All’s quiet on the Wentworth front – at least for the moment. It’s Rest Hour on a spectacular June day (the 24th, to be exact) and, after a tasty lunch of pulled pork sandwiches, french fries, and fresh green salad, campers and staff members alike are back in their cabins taking a break in the midst of a busy and productive day. Occupations – our arcane name for instructional activities – started this morning, and by the end of the afternoon, our 168-odd campers will have participated in 4 hours of varied offerings; close to 50 different options in land and water sports, nature study, art and music. 16 intermediate campers just met with our trip counselors (Charlotte Pringle, Matt Bolton, Roisin Beggan, and Dan Reed) on the porch of the messhall, getting filled in on 2 multi-day overnights backpacking jaunts slated to start tomorrow. Tonight, it’s Bean Soup in the Lodge – our weekly equivalent of The Daily Show. Pemi 2013 season is up and running!
Arrival Day (to fill in those of you whom we didn’t have a chance to greet on the shores of the Pond) was handled this year a little differently than in the past, and largely to very good reviews. Veteran boys being driven to camp were invited to arrive in the morning rather than the customary afternoon. As a result, they had a chance to settle into their cabins and, more importantly, connect with their friends from past summers prior to the new boys’ arrival. At the same time, the likes of Danny and Dottie had a chance to catch up with veteran parents in a leisurely fashion over muffins and juice in the Lodge. At lunch, Danny gave a stirring invitation to the returning boys to start demonstrating their leadership right off the bat, welcoming newcomers that afternoon and helping them get their feet on the ground at Pemigewassett. No one took the task more seriously than tow-headed twin brothers Jack and Nick Carter (sons of alum Chris Carter), who stood at the junction of the roads to the Intermediate and Junior camps in their new camp tee-shirts waving energetically and shouting “Welcome to Pemi!” to every passing car. Oh for a video!
One of the innovations an altered schedule allowed for was a brief, informal meeting in the Lodge where Danny, Tom, and Dottie had a chance to speak with new parents about Pemi’s hopes and plans for their sons, the challenges which they as parents might face climbing back into their cars and driving away from their boys, and the growth opportunities the next 3 ½ or 7 weeks would afford to both young and old. The clear highlight of the session, though, involved veteran parents Tripp and Robin Jones, Michael and Caroline Moore, and Karen Grey sharing their observations on what Pemi had done for their boys over the years. Caroline, who lives just across the Connecticut River in Vermont, brought down the house when she confessed to driving back to Pemi during the first week of her son’s first season and parking across the lake with a pair of high-powered binoculars, waiting for an hour to catch a glimpse of the lad. (So it’s not just the NSA that has its eyes on us!) Only when she saw him traipsing happily across a field with a gaggle of new friends did she satisfy herself that he was indeed in the right place. The general laughter that greeted her brave remarks testified to the fraught emotions many were naturally feeling – but also went a long ways towards assuaging some anxieties. It’s hard work being a new camp parent, something both Danny and Julia and Dottie and Tom have gone through themselves and will be more than happy to chat about if any of you wish.
By 5:55, we were all headed up to the Messhall for the traditional opening meal of pizza and Rockets (an ice-cream confection you ought to know about if you don’t already.) Chef Stacey had outdone herself in both the quality and quantity of the pies, and it was a happy and sated group of young men who found their way down to the Lodge for the inaugural campfire of 2013. A light drizzle and some lowering clouds had indeed forced us indoors, away from the traditional stone circle next to the Senior Beach, but the atmosphere was as electric as ever as the program began. Stalwarts among our younger performers were Alex Goldman and Will Katcher, both performing commendable voice and guitar solos (“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” for Alex and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” for Will), and Saturday-night mainstay Andre Altherr with an a capella rendition of an ethereal Puckish ditty from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The camper performance of the night, though, came (not very surprisingly) from Robert Loeser, who delivered himself of a soulful and truly professional rendition of Nina Simone’s “Feelin’ Good.” You could have heard a pin drop when he finished – until, that is, the old log building rocked with thunderous applause and whistling. Hard to believe any act could have been anything like as well-received in the wake of Robert’s sock-knocking performance – but darned if counselor Teddy Gales (vocals and harmonica) didn’t team up with fellow staff members Matt Cloutier (guitar) and Jack Pierce (fiddle) and improvise a Flight-of-the-Conchords-style number that had everyone apoplectic with mirth. Look for “Move-In Day” to move up the charts faster than the Pemi Kid chasing the Ben and Jerry’s truck. By the time everyone was back in the cabins and tucked in for the night, it was obvious that no one was worried about spotty cuisine or dull entertainment here in 2013. Here’s to more memorable eats and acts in the coming weeks.
Opening Day came, of course, only after a lengthy and diverse training period for staff. Kicking it all off were an on-site Red Cross Lifeguard Training course and the annual Nature Instruction Clinic taught by our Director and Associate Head of Nature, Larry Davis and Deb Kure, aided and abetted by former camper and counselor Russ Brummer (now head of the Science Department at the New Hampton School.) Counselors Kevin Heynig, Dan Walder, Mark Welsh, and Matt Cloutier were joined by a dozen other participants – some staff members at other camps and some graduate students at the University of New Haven – in this nationally-recognized educational clinic. As aforementioned Trippies Roisin, Matt, and Charlotte attended the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Mountain Leadership course in Crawford Notch and the surrounding peaks (Dan took the course last summer), the rest of the cabin staff were certified on campus in Wilderness First Aid. It’s hard to overestimate how reassuring it is for us to know that virtually everyone on the staff has had two full days of training in wilderness medicine. Here’s hoping it’s a safe and healthy summer for all, but you could hardly be in a better place for immediate and informed first response. It was also nice for Danny to receive the following from the program coordinator two days after the course: “Dear Danny. Here is the paperwork from your recent WFA course that Courtney taught. Judging by the evals, the course went terrifically, and Court said it was one of the best camp groups she has ever worked with. You must do a great job selecting your staff.” Music to our ears – and we hope to yours as well.
Early on in the week, Danny led a general meeting on “Positive Counseling,” offering some extremely useful guidelines for coaching campers in making the most of their life experiences, here and elsewhere. Look for a fuller iteration of the principles in an upcoming Blog post, but we thought we’d share some portions here:
The key to helping children or adults work their way through difficult situations is to help them understand and identify what choices they can make to make things better for themselves. We try hard here not to step in and “fix” problems for campers, but rather to help them see their options for helping themselves.
For instance, if a camper “Bobby” were unenthusiastic about a particular activity (“Art is so boring!”), someone’s typical response might be either to ask him what makes it so boring, or to ignore the behavior, or try to entertain him in another way while the rest of the group goes down to Art World. None of these solutions, though, engage the camper himself in making the situation better, and some create even bigger problems. In Positive Counseling, we encourage the boy to see the choices he can make to change the situation. We would invite “Bobby” to explore how he wants to feel (“Do you want to stay bored in Art Class, or can you imagine having fun there?”). Then we would help him make a plan that can move him toward what he does want (having fun in Art). Hopefully, he will quickly have some workable suggestions (“I can ask if I can sit next to my friend.” “ I can ask to pick out my favorite colors.” “ If I finish early, I can draw a picture.”) If he struggles to come up with strategies, his counselor can offer suggestions, too. Once a plan is formulated, the counselor can support him as he follows through and can check in later to see how it went. Sometimes a new plan needs to be created; sometimes success comes right away. Either way, the follow-through is essential until the camper is back “in balance.”
Steps in Positive Counseling
What do you want?
What are you doing to get it?
Is it working?
What do you see as your options now?
Would any of these be better than what you are doing now?
Take a next step!
Key lessons in empowerment, these – reminiscent of that useful old proverb about teaching a man to fish.
Thursday evening brought one training element that probably deserves notice. Tom led a supper trip up Cardigan Mountain, an impossibly scenic little peak to our southwest offering 360-degree views of the White and Green Mountains alike. The main purpose of the jaunt was, again, to give some hand-on training to the cabin staff who would be leading day trips. We were joined, though, by most of the other staff as well – including our six kitchen assistants, who hail from the Czech Republic (David), Hungary (Daniel, David, and Szervac), Slovakia (Tibor) and Mexico (Vladimir). We can’t remember the last time we were accompanied on this kind of outing by members of the chef’s crew, and the feeling of inclusive solidarity was as special as the sparkling afternoon as it softened into a golden evening. See a group photo taken on the peak of Cardigan and read staff bios, here.
Finally, we thought we’d add a little something to the note Danny sent by email regarding the off chance that some of you will be receiving “The Letter” some time this week. One of our directors, years back, enrolled his eight-year-old daughter in a reputed girl’s camp on Lake Sebago in Maine. The drop-off seemed to be okay – maybe Jill (as we’ll call her) being a little quiet, but there being every promise of a quick adjustment and happy stay. Three days later, “the letter” arrived, falling out of a tear-stained envelope. “Dear Mom and Dad,” it began. “This is no place for a sensitive person. Please take me home.” A few similar missives followed, only to evolve with dizzying suddenness into a newsy and cheerful communiqué addressing all the things Jill hoped to accomplish in coming summers as well. So it often goes.
With that time-validated observation, we’ll close for the week. Look for the first photos of the season on Thursday and then every Sunday and Thursday to follow, with Newsletters, generally, on Tuesdays. Meanwhile, thanks for entrusting us with your sons. We’re relishing our time together.
— Tom and Danny