Sleepaway camps are like small nations! There are tons of moving parts, an army of people at the ready, and things have to be firing on all cylinders to ensure smooth sailing and hundreds of happy campers. This Mother’s Day the Summer 365 team would like to appreciate and express much gratitude to the female directors, who have a huge hand in helping make all of this possible. These are the women in front of and behind the scenes who “adopt” hundreds of surrogate children each summer. Little do your campers know that camp directors seize every opportunity to teach their camp kids life lessons that will stick with them for life. From daily activities to roasting s’mores around the campfire, each second at camp is a teachable moment. We interviewed all star camp directors who shared their thoughts and feelings about the motherhood they experience during their summers. Meet Lauren Bernstein!
What’s the best part of having hundreds of surrogate children?
The best part for me is the opportunity to connect to so many children and to watch them grow through the years in a place they love most. It is truly rewarding for me to know that I am part of an experience that has helped shape my campers to become the people they are, and influences the decisions they make. I love having the opportunity to meet with individual campers and groups, and to help mentor them and push them to be the best version of themselves. There is nothing better than hearing about daily accomplishments or watching the joy on someone’s face when they try something for the first time, knowing that this moment might be something they remember forever. I love the opportunity to watch them grow through the years. Even when they leave camp, many of them will continue to share their incredible accomplishments and the impact their time at camp had on their lives. I love hearing their dreams at 10 years old and watching them come true 10 years later, knowing that Walden was part of the journey.
What’s your proudest moment as a camp director?
I have a sign in my office that says “Living the Dream” and I really feel like I am watching my dream come true. When I was younger, I always wanted to own and direct a camp. And, I didn’t just want to own a camp; I wanted to build a community that felt intentional and that really took care of the individual needs of children. Every summer we work hard with our campers and staff to promote a message of kindness and inclusion, and it is amazing to watch it thread through the camp community. I feel proud when I watch our staff mentoring campers and being role models. I feel proud when our veteran campers welcome new campers and really take care of them. I feel proud when I watch our older campers take care of younger campers on special event days and make them feel safe and part of a team. I always say there is something “special” that exists at Walden – what I’m most proud of is being part of a place that exists with so much intention and care.
Share a time when camp has changed one of your “kids”?
I think camp has had an incredible impact on so many of our campers. Many of them walk into the summer nervous and scared, and walk out feeling proud with a greater sense of confidence. With love, support and patience we have helped many campers overcome their fears and learn to love an overnight experience. We had one camper who was our most homesick camper in camp for years and just last summer she was on stage front and center – the star of her group performance. It was something she never would have done when she first came to camp but 5 years later she was a true success story.
We also sponsor a number of children from an inner-city charter school in New York City. For them, camp provides a unique opportunity. We have taught kids to swim who were afraid to put on a life jacket and have introduced them to experiences they may never have had in their lives. We keep in touch with many of these kids and they will often share how their lives have changed because of the life skills they learned at camp.
Any special lessons or stories you share with your “kids” during the summer?
I often share stories about lessons I learned growing up at camp. Many of my closest friends today are the ones that I made while living “10 for 2” in the late 70’s and 80’s ☺
While following my path to own and direct a summer camp, I worked at a different overnight camp when I was in my mid 20s. When I started there, I met one of the most special and cherished friends I would ever know. We were an unlikely pair – I was bold, had a big personality and had grown up in the New York area, and she was soft and sweet, and had grown up in Kansas. I tell campers how initially I thought this person and I could never be close friends. Yet, as I got to know her, I learned that she was one of the kindest and most selfless people I had ever met. I explain that camp provides the unique opportunity to meet all different people and to know them deeply. At camp we know the importance of connecting with people who might seem different, and we learn to value and celebrate individuals for who they are and what they bring to us. Approximately 25 years later (and for the past 11 years), Camp Walden NY is lucky enough to have my incredible friend from Kansas as our Younger Girls Head Counselor.