We welcome you to the Summer 365 family, we’re mighty glad you’re here! Meet our newest Campbassador, Sharon! Campbassadors are our version of brand ambassadors – they are our #1 fans, cheer squad, and fellow camp-obsessed former campers who want to spread the summer love! And, most importantly, they are dedicated to joining in our mission of giving the gift of summer camp to children.
There are people who went to camp and then there are Camp People….capital C capital P. Then there is our Camper of the Week Sharon. She is CAMP PEOPLE! She was basically born with her camp uniform on and started going to camp at the ripe age of 8 months old. Sharon comes from a family with a rich camp legacy, and she has that undeniable camp spirit coursing through her veins and programmed into her DNA. We are so excited to share her camp experience with you. So without further adieu, we give you our COTW Sharon Bongino Kessler.
Where did you go to camp?
Obviously I had a very special situation because my grandfather owned my camp, Tyler Hill in Wayne, PA. He founded it when my mom was a little girl and my parents actually met there when my father got a job as a counselor during the summers while he was a NYC school teacher. So my first summer at camp was when I was just 8 months old. It’s funny, while most kids were away from their families for eight whole weeks, I spent the entire time with mine! We sold the camp when I was in 9th grade but it’s something that will always be in my blood. To this day, people who had my mom as a counselor (like Summer 365 founder Susan Eckstein Kasnett!) get so excited when they see me just because of what my parents and grandparents meant to their childhoods. My brother, who’s the Athletic Director for a School District on Long Island, still works every summer at Camp Pontiac in Copake, NY.
Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?
I grew up in Dix Hills, NY and now I live with my family (husband and 2 daughters (age 7 & 3) in Potomac, MD.
What are you currently doing ?
I have been in Fundraising for over 15 years, in NYC I was the Chief Development officer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC, and now since I moved to the MD/DC area three years ago I have been a fundraising consultant for Children’s National Health Systems. I was hired to start their first 5K, The Race for Every Child now in its 3rd year and raising over $1 Million.
I was born into a sleep away camp family, and I spent my entire childhood immersed in the summer camp world. Now as an adult I realize even more the impact the camp experience has on so many people. This is why I am very excited to share that I have become a Summer 365 Campbassador. This thrilling new opportunity will allow me to use my knowledge and passion of the camp world to help my friends, and their friends and families, navigate the complex maze of finding the right camp for their children.
How has camp influenced what you do/your career path?
I always say camp influenced everything I have done. It taught me confidence, it taught me how to live with people, accept people for who they are and to want to share my wonderful life experiences with others.
I always wanted to make a difference in children’s lives weather they were less fortunate than some or just in need of friends. I wanted to put smiles on kid’s faces and give them the opportunity to be the best they can be. At Big Brothers Big Sisters that was helping find mentors for kids who needed it. At Children’s it’s to be able to make sure the hospital can serve all kids and families who need it.
What are your top three essentials that you packed in your trunk?
My camp uniform for Friday night services and inter-camp games, as I got older stationery to keep in touch with my friends at other camps, and a flashlight for the late night conversations in the bunk when it was lights out.
What are three words to describe your camp experience?
Incredible, happy, fun
Who was someone at camp that you looked up to?
My group leaders and counselors. I had the best counselors and group leaders (many will get to see this on facebook) you know who you are and I can’t thank them enough for helping me grow and change, and have the best summers of my life.
Why do you think it is important to go to camp?
I don’t think camp is the same for everyone and each child needs to find the right place is for them. But I do think camp is important. It teachers you independence, compromise, leadership skills, and how to get along with others.
What is your favorite/most epic camp memory?
I have a bunch and I am not sure I am allowed to make those public (smile/smerk). But as you know my Grandfather Bill Heft owned the camp and watching him walk around and know each kid and make sure he was at line-up saying hi and teasing the kids. It’s a powerful visual I still have. As my most favorite memories; girls sing, color war and truly just being around my camp friends in the bunk.
How has camp affected your adult life? Is there something you learned there that you still do today?
My shelves are perfectly neat in my closet; you would think they are cubbies where everyone could see them.
Words of wisdom for current and future campers?
Try it, and if you don’t like it try something else. Take advantage of the activities that camp offers.
How do you keep in touch with your camp friends? What has kept you close through all of these years?
I can’t say that I talk to my camp friends all the time, thank god for Facebook because we keep in touch that way. I get to see pictures of them, their families and it seems like yesterday that we were all little kids in bunk 7. But, if I bump into a camp friend on the street you start off right where you left off. There is a bond that can never be broken.
What is your favorite camp tradition? All of them!
What did you prefer – pool or lake? When I went to Tyler Hill we only had the lake but I worked at Camp Pontiac for a few summers and got to experience a pool. I would have to say pool.
What was your favorite camp activity?
Tennis & Arts & Crafts
What were the biggest trends/must have items when you went to camp?
Jellies, ID outfits, Z. Cavaricci shorts, Aqua Net hair spray, yellow sports Walkman