Growing, Nurturing, Leading: Camp Directors Reflect On Their Own Summer Camp Experiences

Many of the directors of our favorite summer camps in the Delaware Valley region were once campers themselves. Some of them even attended the camps they now oversee. We spoke to three directors who reflect on their time as campers, what they gained from going to camp and how they draw on their experiences to help them in their roles.

Lisa Kasser With Weathered Frame

Lisa Kasser, founder, owner and director, Burn Brae Day Camp

Lisa Kasser, founder, owner and director of Burn Brae Day Camp, Dresher, Pennsylvania

I attended an arts-oriented day camp at age 5 and continued to age 11. My day camp experiences inspired and influenced me on a social, emotional and artistic level. It was a springboard for my involvement and ultimate career choices in theater, television and eventually day camp. I loved the outdoors and natural setting of my childhood camps, which has instilled in me a lifelong passion for the outdoors.

When I started Burn Brae Day Camp 41 years ago, my previous camp experiences helped to shape my ideas in forming my camp.

I knew many children like me who wanted to focus on the arts — music, art, theater, dance, film making and photography — while still participating in swimming, science, nature and noncompetitive athletics.

I realized while reflecting on my past camp memories that I had wanted to choose my activities and areas of interest instead of following a group schedule that included activities I didn’t like.

In creating Burn Brae, I gave my campers the opportunity to create their customized schedule by choosing their activities, starting at age 7. I am living my dream — giving thousands of children over the past four decades opportunities to explore, experience, find their interests and passions, make lifelong camp friends and create amazing and lasting memories, just like I had.

Gary Karp 2 With Weathered Frame

Gary Karp, Child Care Director, Brandywine YMCA’s Camp Quoowant

Gary Karp, child care director at Brandywine YMCA’s Camp Quoowant, Wilmington, Delaware I attended the camp I run now, a traditional outdoor day camp.

I enjoyed playing games, being part of a group and making new friends. When you go to school and play sports, you’re usually with the same people. But I got to meet all kinds of new people, people who didn’t live near me or weren’t children of my parents’ friends. I got to choose my friends.

Camp gives you the independence and strength to try new things. One of the things that makes that possible is that you have people who are watching you who are older than you but they’re not your parents. They’re like your big brothers or big sisters.

Camp provides a lifelong opportunity to make friends and develop certain skills and techniques. Most importantly, it gives you the ability to interact in a group, try new things and fail without feeling terrible about yourself. I often tell our camp counselors when we do training that we don’t need to cheer only when people succeed, but we should also always cheer when people try. Without trying new things, you can never become more independent and get all these small experiences that make you more self-confident, courageous and strong.

Camp is one of the greatest things people can do. It’s wonderful that not only the Y but also other camps provide a place for kids to safely grow and develop their character while making lifelong friends. Sleepaway camp is different from day camp, but friendships are the biggest thing people take away from camp. Even counselors make lifelong friends too.

Elizabeth Staib King With Weathered Frame

Elizabeth Staib King, Executive Director, YMCA of Delaware’s Camp Tockwogh

Elizabeth Staib King, executive director, YMCA of Delaware’s Camp Tockwogh, in Worton, Maryland

I was a camper at YMCA Camp Tockwogh.

Camp is where I got to do things I never would have been introduced to — like learning how to sail, ride a horse and do archery.

My parents liked the independence I displayed when I came home. I remember my mom saying, “Wow! I didn’t even have to ask you to clear the table.” We set the table, clear the table and have chores that are part of the living community here at camp. I was always looking forward to camp and the next year, and being able to do something different. I gained independence, initiative and resilience at camp.

There’s a camp craft program here. Learning how to tie knots, start a fire with a magnifying glass and being able to pass all the skill requirements to go on a special campout was important to me.

What’s so unique and awesome about camp is that children have role models who are close to them in age. At the time, I didn’t necessarily realize that, but I looked up to them and emulated them. I had counselors from other countries and counselors who were a part of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community. It opened up my mind to people of different cultures
and backgrounds.

I’m coming into my 15th summer this year as the executive director. I think, “How do we get camp back to that feeling that I had as a camper?” In a nutshell, what was it about camp, those counselors and those experiences, that kept me engaged and wanting to come back?

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