Camp Laurel South Blog

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Two Days and Counting!

LSBlogOur Staff Orientation is well underway as we get ready for Camper Arrival this Thursday!  We can hardly wait.  Camp looks amazing and we’re so excited to see you soon!  The new Mastercrafts Pro Stars are set; the Fields are lined; the Courts are ready; the Art Studios are filled with supplies; the brand new Culinary Studio is spectacular; our  Ponies and Horses are trained;  the Cabins look amazing; the new girls’ cabin, Eastport,  is done and looks awesome.  All we’re missing now is the most amazing campers anywhere!! Thursday will be here before you know it.  We can’t wait to see you soon!

Digital Detox

Dani Ackerman, our friend from Elmwood Day Camp, wrote this great blog that we thought was worth sharing. Take a look:

Do you ever feel addicted to your phone or find that your whole day is spent staring at a screen? I certainly do! I recently returned from CampMinder Camp (a conference focused on camp technology) in Boulder, Colorado. At this conference, I attended a great session called “Digital Detox,” run by Levi Felix. In this session, it was stressed that this “addiction” to technology is not necessarily bad nor should we feel guilty about it. We should simply find time to “disconnect to reconnect.” He highlighted several strategies that offer us an opportunity to reclaim our “me time” and offer us more time to connect with others. Here are a few of my favorites….

  • Eat at least 1 meal a day without a device: Use this time for yourself or to be fully present with others.
  • Use the phone FIRST to contact people: There is a more personal connection when speaking with someone on the phone instead of texting or e-mailing.
  • Schedule mini breaks throughout the day or mini “digital detoxes” where you are not connected to your phone, television, radio, etc.
  • Give your eyes a break and follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes look at something that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Set a technology curfew: Turn off your phone and television 60 – 90 minutes before bed. You will likely get better sleep as a result.
  • Avoid multi-tasking: No one is as good at multi-tasking as they think. Instead of multi-tasking, create a schedule for yourself each day.
  • Disable push notifications on your phone that are not critical: This will help eliminate unneeded digital distractions.
  • Create tech-free walls/areas in your home: There should be certain places in your home where technology is not used (like the bathroom, for example).

One of the things I enjoy most about camp is that I can digitally detox. I can be fully present in each moment of camp because I am not distracted by the many different forms of technology. At Elmwood, there is a no cell phone policy, we avoid using e-mail during the summer and we do not have any activities that involve video games or computers. No one is walking around camp bumping into each other because they are staring at their cell phones. (which often happens to me when walking around NYC). Everyone is fully present in the moment. I admit that separating from my phone during the day is always a bit of a challenge at first, but it feels great to be fully engaged in camp and building relationships with campers and staff all day long. I can be completely plugged into all the wonderful things that are happening… and then it is always fun looking at my phone at the end of the day (absence does make the heart grow fonder after all).

The Laurel Camps’ Melting Pot

Walking around the Laurel Camps on a typical day, you may not notice the vast geographic diversity of Camp Laurel and Laurel South.

We welcome campers from all over the United States and overseas. In 2013, The Laurel Camps welcomed campers across 16 countries, 5 continents and 42 out of the 50 states in the U.S. (Yes… 42!!)

Not only do we have campers from every US region, there’s vast diversity within each region. Take the Empire State of New York: we have campers from 34 different towns and cities. And from the sunshine state of Florida, campers hail from as far south as Key Biscayne all the way up the interstate to Gainesville! The northeast often leads the charge in terms of critical mass, but we also welcome campers from Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Colorado, California, Arizona, Texas and Ohio – to name just a few.

And what about staff? In 2013, our staff represented 43 of the 50 states. Not a bad representation!

Our geographic mix impacts the camp experience in so many ways.

We’re a break from “the neighborhood” and any prior stigmas. It’s a community where you can explore new interests and make new friends with less preconceived notions of who you are “supposed to be.”

Our campers and staff have a chance to learn the necessary skills to successfully get along with others from different cultures.

And of course, Laurel’s vast geographic diversity allows our campers and staff to make lifelong connections with friends across the world.

Camp provides so many different life skills; independence, problem solving, self-confidence – the list goes on and on. Let’s add encountering and embracing diversity to that list.

Like Father, Like Son

In 1977, Ron Scott, the former director of Camp Laurel, visited then potential camper Greg Racz’s father’s office. His mission: to talk about Camp Laurel. “A number of friends from Ethical Culture school already went there,” Greg recalls. It was an easy sell.

That summer, Greg made his first camp friend: Jem Sollinger. As the weeks – then years – passed, Greg grew to appreciate everything about Laurel; his fellow campers, the staff and the beauty of Maine. “Coming from New York City, being outdoors was great and I loved being able to play so much tennis.” As Jem recalls, no one was more consistent on the court than Greg, “He got everything back!”

More than 30 years later, “Laurel has only gotten prettier,” Greg says. He has a good way of knowing: His son, Daniel, is now a Laurel camper too. It seemed like “déjà vu all over again” in the early fall of 2012 when Jem visited Greg’s office to discuss Laurel for the next generation of Racz’s.

“Jem has done a phenomenal job,” Greg says of his longtime friend, now the camp director. “He’s got a great group of counselors.”

“Holly is still there with her husband, Warren,” Greg recalls, referencing 35-year Laurel veterans, Holly and Warren Williams. Amazingly, in 1980, Warren was Greg and Jem’s counselor in the Falcons.

Greg adds, “The waterfront is still drop-dead gorgeous and the many ping pong tables are a welcome addition,” speaking to another one of his passions!

Daniel’s route to camp was similar to his father’s. Daniel’s friends – at the same Ethical Culture school – also go to Laurel. Of course, he’d also heard about Laurel “100 times” from his dad, Greg. Getting off the bus, the first person Daniel saw was Jem. Some things never change.

Daniel’s favorite parts of camp are the sports facilities. “The Fieldhouse (a new addition since his father’s day) is great. It’s so big, with lots of space.”

Does he talk to his dad about the old days? “Yes,” Daniel says. “He likes to talk.”

Daniel’s younger brother Joshua may follow in his brother and father’s footsteps. He loved the water-slide on Visiting Day and Daniel would love to have his younger brother at camp with him, “It would be a lot of fun having a family member there.” That would make Greg doubly happy. “Visiting Day was too short,” he says. “It’s great to get a second chance at Laurel” – even if its just for a day.

And what about the second generation of campers from Laurel South. Founded in 1993, we expect the first influx of alumni campers over the next couple of years. “We can’t wait for the first alumni campers” says Laurel South director Roger Christian. “Family – isn’t  that what camp is all about?” At the Laurel Camps…it definitely is.

The Laurel Camps…Give Thanks to the Camp Industry

The Laurel Camps are proud to be part of the summer camp industry. For nearly 150 years, camps have helped boys and girls discover new skills, form lifelong friendships and learn about themselves all in a healthy, natural environment.

During this Thanksgiving month, we appreciate our good fortune of spending summers on Echo and Crescent Lake. We also take time to honor other summer camps serving children less fortunate that provide the same joys the Laurel Camps.

For example, we are very proud of Camp Sunshine. Located in Casco, Maine – the same town as Laurel South – Camp Sunshine allows children with life-threatening illnesses to thrive in the camp experience. Camp Sunshine brings in each camper’s family and aims to alleviate the strain that a life threatening illness takes on both the sick child and their family. Families have an opportunity to rebuild their relationships together and meet other families facing similar challenges, while their child plays, relaxes, and enjoys the simple pleasures of life. More than 45,000 families and campers have been taken in by Camp Sunshine.

Every Sunshine Camper is sponsored by an individual, business, civic group or foundation, so no child pays a penny. Volunteers assist with every facet of camp. We are honored that, for many years, Camp Laurel’s oldest campers have volunteered at Camp Sunshine.

We also support The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Founded in 1988 by Paul Newman, its headquarters are in Westport, Connecticut – home of Camp Laurel’s winter office. The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp offers seriously ill children and their families fun, friendship and the chance for kids to, “raise a little hell,” in the immortal words of Paul Newman.

Paul Newman’s dream was for children to experience camp’s transformational spirit and friendships. His personality and playfulness infuse every corner of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. As with Camp Sunshine, a dedicated cadre of volunteers makes each summer memorable, for every child.

We give thanks too for Ramapo Anchorage Camp. Located in Rhinebeck, New York, Ramapo serves children who face learning impediments, including those with special needs. Like all camps, keys to success include a caring staff, rituals and routines, celebration of individual and group accomplishments, and a serious dedication to fun.

Ramapo’s Executive Director, Adam Weiss, has been a force in the camp industry for many years and has worked with the Laurel Camps’ Directors, Keith, Jem, Debbie, Roger and Dagni, on various committees over the years.

These are just three of the many camps we proudly share an industry with. As Laurel Camps’ families enjoy holiday meals this month, let’s all give thanks for so many wonderful “camp families.”

Experts Agree: Camp is Cool

Summer is over – which means camp directors can catch up on our summer reading.

In the past few months, the media has been filled with stories examining the camp experience. A variety of writers extol it, from several intriguing angles.

Reviewing Michael Thompson’s new book Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, Time Magazine’s Bonnie Rochman said the author focused on the magic of camp after realizing “it’s where most kids first battle homesickness only to emerge triumphantly independent.” But it’s not only children who benefit: the Time story is titled “Summer Camp: Great for Kids, Even Better for Parents.” Camp lets parents realize that their children are growing up; that they can be independent, and survive away from home. And, of course, time apart from their kids is important for parents’ own relationships and fulfillment.

Talya Minsberg picked up on that theme in her piece for the New York Times’ “Motherlode” parenting blog. Youngsters grow and explore at camp, she says, “despite their parents’ worry.”

Minsberg should know. A former camp counselor herself, her piece is a paean to “the in-jokes, goofy rituals and the cherished memories” of a camp-filled summer.

She called camp “magical…a place removed from the stresses and distractions of the real world, where staff members and campers alike discover a new kind of independence and responsibility. Camp is a place of positive transformation – where you…clean up your dishes and make your bed with no complaints, and meet undoubtedly the coolest people in the world: your 19-year-old counselors.”

Writing lovingly for Slate, John Dickerson also nailed the camp experience — with a twist in his article, “My Daughter Went Away to Camp and Changed.” A former camper who returned to pick up his daughter 36 years later, he noted that camp hasn’t changed. However – happily – she had.

In her father’s absence, she’d grown up. She’d explored, taken risks, tried new identities. “We are not invited” to camp, Dickerson said. That’s “a paper-cut echo of the truth at the heart of parenting: You’re doing it best when you’re teaching them to leave you.”

Camp is a perfect way for parents to teach children to leave them. It’s also a perfect way for parents to teach themselves how to let go, and take their own steps toward independence. Independence, that is, from their kids. That doesn’t mean they love their children any less. In fact, it means they love them more.

The young people these writers love are back at home now. They’re glad to be there. Their parents are happy to have them. But odds are good that they can’t wait for next summer to arrive.

Closing Up

When the last buses depart, marking the final day of camp, an eerie feeling sets in.

The staff is still there. But all the campers whose laughter and energy made the cabins, lake and woods such a wonderful home for the summer are gone.

Things are quiet for about three minutes. Then everyone starts to move. There is work to be done.

A lot of work.

Docks are pulled out of the water. Master Crafts, Sunfish, Hobies, canoes, paddleboards, life jackets and lifeguard stands are stored.

Every piece of equipment is inventoried.

Every climbing wall hold is removed.

Every guitar, microphone and piano is moved gently to “warm” storage for the year

Mattresses are counted and an order for “fresh” ones for the summer of 2014 is placed.

Ping pong tables, basketballs, lacrosse sticks, soccer balls — if it’s equipment that was used during the summer, it’s stowed away.

Then the staff gathers for lunch. The dining hall seems the same – but the decibel level is lower.

A lot lower.

Then it’s back to work. Everyone pitches in. An entire summer’s worth of gear must be accounted for, checked, and put away.

Finally, the day is done. Staff members get checked out – and receive a staff gift.

Goodbyes are said. Contact information is exchanged. By nightfall, nearly everyone is gone.

Soon, camp will be left to two full-time caretakers. They will start the process of meeting with contactors, electricians, painters, plumbers and carpenters to begin the new construction we do every year at The Laurel Camps.

Then a crew comes in to deep clean every cabin, bathroom, bed, cubby and shower.

And in the “winter office” – though it’s still August – planning has already begun for next year.

And we can hardly wait!!

Summer…It’s Almost Over…

I can’t believe the summer is almost over. Everybody says it goes by quick, so I should enjoy every minute of it. That’s really true most of the time at camp. Camp has flown by. I cant believe its almost over. At camp, there’s always something different coming up. Sometimes I know what it is, and sometimes it’s a surprise. I guess it’s good to not always know everything in advance.


We had a lot of intercamps this year. It’s a lot different than playing on a team at home, where it’s the same people all the time, and everybody is talking about wins and losses. We always have different teams for intercamps. It’s much better to win, but if we lose nobody yells.

It was pretty cool that we did a lot of different sports all summer. Baseball, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, gymnastics, fitness and probably more that I
can’t remember. We had a gaga competition too.
They definitely don’t have teams for that at home.

I tried stuff I never tried before. Some of them were a little scary at first, but I saw other people doing them, and the counselors were really good about teaching new things. I never knew how much fun rock climbing could be. And there were other kids who had never gone mountain biking or done gymnastics or waterskied or were kind of scared of swimming. Probably everybody I know tried at least one new thing this summer.

I also didn’t know if I would be any good in the play and dance show. I guess I was pretty good. People laughed and clapped at the right times, so that was fun.
Okay, I can’t forget the trips. Different people went to the Rangeley Lakes, state parks like Camden and Baxter, and even Acadia National Park. I would definitely like the job of the person who goes to all those places and figures out which is the best one for each group. I didn’t know much about Maine before camp, but it’s an amazing state.

Ummm… we had campfires. We learned about camp traditions. And we had great food! I thought I would be homesick, but I wasn’t. Well, once. But I don’t even remember why now.

School is starting in less than a month! Only 10 months until camp starts again! Yay!

Home Stretch…

We’re in the home stretch now, but we’re still having an amazing time at Laurel South! Yesterday was our final “S” Day of the session, and what an incredible time we had at Funtown. The rides, the food, the fun and the friendships will not soon be forgotten.

We’re so excited for our theater night tonight. Our younger campers did such an amazing job with The Lion King, and we are psyched for tonight’s performance of Hairspray. What incredible talented campers we have!!!

Tomorrow will be our final program day of the session. We’re so sad that its coming to an end, but we look forward, with great anticipation, to our Steak and Lobster Banquet tomorrow night, our final Social and Closing Ceremony Council Fire. Stay tuned…

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