Summer Camp for Life! A Q & A with Community Favorite Career Camp Directors
So many kids wish summer camp would last all year. For some lucky adults who have dedicated themselves to the camp life, it does!
We asked the directors of some of our community’s favorite camps how and why they landed their life-long camp dream careers, and what they think about the way summer camp impacts the lives of growing kids.
We asked: What was the camp experience in your own life that inspired you to make a career out of camp and become a camp director? What does summer camp mean to you? What do you think it means for kids now?
Here’s what the directors and owners of some of our favorite local summer camps had to share.
“I always attended camp as a child. When I finished 9th grade I began working in the kitchen at Willow Grove Summer Day Camp. I spent eleven years in the kitchen, working weekends too! Each year I gained more experience, more responsibility and more self-confidence. During college and graduate school, I was working seventy hours a week and loving it! Working at camp wasn’t a job, it was fun. As college graduation drew closer, I was approached by one of the owners of Willow Grove. He told me that they were interested in opening a day camp in South Jersey and wanted me to be involved. They had a 66-acre facility under contract and had even created the logo. I finished graduate school with a Master’s in Administration with a concentration in Urban and Regional Planning. After a four-year career at the Chester County Planning Commission I received word that the final permits for Tall Pines Day Camp were done. A month later I became the full-time Director. I’ve been at Tall Pines for over twenty-five years. Each day I get up and go to camp rather than going to work.
Summer camp has always been a part of my life. It gave me opportunities to do things that I had never done before and feel great about myself. It changed my life and my family’s life too. Now, I can do that for the campers and staff that come to Tall Pines.
Camp is such a powerful, positive force! I wish that more children had the opportunity to attend summer camps. Camps build skills necessary to prepare campers to assume roles as successful adults. It gives them self-confidence and independence, and teaches them how to make new friends. We provide opportunities for growth that can benefit children through adulthood. It is even more important today than it was when I was growing up. Children are more isolated and continue to have fewer social interactions with other people. Camp brings all of us together year after year and we add to the established camp traditions while exploring and learning new activities.”
Andrew Yankowitz, Owner/Director, Tall Pines Day Camp
“I actually never went to summer camp as a child. My mother worked in a school, so she was home with us in the summer. My first job, though, was as a counselor at the JCC Camps at Medford at the age of 15. I spent 5 summers there, and those summers defined so much of who I am today as a person, as a professional, and as a Jew. Camp was the reason I went into Jewish communal service, and when the opportunity came to come home to the JCC Camps at Medford professionally, I knew I had to take the chance. For me, camp is so much more than my career…it is home. I strive for our campers and counselors to feel like camp is home, too.”
Sara Sideman, LSW, Associate Director, JCC Camps at Medford
“To our family, camp is everything. It has been our family’s passion and purpose for the past 75 years and three generations. We all had the privilege of growing up at camp and becoming the second and third generations to join this remarkable family tradition. Growing up at Blue Bell Camp, in a world centered around children, nature, and the unique culture of camp, our philosophy and our love for helping children became ingrained. We live, eat, and breathe camp, and we prepare for ten months of the year so that each child will have the most rewarding two months of his or her life. Camp becomes their home away from home – their “happy place” – and they truly become part of our family. Camp is where children can learn new skills, develop their characters, and gain confidence in the activities and also in themselves. That experience goes far beyond the summer – it lasts a lifetime.”
Tom, Joyce, Katherine, and Lisa Harris, Directors, Blue Bell Camp
“Both of my parents grew up in the city, and their fondest childhood memories were from summer camp – out of the city. My dad sent me and my two younger brothers to camp and I went kicking and screaming…and had the best two summers of my childhood. Waterskiing, learning to play tennis, making friends that I still have 35 years later…it was truly a priceless experience that I was lucky to have had.
Summer camp is a time for kids to put aside the stresses of the everyday – like school, responsibilities, technology and, social media – and enjoy life, outdoors in nature, making friends, exploring new activities, and finding your inner voice. Today’s kids, with screens and central air, need camp now more than ever!”
Andy Pritkin, Owner/Director of Liberty Lake Day Camp
“Growing up in South Africa, summer camp was not something that we did. Coming to America and being exposed to what summer camps looked like and what they did for students, was why I became a camp director and now the CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs (JKCP). I consider myself grateful to live this every day, having found my passion in my chosen profession.
Summer camp allows me to provide incredible opportunity, to bring students from around the world together, and put them in a place or situation where they can experience some unbelievable things. But it’s also an opportunity to connect, bond, and make friends, and those friendships are one of the primary reasons why summer camp is such a valuable experience. The friends you make over the summer are friends that’ll last a lifetime.
But what it does for us, is give us an opportunity to stay connected with a generation that’s forming our world, stay connected with the generation that is going to determine what our world looks like tomorrow, to keep a pulse on what they feel, what they love, what they’re passionate about. We get an opportunity to be a part of their lives, to coach them, to guide and strengthen them in areas that we know will help them to be successful tomorrow. To know that my team and I are able to leave that footprint, and be part of each of their amazing stories, as they are coming to life and beginning to unfold, that is what summer camp means to me. It’s truly remarkable and extraordinarily profound.
What do the students get? They get relationships, friendships, they get an opportunity to practice and test skills that they haven’t really sharpened as much yet. Getting to know new people, communicating with people that are different from themselves. It’s an incredible opportunity. They get to be away from home a little bit in a new environment. Maybe they get to reinvent themselves a little, they don’t have to be the same person that they are at school. They get a chance to try and spread their wings in a safe environment, they get a chance to try something new.They get a chance to succeed, they get a chance to fail without serious consequences. They get a chance to be in an environment that is different, that is stimulating and supportive in their endeavors. They get a chance to grow, they get a chance to see and maybe really understand for the first time that the world is so much bigger than the world that they live in everyday, regardless of the program they choose.”
Steven Robertson, CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs
Lead photo courtesy of Liberty Lake Day Camp.