Meet our first Camper Couple in our new segment, Camp Love Stories! Everyone knows that camp is a magical place where friendships are made and independence is gained… and often budding romances arise. These camp couples have created amazing bonds through their shared love of camp and all that it has taught them, and they are continuing to bring camp into their lives through their homes, and even through their little next-generation campers! Check out our first Camper Couple Love Story, Jason and Deena, who were basically destined to fall in love at camp – their whole family is filled with campers! It was love at first staff meeting!
How did you meet?
We aren’t 100% sure. All four of our parents are camp alumni, so we think that we met at a camp reunion during summer 1985 (I’m younger than Deena). But the earliest we can remember each other is during Deena’s first summer at camp, when she was 10 and I was almost 9. We can distinctly remember spending time together with our mutual friends during Free Play time after dinner. She was much cooler than I was.
What was special about camp when you met?
For both of us, camp has always been our home. This was the community in which we both felt like we were our best selves. I moved a couple of times as a child, so camp really was the place where I knew, no matter what, that I’d be able to come back to the same group of friends every year. And while Deena didn’t move as a kid, there really was no comparison between the closeness of her camp friendships and her friends at home. Even to this day, we both consider our camp friendships to be the most important ones of our lives.
As an example, Deena has dinner once a month with her best camp friends who live in the Boston area. All of the husbands know that this night is sacred! It is during these dinners that they still, many years later, have and talk about “only with our camp friends” moments.
How did camp bring you together?
Jason: While we were friends since childhood, it wasn’t until we were both Head Counselors at camp that we began dating. I distinctly remember being in a meeting and suddenly saying to myself “Oh my God, I think I love her.” It was that simple. And then it took about a year to convince her that we should go out on a date. Two weeks after our first date we moved in together.
Part of what brought us together was that over our many years together we developed this incredible foundation of trust. We knew we could depend on each other. And there’s just something about being on staff as a camp counselor with the person that you fall in love with. You know that you have fun together, that you enjoy the same things, and that you have a shared set of values.
Because she wouldn’t go out with me at first I kept creating projects that as Head Counselors we needed to work on together, and without anyone else’s involvement. We wrote an entire book together on how camp counselors could have more success with their campers. In the midst of writing it we fell in love.
What do you still do to bring camp into your lives?
Well, we are now two of the directors at camps in New Hampshire. Other than our two sons, it is our driving passion in life. A defining characteristic of our life together is how passionate we both are about continuing to teach the lessons that we learned here as children.
As parents to two young boys, we often hear from our friends and neighbors that we run our home in MA like two camp directors. It’s very fun, has a lot of rituals and traditions, and is a place for learning and growing.
Are you planning to send your kids to your camp?
We are thrilled to say that starting next year our son Jack will be a 3rd generation camper! Our sons take great pride in the fact that they will be the first people in our camps’ history where both of their parents and all four of their grandparents are camp alumni.
What was each of your favorite parts of camp?
For both of us, the favorite thing about growing up at camp was the friendships. Your camp friends love you unconditionally, and understand you on a level that your home friends just never do.
Deena: As a camp girl I also really loved playing so many sports every single day. I was a passionate softball pitcher, and camp was and is a great place to be an athlete.
Jason: And for me, camp was a place where I learned to play guitar, starred in lots of theater productions, and also got a chance to play a lot of baseball.
What are three words to describe your camp experience?
Jason: my true family
Deena: my best self
Why do you think it’s important to go to camp?
We look at who we were before we got here, and how we continue to grow here every day, even in our late 30’s. Where else but at overnight camp can you be so independent and so free to try different things in a supportive, nurturing environment? Because your camp friends and counselors support you no matter what, you are able to try things and possibly fail, and still feel great about yourself. Doesn’t every child deserve to live in a community like that?
What’s each of your favorite camp memories?
Jason: My favorite childhood memory was during my first summer, when I was chosen to be on the Shield of Honor. There are Shields that hang in our dining hall that date back to 1946, and each contains the names of the campers in each age group who most embodied the spirit of our camp community that summer. Hearing my name read off at the final banquet of the summer was the first time in my life that an authority figure other than my parents said out loud “this kid is a good person.” That moment has stuck with me for over 30 years.
Deena: My favorite childhood memory is a multi-layered one. It started with seeing my name listed as a member of the Tri-State Softball Team during my first year as a senior camper (this was a big honor), followed by being given the honor of pitching most of the tournament games that year. Lastly, in our annual summer yearbook, the head coach wrote a play-by-play of each game and it was rewarding and encouraging to see my performance both offensively and defensively highlighted as contributing to our success.
How has camp affected your adult life? Is there something you learned at camp that you still do today?
We both feel as if we learned to be parents by spending so many years as camp counselors. At our regular family meetings our boys are encouraged to share their opinions about life in our house, just like the weekly camper council meetings at camp.
Words of wisdom for current/future campers?
Jason: Let your child have a truly independent experience. Let them navigate life at camp with as little outside intervention as possible. Their great and tough moments are part of what makes camp such a profoundly important developmental experience. If they write home to say that something is bothering them, remind them that you love them, and that you know that with the help of their counselors they can accomplish anything at camp! Challenge them to be resilient and resourceful!!
Deena: Live in the moment, take healthy risks, be goofy, laugh at yourself. One of our 11-year-old campers shared her insights at our closing campfire last summer, and during it, she stated that we come to camp to find our bridesmaids. This statement stuck with me as it captured the essence of a camp friend in a way I hadn’t been able to articulate before.
What’s each of your favorite camp traditions?
Jason: I love that when our boys step off of the bus for the first time every male counselor is holding hands, forming a human tunnel. As each boy runs from one side to the other each counselor says something welcoming and encouraging. From the very first moment of the summer it models for them that this is a place where our super-cool counselors are there to support and encourage you.
Deena: I love that at our closing campfire each summer, each unit writes and reads aloud a wish for the following summer’s unit. Then at our opening campfire each unit reads their wish from last summer’s campers. The wishes often contain advice for how to live harmoniously and silly jokes or reminders of silly events that happened during the past summer, which is a way to welcome the new campers by “giving them the inside scoop.”
Favorite camp memento?
Jason: I have two. The first is a little round metal tag like you used to find at amusement parks. There was a machine that allowed you to punch in words or names and keep the tag as a souvenir. One of my counselors created one of these tags for me on his day off in 1985. It hangs in my office, along with a picture of us together that summer. That counselor is the now the owner of my camp, and we are directors together
The other is a recording of when I proposed to Deena in front of our entire camp community at our annual music festival in 2002. I still listen to it on a regular basis, and it remains one of the happiest moments of my life. I love that 500 of our campers and counselors were a part of that memory.
Deena: From my camper years, I would have to say it is my Tri-State Softball Tournament Uniform t-shirt from 1990. I was the team’s pitcher and I was fortunate to pitch many games that day since we were victorious in each game we played. Whenever the ball or my hands got dirty, I wiped them on the front of my t-shirt and there is a big dirt stain that reminds me of the hard work that contributed to our tournament win that year. From my years on staff, I would have to agree with Jason about the recording of us getting engaged at Hollowpallooza, though I wish you could hear me saying “Yes!” We are also fortunate to have amazing photos capturing the event, which I treasure.
Canteen candy? Dining hall meal?
Jason: What’s better than chicken patty sandwiches with crinkle cut French fries?!
Deena: We don’t have a “canteen” in the traditional sense, but when movies are shown, candy is provided. As a camper, my favorite was Snickers, but now that we are a completely nut-free environment, Sour Watermelons are my candy of choice on movie night.
What happens at camp stays at camp… but got anything good you want to share?
Jason: I have a vivid memory of seeing my now-wife kiss one of my very good friends. I’m still not sure how I feel about that.
Deena: I’m a pretty “follow the rules” person, but every once in a while at camp, I would break out of my shell. During my early counselor years, the girls did not have Jell-O Wrestling as an evening activity; the boys did and we wanted to. Late the night of the boys event, the Jell-O had not yet been cleaned up so a group of my girlfriends and I had our own Jell-O wrestling fun followed by a jump in the lake to clean off. Photos from that night remain some of my favorites even 20 years later.