Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Southwoods Story: Mathy Wasserman

In October of 2000, we made a decision which became the single most significant choice and investment in our three boys' lives. Here in California, we did not know families who were sending their kids to sleep away camp in 3rd grade, let alone for a month, let alone across the country.
People we knew sent kids to camps for a couple of weeks and usually, not very far from home. Both my husband, who is from the midwest and I, from the east, went to sleep away camps growing up. While we were not interested in a full summer program, we wanted somewhere for our sons where there was a formal start and stop date (all the kids arrive at the same time and leave similarly). While that was a starting point for exploration, what we got at Southwoods was so much more.
We have never met another camp owner who is like Scott or Andrea Ralls and who cares so much about the camper and experience. (It's actually difficult for me to decide where to start.) The camp offers one of the most fun, diverse, safe, adventurous, respectful, and healthy growing programs. Each area excels, whether it's the waterfront, sports, arts, adventures, camp activities or tribal war. Our boys went there from the time they brought walkmans to the risk of electronics infringing on the summer. Kids learn to disconnect and participate with each other, embrace challenges and celebrate successes. From the youngest campers to the LIT (Leaders in Training), Scott and Andrea have their eyes, ears and staffs' attention to each child having an amazing summer. If they ran a private school, my kids would have been there!
Over the years, Scott, Andrea and the staff helped our kids with a variety of issues from fear of the lake, concerns with sleeping in a tent outside to having the confidence to become a leader. Some of their most memorable achievements came at camp from learning new skills, becoming a tribal chieftain to training as a video intern.
While our oldest went to sleep away before FB, to this day, he relishes bumping into someone from Southwoods. As a 22 year old with an internship this summer in NY, he was walking down the street when he ran into a kid from camp. They stopped in a bar and had drinks to laugh about those days. A friend of his from college was roommates with a kid from Southwoods and these are great kids with great friends. Our youngest (17 and applying to colleges), also went for 6 years through the LIT program and keeps in touch with kids on FB and visits with them when traveling. They are all in touch around the world from LA to Paris with friends across the continent. A group of them we there to support a friend whose family went through a very rough time and I think for him, having these camp friends helped him to feel like there was a cocoon of safety around him.
As a parent, you want to know your kids are having fun and that they are safe at camp. The "what ifs..." need to be covered. We have had respiratory viruses become an asthma attack and we have had bug bites become infected. Regardless, the health staff have gotten the kids back on track and back in the action as soon as it was safe. It takes a lot of trust to send a kid to sleep away camp across the country and so imagine the trust we had in Scott and Andrea when in the summer after 9/11, we sent our two boys to camp in New York. Another year was the summer that the flu was wiping out camp attendance and experiences for kids across the country. Scott and Andrea had protocols in place that prevented an outbreak from happening at Southwoods while our friends' kids were at camps where quarantines were more active than canteens! Not the case at Southwoods. Not on Scott's watch!
Southwoods does not make communicating with parents a profit center like many camps. Pictures and videos populate the website daily, and parents have coded access to download and share images. Plus, there's no charge to send daily emails to you kid (which they print out) if you want to augment the cards you send. Communicating directly with Scott, Andrea and camp leadership is easy and they are responsive to concerns (but don't be a drone parent, you can trust them!).
Scott never rests on his laurels and continues to invest, improve and update Southwood's facilities and infrastructure. The food is amazing, healthy and bountiful in choices that have met the pickiest of eaters' preferences. The rules and structure that the Ralls have in place for campers and staff reflect their lifelong commitment to summer camp and creating awesome experiences.
Each of our three boys attended for 6 summers and tried things they never would have tried, grew in ways that showed sportsmanship, respect and trust and had the best summers of their lives at Southwoods.
I guess we would recommend it!
-Mathy Wasserman
on behalf of the Wasserman family.

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