valuable lessons to our campers.
Wyonegonic will embrace change. As Wyonegonic’s small reach in this world grows, we will nurture a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion where each person feels seen, heard and supported now and for years to come.
In college a few years ago in my fundamentals of design class we were asked to create a self portrait through written text. My teacher asked that we get creative and think about what it is that really makes you who you are. We had to create this image through drawing or writing words only and these words had to be related to what the image portrayed. I chose to do a scene from the waterfront of camp because camp has helped to shape the person who I am today. A few examples of the words I picked were kiyi, confidence, independent, brave, and strong. I believe that at camp I am free to be 100% myself and I am fully accepted and loved for that. To this day I still have Wyonegonic to thank for helping me become the woman I am today. Wyo helped me to gain leadership experience, helped me try new things, introduced me to people from all over the world, and helped to give me my voice. I bring my Wyonegonic memories and experience with me everyday. I wish everyone was fortunate enough to have an opportunity like Wyonegonic!
Emma Battey Wyo Camper 2009-10; CIT/AC 2011-12; Staff 2014-16
The smell of pines keeps calling me back to camp. Since I was a young girl, my summer camp has been one of the greatest sources of joy in my life. Each summer as a young child, I packed my trunk and headed to the shores of Moose Pond to Wyonegonic Camps. My family are camp people and this is just what we did. However, with each summer, I grew more ingrained in the fabric of this wonderful institution and it grew more ingrained in me.
As a child, camp was a place I went to be with over 100 sisters and counselors who have become many of the most important role models in my life. Camp is my sanctuary, my paradise, and my haven. As young adult, I now understand the pull, as if a kind of gravity, has had on me. Camp has been my rock; the rock that has grounded me and played a major role in who I am today.
At camp, I can be my full, unfiltered self without facing any judgment or criticism. The ability to be myself through the summers has fostered in my personality a place for confidence to grow in all aspects of my life, all year long; winter, spring, summer, and fall.
Camp is more than the sweet smell of the pines, or the creaky cots that I have slept on for countless nights or the campfires that I gathered around with my closest friends. All year long, I hear the campers singing in my sleep. My camp friends are my most genuine and accepting of all my peers. Among them and alongside them, I learned to sail, chop wood, canoe rivers and try activities that I would never have had the opportunity to do. I became an avid outdoorswoman and learned that I can operate independently and make decisions. Living in a rustic cabin taught me to care for others and that my actions make a difference in a community.
Now as a young woman in college, I find the value of my summer camp experience more than ever. Having the ability to feel I can be myself in an environment like college, which is new and intimidating, is genuinely irreplaceable. This I attribute to my summers at camp.
As a college student I have countless opportunities to pursue. Internships, work at home during the summer, and traveling are all enriching options. Despite these, I choose camp. I choose camp because I want to give back and pass the magic on to my campers. I am that person who now empowers young girls and helps them to be their best selves. This is a gift I received from my counselors throughout the course of many summers.
To become a person who is part of the history of an organization and to move a community forward compare to no other. I have important jobs to do and one is to help my campers see the difference they are making in the world. This is done simply and organically, daily at camp.
Many times during my years, especially as a young teen, I leaned on my success at camp at other times of the year. The lessons I learned is what helped me through the challenging social maze of adolescence and instilled in me the confidence to take risks and try new things. I want my campers to be brave and understand they do not need to be perfect. Camp allowed me to grow the confidence to be who I am meant to be. Independent strong women are needed in today’s society, and they are created summer after summer at Wyonegonic.
Every young woman should have the experience of summer camp, just as I did. As a young child, I had no idea how profound this experience would be. I will always call camp my summer home. It is a home that I plan to send my children and grandchildren to and together we will sing the same songs on the shores of Moose Pond that countless women have sung for 118 summers. Camp is a gift. Seeing young girls grow to be confident young women throughout the summer is a privilege I am honored to have. There is no better feeling than being deeply woven in the fabric of what I consider to be one of the most special places on earth!
The smile of a camper when she first canters on a horse, the empowerment seen in a camper’s eyes when she lights a fire with her one match, and the shrieks of exhilaration when a camper is the skipper of her own sailboat are truly irreplaceable. I am forever grateful for my involvement at Wyonegonic Camps, and the camp magic that occurs over the course of the summer.
Maggie Ryan, a longtime camper and counselor.
This article appeared in the Greenwich Sentinel in March 2019
Yup, that is I in the picture circa 1975. My name is Jennifer Hollis Perkins and I was so very fortunate to have started my Wyonegonic experience at a very young age. I began in Pooh Corner, moved through each unit as a camper: Junior, Intermediate, and Senior, was accepted and completed both the CIT and AC programs, served as a cabin counselor, the water front director, the Junior Unit Director (UD), the Intermediate UD, and now as Program Director. I have been able to share the Wyo and Winona experiences with 5 of our 6 kids. Their love for the shores is equally as strong.
Perk with members of the 2019 Leadership Team
During the last several months I have had much time to reflect on my experiences at Wyo and what I learned and have taken away from my many years at Wyo. In these crazy times I have found myself extremely thankful that Wyo instilled a strong foundation that has enabled me to resolve anything that comes my way.
Without even realizing it I was shown and taught kindness, inclusiveness, courage, resiliency, teamwork, empathy, sense of community, how to be a strong leader, how to voice my opinions and feelings, how to fall short and successfully overcome, and how to appreciate the outdoors. One my fondest memories was coming upon George Sudduth on the path who asked me if I had hugged a tree today. Often the answer was no and we would hug a tree together. I still cherish those moments. What a leader and mentor.
The Perkins children
My hope for all of you during these uncertain and scary times is that you draw on your Wyo experience to keep you strong and positive. Look through some old pictures, reach out to an old camp friend and take in all that nature has to offer. Close your eyes and envision the tall pines swaying above you in grove or sing a candlelight song. This too shall pass and we will get to normal or at least a new normal. As I type this, my Winona crew is in the air coming home to Bama. This means our official household countdown till the shores in 2021 begins tomorrow. Best wishes to each of you for continued good health in 2020 and well into 2021!
I have been thinking about the studios at Wyo often these days, feeling campsick. Arts and Crafts and Pottery are most often our most “indoor” of activities at a most “outdoors” of camps. And yet, so many of us truly need it at some point. On my walks around camp, I have seen girls accomplishing wonderful things outside, taking obvious risks and receiving the reward of cheers from their friends and counselors. In the studio, the risks and rewards are quiet and subtle, but no less profound.
We focus on the doing of things, the learning of processes, and the busying of hands. Space is left for giggles, quiet conversation, stories of outdoor adventures, and music. Unique solutions to a common query unfold over the week, revealing each girl’s individuality. Glances across the table at each other’s work, looking for ideas and solutions, are rewarded with smiles of encouragement and words of praise. At the end of the week, the product is an experience made manifest, a physical remnant of a risk taken and a new skill accomplished.
Making art has its own thrills-it can be scary to start something new. I can’t count how many adults have mentioned to me that they “can’t;” the girls, however, are brave. They have friends by their sides and counselors to encourage them, to laugh through the hard parts. This busying of hands allows their minds to wander, to process the day’s events, the feelings of joy, observations of their environment, moments of understanding. They are allowed to Be.
It has been hard for me to start projects these days. So much to think about, to miss. But I finally did. I made a painting. Really, it felt monumental to even begin. I had to assemble all of my supplies, set up my easel, and stare at the blank, white surface. I felt that stab of fear, old friend. I looked at my subject instead, studied, observed, appreciated. I looked at the rainbow of colors on my palette and thought, “this I know, this I can do.” I let my mind go. And I Was.
July 4th has come and gone. This was always a special day at camp, so I found myself thinking about Wyo and, most importantly, all of you. This certainly is a strange time in the world. When I first heard the news that Wyo would suspend the summer, I kept thinking how could this be? How can I survive a summer without camp, without my friends, without evening circle, or crazy EPs? My thoughts quickly returned to all of you, my campers. Campers need camp. This pandemic is robbing everyone apart of the camp community of an experience that is sacred, needed, beautiful, and transformative. However, as Wyo has taught us, when one door closes, a window opens. We will persevere and get to a point where this scary and uncertain time creates a clear perspective on life and who we are as Wyonegonic women.
Each day I hang onto my Wyo experience and dreams, for memories of the shores and pines provide hope and happiness for me regarding our world. I hang on for me and for all of you. We WILL be back on Moose Pond and we WILL be together again enjoying splashing in the lake, climbing mountains, swinging from the crow’s nest, sitting on the cabin line just listening to the Maine sounds, and being part of our very special community. When I think about these moments I can almost hear your laughter, smell the pines and breath the crisp Maine air. So, as sad as I am and, yes, I have certainly felt “campsick”, I have come to realize that being away from camp is giving me a new perspective. I want you each to experience this as well. This perspective on the meaning of my camp experience has encouraged me to find new ways to lead and look forward to improving myself as a counselor for next summer, which will be the best summer yet.
During this reflective time I have deeply pondered on our camp themes such as, ONE WYO, FIND the KIND and BE BRAVE. Maybe during the camp season, I have been too busy to think of the true meaning behind these words and how they relate to our experience. However, with the obvious reasons the state of the world is scary and difficult right now, I have also been able to realize the meanings of our themes in my life, not just during the summer months.
This summer my wish for each of you is to practice what we practice at camp: inclusivity, bravery, and kindness. I wish for you to take what you have learned at camp and implement these values into your own communities to make them better. I wish that you will remember the wonderful and challenging lessons you have learned at camp, for among these old lessons we have learned at Wyo, we are learning new things everyday as the world navigates uncertainty.
So, my dear campers, I hope the lessons you learn this summer encompass appreciation, patience, and resilience. We will be together again and we will be stronger than ever. You are strong Wyo women whether this was to be your first summer or your 10th summer. We know how to meet adversity and make a challenging situation into a great opportunity.
Knowing that we will be back on Moose Pond next summer, take advantage of this summer, for we will only experience something like this once in a lifetime. Keep spreading the Wyo magic each day, and always remember that you have a counselor that loves you very much, believes in you, misses you and most importantly, cannot wait to be with you in 2021.
In April of 1970 the first earth day was celebrated. Initiated by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson 20 million Americans participated. By the end of that year, the first Earth Day had helped lead to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Water Act. Today, almost 50 years later Earth Day is celebrated by one billion people around the globe.
Wyonegonic which sits on the shores of beautiful Moose Pond appreciates the clean water and healthy fish and wildlife habitat that the lake supports. However we do recognize the lakes fragility. For years Wyonegonic has been supporting the Lakes Environmental Association.
The Lakes Environmental Association’s mission is to preserve and restore the high water quality and the traditional character of Maine’s lakes, watersheds and related natural resources. LEA’s was also started in the spring of 1970, to protect the lakes and lands of Western Maine “for your children and your children’s children.” Today, protecting water quality remains LEA’s top priority. Thanks to financial support from area towns, members, foundations, and with help from volunteer monitors and the hard work of summer interns, LEA provides comprehensive water testing for 40 lakes. Because of this long-term program, more is known about LEA’s lakes than any others in the state.
At Wyonegonic we celebrate earth day every day by being responsible stewards of our forest land and our lakeshore property. Beyond our recycling efforts, solar panels, and environmentally friendly waste water system we follow strict guidelines suggested by LEA regarding lake and water protection. Building and construction projects include proper erosion control to eliminate runoff and the adding of harmful nutrients to the lake and streams. Minimal driveways and impervious ground results in stable and less erosion prone banks and shorelines. We do not use pesticides and fertilizer on our grassy Junior play field. Maintaining the vegetation on the lakeshore and having a natural landscape keeps important root systems and natural filters on the shore in place, resulting in cleaner lake water.
Wyonegonic will again donate to the Lakes Environmental Association, our camp will support the long-term survival of Moose Pond and other Maine lakes as we know lakes are critical to the enjoyment of future camper generations. We recognize the value of Earth Day as it spreads a crucial message of worldwide environmental protection awareness, a message that we will engage with and continue to share with our camp community.
Carey (center) with “The Trippers” as a young Wyo camper.
The first time I camped out, I was nine years old and snuggled into a musty-smelling, dark green tent with five other girls. We were tired from a day spent learning canoe strokes, collecting firewood, and cooking our own food, but despite our fatigue, we couldn’t help giggling and whispering together as we drifted off to sleep. By the end of our cabin overnight on Loon Island, my love of the outdoors had been cemented: the magic of being outside with other girls had taken ahold of me.
Throughout my eleven years at Wyonegonic, backpacking and canoeing trips became a central part of camp. I found that trips took everything I loved about camp and magnified the experience– in particular, the speed, depth, and quality of friendships formed with campers and counselors. Meagan Hawes and Jane Barnard, both there on my first cabin overnight as a junior camper, quickly become my comrades on outdoor adventures. By intermediate camp, our habit of signing up for every single trip had earned us the nickname, “The Trippers” (a nickname that still sticks with us when we gather for reunions with other camp friends).
Carey (top left) as a Wyonegonic Trip Leader
As a Tripper, I went on trip after trip, learning lesson after lesson. On Loon Island, I learned how good it feels to cook your own food and set up your own tent. On the St. Croix River, I learned the heart-swelling joy of being in a beautiful, remote place. On the Saco River, I observed overcrowding and disrespect of a wild space, and felt the first sparks of my environmental conscious ignite. On Mt. Washington, I learned that sometimes the best and hardest thing you can do is to turn around without reaching a summit. In the Mahoosuc Notch, I learned that laughter can get you through any hard situation (and often the best stories arise from “Type II Fun”). In Baxter State Park, I saw in my trip-leaders the type of leader I hoped to become. I emerged from my summers at Wyonegonic not only with a love of outdoor trips, but also with self-confidence, creativity as a problem-solver, an ability to stay calm in challenging situations, and an understanding of how to connect with others.
Carey (rear) in a skimo competition (photo Katie Cassetta).
The Wyonegonic spirit stays alive in my life today as I constantly seek to engage in outdoor experiences with other women. In an effort to help more girls and women to feel at home in the outdoors, this winter I am racing the Grand Traverse— a forty mile, ski mountaineering race in Colorado– as a charity team. My race partner, Sammy Podhurst, and I are raising money for a non-profit called the Wilder Women Project, which seeks to inspire and connect women through adventure, spirituality, and outdoor recreation. Empowering women in the outdoors is an important mission to both Sammy and me. We were recently featured on a recent Topophilia podcast about Wild Work. As female professionals in industries that have traditionally been, and continue to be, male dominated– Sammy as a mountain guide with Aspen Expeditions, and I as an Aspen Mountain Ski Patroller— we will have an opportunity to put our passions into action during the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, as we take on one of the most grueling ski mountaineering races in the world as a female team. The 40-mile skimo race begins at midnight on March 29th in Crested Butte. Racers– who compete in teams for safety reasons– trek up and over the mountains, finishing at the base of Aspen Mountain 7 to 17 hours later, depending on fitness.
I will call upon my Wyo experiences and memories to get me through when the going gets tough. I’ll think about traversing the Katahdin Knife Edge and channel Smack’s cool-headedness; I’ll remember summiting Mt. Jefferson and know that accomplishments feel better if you overcome a challenge; and, I’ve got a song or two I can sing along the way to remind myself of the intrepid camp spirit. My summers at Wyonegonic gave me a love of the outdoors, and made me attuned to that special magic that comes from an all-female outdoor adventure– that same magic I felt as a little nine-year-old in a smelly, green tent.
My twin daughters completed their first season in Junior Camp last summer. Prior to sending them to Wyo, my husband and I felt like we had done our research. We had visited camp the summer before. We had read books like Michael Thompson’s Homesick and Happy and were believers in what camp would do for our girls in terms of independence and building confidence. Knowing what we wanted the girls to get out of camp, it was no surprise how much they had changed when we came to visit mid-session. They were keeping track of their schedule and had already lost and figured out how to find various items. They took us to the Cobb and loved knowing more than we did about how something worked. I knew that Wyo would be instrumental in helping my girls be motivated and present in their day to day lives. Ninety percent of the time I would say we have easy going, happy girls that love to learn and want to be a positive force in the world. Their experiences at Wyo last summer helped solidify and grow these traits just like the brochures and books said it would.
As I said 90% of the time our girls face the day with grace and confidence. However, our daughters also face issues that are hard to write about in glossy brochures. I want to address the other 10% of days when they come home from school not full of smiles and spilling over with stories that reflect their strength and confidence. In our fast-paced world of social media, girls are getting caught up in social hierarchies earlier and earlier. We started seeing an increase in “friend drama” in the first grade. Our daughters came home with so many questions and were confused about how to be a good friend in school. Suddenly the tools we had given them, that friendships happen when you include everyone and be kind, were not always working anymore. Truly our school is a sweet and thoughtful community and 90% of the days our conversations are age appropriate, positive, silly, and fun. However, those other 10% of days are hard. Days when it is clear that “belonging” is really important. Where my girls feel on the outside of the group. They feel guilty when they knew someone else was on the outside and was glad it wasn’t them. This part of raising girls was more complex than I ever imagined it would be when I first held my daughters in my arms 9 years ago. As a parent I was so surprised that I would have to deal with the tricky world of girl relationships much earlier than I thought.
When the school year kicked in this fall I discovered an unexpected gift from Wyo that was not published in any of the literature. Wyo has given my daughters a place to belong even though the canoes are stored for the winter, and the lake is starting to ice over. I didn’t expect camp would help with the 10% of hard days where my well-adjusted positive girls were simply having a rough time and their circle of friends at home didn’t feel safe and supportive. Since leaving Moose Pond in August, Wyo has held them up as tall and sturdy as the pines surrounding the Grove. On hard days, both girls have found comfort by telling me a story about a friend from camp. This reminded them of a larger circle and they were ok. They have a community where they always feel like they belong. They have treasured letters from friends. A poster hangs on their bedroom wall of every face that was part of camp last summer. They see themselves there too; they belong. This scaffold has given them strength and resilience they need to be a good friend and stand tall when they sometimes feel alone. Yes, Wyo was a place of positive growth last summer, but it continues to provide refuge and comfort even though the summer has long passed. That sense of belonging was woven into every song they learned, every night they were sung to sleep by a counselor, every adventure they experienced, and every friend they made.
As parents trying to raise girls who have positive and supportive friendships we are so grateful for the expected and unexpected gifts that Wyo has given to our girls.
The summer sleep –away camp experience lasts a lifetime. With all the challenges and confusion that the world presents our young people today, it is without a doubt that summers spent at a camp during the formative years of a child’s development are instrumental in shaping character, self-worth and sense of social responsibility. In girls’ camps, particularly, being part of a summer community promotes a strong sense of sisterhood and solid bonds. Given all the challenges our young women face, the summer camp experience for them focuses on teamwork, awareness of others and dedication to the group’s success. It is about being part of something bigger than oneself.
Often today, children are not given the opportunity to succeed outside of rigid school and extra-curricular activity schedules. To give a child choice is monumental when mostly, our schedules tend to predetermine choice. Often we have our children on a treadmill in which time moves at a rapid pace which often does not allow for self-reflection. It requires bravery and trust by parents to choose summer camp for their daughter. At camp, time slows down and joy exists in the here and the now. The day the camper arrives at camp she fully owns her experience. It is not fabricated or manipulated by parents or advisers. Because it is her experience, she is in control. Campers are encouraged to be do-ers and not spectators.
The camp experience allows girls to be themselves. They are removed from the daily competition often found behind the walls of school. Living in rustic communities and being unplugged from a variety of devices give young girls the chance to develop their identities through the successes, the failures and reflection that occur at camp. They independently accomplish small and large tasks every day at camp. A sense of independence slowly develops and with this new sense of independence comes an even stronger sense of empowerment. We want our daughters to grow into strong women. Summer camp has a magical way of giving campers what they need especially during the tender ‘tween-age’ years.
What are some things you can expect from your daughter upon her return from camp?
An Unlimited Library of Camp Songs
A Greater Appreciation of Stewardship for the Outdoors and the Environment
A Need to be Unplugged
A Strong Sense of Connection to Others
A Greater Sense of Empathy Learned Through Living with Others
A Greater Understanding of Self
A Sense of Tradition and Spirit
A Daughter who has Matured and Gained Independence
Of all the activities you might choose for your daughter’s summer, consider the value of a sleep-away summer camp experience. Summer camps have been partnering with parents in educating children for well over 100 years. Girls have been packing their trunks and returning to their camp for decades. Their camps are second homes, their own communities, and very much the souls of the persons our girls become. Camps are places where girls create their best selves.
Be brave and find a camp that allows your daughter to experience her childhood fully and to develop into a confident, independent, problem-solving young woman. She will giggle by the campfire with friends, spend summer days under the sun, and develop lifelong skills in activities and in cabin life. Most importantly, she will come to understand her potential and the difference that she can make in our world.
Whit Ryan, Wyonegonic 1998-2018
Whitney Ryan is Director of Staff Recruitment and Leadership Training at Wyonegonic. She frequently speaks on girls and women’s’ issues and teaches Community Living Skills classes for girls at Rumsey Hall School in Washington, CT. She is a lifelong educator of girls in residential camp environments. – This article was printed in the Greenwich Sentinel News, March 2018.
This Thanksgiving we at Wyonegonic are thankful for our camp community. The Wyonegonic family is broad and includes campers, parents, staff, and alumnae. The following is a sample of recent sentiments provided by Wyonegonic alumnae expressing what they are thankful for. It is fun to see the responses and themes circling through different generations. We are grateful for everyone’s efforts in sharing together and find it inspiring! We will let their words speak for themselves. Kiyi
I’m eternally thankful that Wyonegonic instilled in me the value of nature, friendship, risk taking and most importantly, group singing!
I will always be thankful for the women in my life, young and older, that camp continues to provide me with. From mentors to friends to campers, it is so important to me (and has been incredibly impactful in my life) to have so many strong, positive, and happy women in my life to look up to, share with, and mentor. . .
I am thankful for reconnecting with the Wyonegonic community both on the shores and through social media. My time at Wyonegonic as a camper, CIT, and staff solidified my place in the world as a strong woman surrounded by dynamic and caring friends. My time on Moose Pond cemented my relationship with the beauty of being outdoors and connecting with nature.
I am grateful that I have experienced the magic of Camp that now ripples through my family as well.
I’m thankful for friendships that began over 50 years ago on the shores of Moose Pond and rekindle instantly when we manage to meet up again, despite living on opposite sides of the continent.
I am thankful for the immense privilege of being able to come to camp and the generations of Wyo Women who have been and continue to be my role models.
I’m also thankful for being gifted the skills and knowledge to be to think that “I can” when faced with tough physical and mental challenges.
The friendships and family that Wyo has given me. It has allowed me to change the course of my life and I am now on a path I did not ever envision. . .
I’m thankful for enterprises that instill principles of sustainability. People who deeply appreciate nature and who think to themselves, “less than three saves a tree” and “leave a place cleaner than it was when you arrived.” Wildlife and nature are gifts and I’m thankful for those who preserve.
. . I am also thankful for the wonderful staff who summer after summer passes on the Wyo magic and creates wonderful experiences for the campers.
I am thankful for the wonderful friends that I made during my years at camp. Several of these friendships have not only lasted 30+ years, but they are now inter-generational as our children have formed incredible connections with each other. A camp friend is like no other – it truly is the family that we choose. . .
Thanks to the Wyonegonic campers, alumnae and staff who participated. Kiyi and Happy Thanksgiving
Like many North Toronto C.I. students, I spent my summer working at an overnight camp as a counselor. This year, I left camp not only with special memories and new skills, but with a new perspective on the importance of lessons that children can share. Of course, camp counselling is not all glamorous, and I did have to constantly remind ten-year-olds to pick their wet bathing suits up off the floor and to stop walking around the cabin during rest hour in horseback riding boots (which is in their opinion the most appropriate and quiet footwear option). I could not imagine my summer without the loving hugs from my first session ten-year-old campers and the late night talks about middle school, confidence, and friendship with my second session twelve-year-olds. I have compiled the top three lessons that I took away from this summer, which I think demonstrate the importance and great value we can all gain from working with kids.
Kids remind us to be optimistic. When my cabin was scheduled to depart for a camping trip on the stormiest day of the summer, I was shocked by the girls’ excitement despite the pouring rain. Not one of them complained, and they hopped into their canoes with smiles on their faces. They showed me that the rainy outing was an adventure and definitely one that we would remember for a long time. They laughed throughout dinner about funny songs and even performed a “rap battle” under a tarp in the pouring rain. Even though many of them had frustrating, wet sleeping bag nights, they crawled out of their tents the next morning laughing about their experience. As we canoed back to camp, singing at the top of our lungs, they told me that it was the best cabin overnight trip. I know that many of us (myself included) would have struggled to maintain such a positive and optimistic outlook due to the gloomy weather, but twelve-year-olds made the experience a beautiful memory.
Kids are experts on the importance of having fun. The campers were apologetically themselves and their goofiness shone around camp. Walking into the cabin in the middle of a flashlight dance party or fashion show reminded me that it is important to have a “goofy moment” each day. I have never seen such pure and natural smiles from kids and tweens as I did when they were being goofy. I could tell that many of them felt pressures to be “cool” and mature at home, and it was evident that being in a place that fostered individuality and the preservation of youth was beneficial to their mental health and outlooks as they grew up.
Kids remind us of how beautiful childhood is. I found that camp is one of the few places left where a ten-year-old and even a twelve-year-old are still treated as children. They are encouraged to play, to make up their own games, and to use their imaginations to create their own fun. Of course, many of them mentioned their phones or social dramas at home, but I saw the side of a little girl in every one of them. This is unique today as kids are encouraged to mature at increasingly young ages. It was magical to see ten-year-olds who would normally be playing on tablets at home, thoroughly consumed in writing letters to fairies and patiently waiting for a response.
While summer only lasts for a few months, I hope that the girls will remember the value of viewing everything in an optimistic light, the smiles and confidence that come with showing one’s goofy side, and the joy of creative play through imagination. Now the counselors and campers have gone home to very different communities, families, and lives, but I hope that we will always remember how we felt about ourselves at camp. I hope that institutions such as camps and schools continue to foster the values of optimism, the preservation of youth, and creativity. I hope that as high school students, we can look back on memories from our childhood summers and use them to propel us into the new school year.
A few summers ago at the conclusion of session 1, the Inty Unit held a ceremony in which every community member shared with the group an achievement that they are proud of. This is one of several examples of how campers can discuss or celebrate their time at camp each summer. Campers shared moments of shooting their first bulls-eye, swimming a lap with no assistance and hitting hiking or canoeing mile benchmarks with the tripping program. Other individuals told stories of overcoming fears, making new friends, immersing themselves in a new and unknown culture and learning how to accept and celebrate their unique differences.
In celebrating these moments, we all need to recognize that these accomplishments did not happen instantaneously. Whether it was practicing all week at the archery range or repeatedly reaching out to connect with new people, campers worked hard to achieve these accomplishments. Undoubtedly, these moments that filled campers with pride did not come effortlessly without hard work, dedication, guidance and possibly some frustration and tears.
What amazes me each summer is how much grit and resilience Wyo girls have and how they develop these characteristics throughout the summer. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back, to stick with “it”, and to dust oneself off and try again. It is “the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress” (American Psychological Association). It is a mixture of internal characteristics such as a person’s strength, flexibility and sense of autonomy. Resiliency also encompasses the ability to see and understand a bigger picture and attribute success or failure to elements in and out of one’s control.
Resiliency answers the question: how will a child respond or react when faced with hardships, whether large or small, physical or emotional?
Fortunately, resiliency is a characteristic that can be developed and built upon. Several sources (Psychology Today, Healthy Children) believe that key experiences can promote resiliency in children. These experiences include creating new relationships, developing a sense of identity, learning self-efficacy skills, feeling a sense of belonging, creating an understanding of culture and being treated fairly.
Wyonegonic provides opportunities to engage in all of these experiences. Camp, by its simple design, builds resiliency. Being away from home and school and in an environment that affords safe challenges both physically and emotionally provides endless opportunities to develop this characteristic. Camp makes time for creative exploration, balances unstructured and structured time and embraces fun without the stress of achievement. As, Joel D. Hager (clinical psychologist specializing in resiliency) states in the American Camp Association’s Camping Magazine, “The bottom line: Camp offers what youth need to build resilience as they are facing fewer opportunities to get this at home or school.”
It is certain that at camp, your child learned something, made new friends and advocated for themselves. Your child challenged themselves beyond what they previously thought was possible as they climbed up the ropes course, summited a mountain, or sailed in a regatta. They turned inward and gained a deeper understanding of themselves, their place in camp and in the greater world. Undoubtedly, at camp, your child persevered, bounced back, developed a sense of self, and become resilient.
When you think you can’t take another step; turns out you can. And another, and another, and another. The mountains teach you that summits are achieved only by setting smaller goals along the way. Sometimes it really is one step at a time.
Chocolate cake tastes so much better when you planned it, carried it, and baked it yourself. Rewards are sweeter when you put the work in to achieve them.
Go with the flow of the rhythms of nature. It might be hard to break camp at 4am but the glassy lake at dawn is worth it. When we open all our senses to the resources around us, we can use them to create our own magic.
When things are coming at you too fast and you feel your control slipping, eddy out and regroup. The eddy, the sabbath, the mental health day; taking a break can help you put it all in perspective.
Stop and scout! When the trail gets narrow, when the rips take an unexpected turn, stop and scout your path forward. Sure, you’ll have to make decisions in the moment, but going in with a plan sets you up for success.
It actually is all about teamwork. Ever tried to carry a canoe by yourself? Sure you can do it, but sharing the load with a friend is what turns the grind into an adventure. Build your tribe – you’ll need them as you go through this crazy life.
And don’t forget; the woods are all around you. Go find yourself a shady tree, a tiny stream, a single dandelion peeking up through the crack in the sidewalk.
Katie Brown, Wyonegonic Trip Leader and past Unit Director
Nearly everyone who has ever driven up to Wyo knows the sign. First you see the bridge, arched and painted a piney green. Then, halfway across, there it is. “State Line,” it reads, in stark white letters, “Maine. Vacationland.” Typically, as my car passes beneath it, I cheer. For me, it’s not just a state line, or a proclamation of the summer break. It’s coming home.
Many times in my life, people have assumed I am from Maine. I mean, it is where I live according to my Facebook. But I think home doesn’t have to be defined as the place where you are from. I think it is the place you hold in your heart, no matter how far you truly are from it. Last year was my first year of college. I got home from camp, packed up too many things into a few boxes, and flew down to Louisiana. New Orleans is about as far from Maine as you can get, figuratively and literally. It’s a big city, a wild city, and it pulses with excitement, all day and especially all night. I was bug eyed. I’m a quiet person by nature. Shy, sometimes too shy, but generally fairly quiet. New Orleans is never quiet. My whole first week of school, I couldn’t imagine what for the life of me had driven me to come down here. Sure, I loved New Orleans and I loved my school. But I wondered why I hadn’t picked somewhere quieter. Like Maine. I’d loved Colby (I’d hated Bowdoin) and going to college in Maine had been the plan since eighth grade. Yet it hadn’t happened. Every day the whole first semester, I wore the same necklace. It was the one we’d gotten as Banquet gifts that summer. And I still wore all my string bracelets too and some weird rings I’d found on the ground after all the campers had left. But slowly, as string does, the bracelet ends frayed until I could no longer retie them, the weird rings made my fingers green, and at last I took the necklace off to sleep and didn’t put it back on. Finally, one day, I realized I wasn’t wearing my jewelry. It took a while to figure out why. I’d been using the bracelets and the rings and especially the necklace as shields- tactile assurances that I was strong woman who could conquer anything. But as blisteringly hot August had faded into slightly less hot December, my subconscious remembered the woman I am at camp and I let go of my fears. I knew then why I’d come to school in New Orleans and not Maine.
As counselors, we strive every day to create a safe and supportive environment for our campers to step outside their comfort zones and succeed. Even if they fail, we work to make sure they fail with grace and have the courage to get back up and try again. When I was camper at Wyo, I had many incredible role models. They are the women who pushed me to do amazing things, like climb Katahdin or fearlessly swing an ax. They are also the women who taught me to stand with my head held high and to speak with a clear voice. When I decided to come to school in New Orleans, I didn’t realize it then, but I was thinking about those women, those experiences I had, and the support I know I always will have. Camp gave me the courage and the faith in myself to leave little rural New Jersey and step outside my comfort zone into Louisiana. When I think of all the summers I have spent on the shores of Moose Pond, I can now fully appreciate what those have meant to me. And nothing gives me greater joy than to create those same summers for the next group of girls. To help create the same homes in their hearts that I hold in mine.
It is true, New Jersey is my home. And so now is New Orleans. But I have always felt that the home in your heart is the one where you know you truly belong. It is the place where the earth is soft beneath your feet and the breeze is always warm. Where you are always your best self yet can always strive to be better. I’ve realized this past year that if I carry Wyo in my heart wherever I go, I am the woman I am at camp. The earth is always soft beneath my feet and the breeze is always warm. And though I love them very much, I don’t need the bracelets and the yarn dreamcatchers and the random maple leaves that still fall out of my notebooks sometimes to remind me off this.
So when in June this year, I pass under that bridge and read that sign- “State line. Maine. Vacationland.”- I’m not just coming home. I’m already there.
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.
“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!