Wednesday, May 15, 2019

My Southwoods Story - Sarah Senese

During my third year of camp, my Group Leader told me: You're always your best self at Southwoods. While I didn't quite understand nor believe it then, it's the driving force that brings me back to Southwoods each summer, again and again. Entering my eighth year of camp and my second as a Cabin Specialist, it's become apparent what my Group Leader meant all those years ago.

While I wasn't particularly an outgoing camper, something about the way I felt at camp drew me back as a Super Senior, an LIT, and then as a Cabin Specialist. Although I wasn't the kid who participated first, who let loose at the all camp dances, and who cheered the loudest during tribal, I always kept the words my Group Leader told me close. I truly was the best me at camp, but it took a little while to realize that I needed to become a staff member to take advantage of it. 

Now, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do at camp. The other ten months of the year merely lead up to camp, where I can dance, let loose, be loud, and be myself. 

*Sarah was a camper at Southwoods for 6 summers and will be returning this summer (2019) for her 2nd year on staff as a Cabin Specialist. We're so luck y to have Sarah on our team!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

10 Reasons Why Parents Choose Southwoods

Selecting a children's sleep-away camp is a very difficult process for parents. It is a process that in the end has parents entrusting the most precious things in their life to relative strangers. Even though Andrea and I have more than 60 years of combined experience in working with other people's children, we still marvel at what it takes for us to trust others with the care of our three daughters. We are so very humbled and honored so many families place that trust in us! We often hear from parents that they cannot distinguish between camps because the words used to describe what each does are mostly the same. But while most camps are all very similar in the experience they hope to provide, they tend to be very different in the approach. The similarity is that if organized and managed right, most children are able to get a look at their best self. Camp becomes a place where they can grow, learn, discover, experience while also having the values taught at home re-enforced by trust family partners.  Below are 10 good reasons parents choose Southwoods:
1. Campers should have the opportunity to learn how to navigate the tricky social situations we all face the rest of our lives. At Southwoods they get the opportunity to learn how to be a part of and engage in what we like to call “dinner conversation”. They learn how to meet new people of various demographics; age, race, religion, nationality and develop the skills to create appropriate and positive relationships. They learn that it is not necessary to be best friends with everyone in the group to function well within the group and yes still have an amazing time.  They realize the world provides them with endless possibilities and they get to play the leading role in writing the story of who they become. They learn that their value, their sense of self-worth should not be based on how good they are at something, rather it is all about how good of a person they are. And yes, sometimes they will not say the right thing, they may not win or they may feel left out of a group. True growth comes from learning how to deal with these things and from how they are taught and guided through these situations.
2. Campers should have the opportunity to explore nature in a way that is different than just being set loose in the back yard.  At Southwoods we get to learn how and where to pitch a tent, the best way to cook over a fire, catch frogs, slip n slide in the mud while it is raining, pick up trash, love the natural world around us and so very much more. A great camp teaches children to use all of their senses to experience the world around them. At Southwoods campers unplug and explore in ways that surprise them and their parents. We often get a shocked blank look when our campers share in front of mom and dad that one of their favorite activities at camp was frog catching or caving! Things many parents would have been positive their child would not have enjoyed.
3. Campers should come home from camp having had the opportunity to find out they are strong. At Southwoods campers find out that they are strong enough to fall down, scrape their knee and their ego, then get up and wipe one or both off, and keep on going. They develop the skills to be away from their parents and their home and learn that all is still okay! They build independence, confidence and self-esteem all of which which sets them up to take advantage of the many other opportunities their parents will be able to put in front of them as they grow and mature.
4. Campers should have the opportunity to find out that it is fun to embrace their creative abilities. At Southwoods we do this in many different ways; musicals and plays, talent shows, bunk airband performances, campfire skits, dance recitals, themed camp dances, various evening activities like Rainbow Warriors and Panic, Tribal sing and cheer, arts and crafts, wood working, glass blowing, cooking, dance, photo and videography...and many other unplanned ways.
5. Campers should have the opportunity to find out that life is really about participation not perfection. At Southwoods our campers are surrounded by wonderful, college age young adults and fun loving mature older adults doing crazy things outside of our comfort zones on a daily bases. This helps our campers feel more comfortable taking social risks and find success in things they may not feel comfortable or skilled at doing in the beginning. We see campers learn how to include other campers rather than exclude them for self-serving purposes. They select electives they know they are not good at because our environment allows them to learn without judgement the pressure to be the best. Every day we see, campers find themselves and awaken new passions they never knew they had! It is truly one of the most special parts of Southwoods.
6. Campers should be introduced to new experiences every day at Camp. From the moment they step on the bus we strive to immerse campers in a world of discovery.  At Southwoods, meeting new friends that they’ll hold dear for the rest of their lives is common. Trying new foods that they would never be willing try at home. The freedom to choose and participate in a host of new and different activities on a daily basis, and of course other silly things like bathing in the lake, smearing mud on their face 40 feet below the ground in a cave, riding a bike through tall grass, catching a frog in a stream, making a cake, eating a wild blackberry, passing a deep water test, jumping both wakes behind a ski boat, standing on stage in front of 400 people and singing a song. The list truly goes on forever!
7. Campers grow their ability to appreciate and embrace others by having the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures from around the world. Southwoods has staff and campers from many different countries. At line-up we hear the Spanish word of the day, the Turkish phrase of the day, the sushi of the day and so much more. Our campers are exposed to the amazing shrinking world. We hear the national anthem of different countries and enjoy cuisine prepared by staff from all over the world. Some of our favorite campfire songs have been brought to us from other countries!
8. Campers should have the opportunity to learn the value of teamwork. At Southwoods we are exposed to this important life skill in a multitude of ways. From simple cabin activities such as air-band performances and campfire skits to our inter-camp teams and Tribal War games. Look at air-band…days working as a group to select the perfect song, choreographing the dance moves and the practice to finalize the performance, all yielding 2 minutes of on stage performance and 45 seconds of applause from the crowd. This is followed by a lifetime of remembering that crazy air-band we created our lower-inter year…! Everything we do at Southwoods is designed to be fun learning opportunities.
9. Campers should learn the meaning of getting and giving a warm inner glow. At Southwoods we practice this every day.  The personal knowledge that you have given of yourself to make someone else's day better! We work hard to teach children how to recognize when someone needs you to do something nice while also teaching children how to recognize when someone has done something nice for them. Nice things happen, because someone makes them happen! And giving and getting Fuzzies is all about learning how to do these things!
10. Campers should have the opportunity to learn the value of traditions. Millions of campers from all over the world return year after year to camp and each of them has something they can't wait to do or take part in making happen. Things like Tribal break, overnight camping trips, campfire songs, evening activities, gaga on the spring floor, Carnival, special out of camp trips, inter-camp games, head staff dunk tank, silent dinner, candy hunt, musicals and plays, closing circle and the list just goes on and on and on. Traditions and special moments that they represent will live on generation after generation and allow us to reconnect with our childhood as we hear and see them through the eyes of our children and grandchildren.
Both Andrea & I and all of our staff, thank you for trusting us with the most precious things in your life. Malcolm Gladwell shares in his book, "The Outliers", that life is about taking advantage of opportunities. We look forward to making sure your children have amazing opportunities and are encouraged to take full advantage of them all!!!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Session 2 Super Senior: East Coast- Niagara Falls, Cedar Point, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Hershey Park, and Morry’s Camp

The super seniors hit the ground running with their skills checks on Sunday shortly after arriving. Following an Early Morning Riser wake surf session on the first full day of camp, we packed and headed to Lake George for some laser tag and go-carting after dinner. The evening ended with an ice cream stop at Martha’s and the it was back to camp for the night. Tuesday morning we hit the road after breakfast. Following lunch on the road we arrived in Niagara Falls where we immediately headed for the Maid of the Mist boat tour. Everyone enjoyed the view of the falls while getting soaked! We headed to our hotel, relaxed and dried off and headed to the Rainforest CafĂ© for dinner. Following breakfast Wednesday morning, we hit the Niagara River on a jet boat; we enjoyed the beautiful views of both the Canadian and American sides of the river while experiencing the drops, bumps and power of class 3 and 4 rapids. After drying off, we hopped back in the vans and headed for Ohio where we arrived in time for dinner and a trip to Wal-Mart.

We woke up Thursday morning and headed to Cedar Point amusement park (in time for early entry), home to some of the largest roller coasters in the world! We enjoyed a sunny day full of high speed, adrenaline rush, rides. After a brief break and pizza dinner in the late afternoon, we headed back to the park and enjoyed more rides until closing time.

Friday morning we enjoyed sleeping in and a nice breakfast at Cracker Barrel before heading to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Everyone enjoyed seeing memorabilia from some of their favorite artists and learning about the history of Rock and how it has helped shape some of their favorite genres today. After the Hall of Fame, we headed east and arrived at our hotel.

Saturday morning, we headed to Hershey Park where we enjoyed learning about how our favorite Hershey’s candies are made before heading into the park and enjoying more rides! We headed to the hotel to relax for the afternoon and then headed back to the park where we took advantage of shorter lines on the rides.

Sunday it was off to Morry’s Camp! We arrived mid-afternoon and were immediately greeted by many Morry’s Camp campers about the same age as the Super Seniors. Everyone was so excited to see camp and exchange camp stories and traditions over a friendly game of basketball. Sunday evening at Morry’s Camp is BBQ dinner night; we enjoyed eating some delicious food with many of our new friends while swapping more stories. After dinner, we were able to have a campfire with Dawn Ewing, executive director of Project Morry, where we learned more about Project Morry, Morry’s Camp and how important camp and education are to all! The super seniors asked some very thoughtful questions, which sparked a great, reflective conversation with Dawn. We woke up Monday, ate breakfast and headed to first period activities. The Super Seniors were split up into groups where they played with some of the younger Morry’s Camp campers. The girls went to dance, and the boys split between media and land sports. We said our goodbye’s mid-morning and hit the road back to camp.

Tuesday we had fun volunteering some community service hours with Champlain Area Trails cleaning up and cutting some hiking trails around the Champlain Valley (near camp); we even met a friendly golden retriever puppy! After returning to camp, we packed our bags and enjoyed a beautiful evening on the lake tubing and hanging with Scott on Southwoods’ new custom pontoon boat, the SS Ellie Mae, complete with 2 floors, water slides, music and all around fun!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

West Coast Part 3- Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego

We arrived Tuesday afternoon in Las Vegas with time to explore the Mandalay Bay Hotel before cleaning up and heading to dinner at the House of Blues, with great music and singing by all. Following dinner we walked down the strip to the Miracle Mile Shops where groups were able to explore over a mile of indoor shopping, grab Starbucks or ice cream and hang out. Wednesday was a late wake up day before heading to the MASSIVE brunch buffet at the Mandalay Bay. We got our moneys worth here...Following brunch, we explored the amazing Mandalay Bay pool complex. We enjoyed splashing in the wave pool and hanging out in the lazy river! Later in the afternoon we returned to our rooms to shower and dress for an evening out in Vegas. At the Mirage hotel we enjoyed a delicious and relaxing Italian dinner at Osteria Costa Restaurant. We then headed over to our great seats at The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil. What an awesome production, Everyone enjoyed watching the amazing choreography to the Beatles greatest hits. After the show we strolled the city that truly never sleeps and concluded with shopping at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace.

After checking out of the Mandalay Bay on Thursday morning, we stopped for a bagel breakfast and began the drive to Los Angeles. We made a quick stop at the Seven Magic Mountains art exhibit (a huge Instagram hit!) on the side of the road and for lunch. We arrived in L.A. mid afternoon and headed to the Hollywood Walk of fame and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. We enjoyed seeing the stars on the Walk of Fame and wax figures of some of our favorite actors, singers and idols. Following a diner at California Pizza Kitchen we walked around a bit more, grabbed some ice cream and headed to bed. We awoke Friday and headed to Universal Studios where we enjoyed the back lot studio tour before splitting into groups and experiencing Harry Potter World, the Jurassic Park and Mummy Rides among other themed favorites. After Universal Studios we headed to The Grove, one of L.A's premier shopping destinations (also a popular hangout for many popular YouTuber's and Instagram celebrities). Each group enjoyed shopping and snapping photos with some celebrities (we saw 4!). We headed back to Hollywood Blvd for dinner and the TMZ tour where we got the inside scoop on Hollywood, Beverly Hills and many other locations that celebrities frequent and live. 

Saturday was a day of relaxation as we went to the Santa Monica Pier and enjoyed the beach and pier for the morning. After a late lunch, we headed south to our final destination, San Diego! We checked in to our hotel, grabbed some dinner and went to bed in anticipation of Surfing Sunday morning. We woke up Sunday morning, ate some breakfast and walked down Mission Beach in San Diego for our surfing lesson! We started on land and learned the basic movements and positions needed for surfing and then took what we learned to the water for some challenging fun in the Pacific! After grabbing some beachside lunch, we headed to the hotel to relax and swim in the pool. Shortly we will head to dinner.

As we reach the bittersweet final full day of the Super Senior trip, we will go sailing on the former America's Cup race boat Stars and Stripes. It seems like just yesterday we departed on the west coast part of our journey. Each and every camper has experienced many firsts with some of their best friends (new and old). They have strengthened and forged new bonds with their peers, learned valuable skills about living and traveling with others and had an overall awesome summer! 

Monday, July 9, 2018

West Coast Part 2- Grand Junction, White Water Rafting and Moab

The Super Seniors were greeted with another early morning on Friday in anticipation of a fun filled day of hiking and rappelling at the Colorado National Monument. As we ascended the Devil's Kitchen trail with our amazing guides, we got to enjoy some wonderful views of the vistas and wildlife. We put our teamwork skills to the test as we worked together to climb through the chimney, a narrow rock crack, on the way to the summit. Following a quick water and photo break, we harnessed up and did a little bit of rock climbing on our way to the Lemon Squeeze, a small hole which each of us climbed through to reach the beautiful view at the summit. After returning to the bottom of the hike, each of us got our chance to rappel down a 100+ft rock face. Following a morning of challenge, fun and teamwork, we got some much deserved lunch and cooled off at the hotel. After dinner we caught a movie and headed to bed. 

Saturday morning we woke up to a beautiful day to go white water rafting! After breakfast at our hotel, we loaded up and headed to Cisco, Utah where we met our rafting guides. After putting on LOTS of sunscreen, we got suited up with life jackets and boarded our rafts to begin our float into Westwater Canyon. Shortly after casting off, we went swimming in the river and played lots of games. We reached our campsite and spent the afternoon relaxing, playing games, and doing a lot of swimming! After a wonderful taco dinner prepared by our guides, we settled down and relaxed as a group (without our phones). After a beautiful night sleeping under the stars, we woke up, ate breakfast, and headed to the rapids. After a whitewater safety talk from our guides, we hit the rapids and had a soaking wet fun time! Following the rapids we enjoyed lunch and more swimming before arriving at the end of our rafting experience. 

We headed to Moab, Utah mid afternoon, checked into our hotel, and enjoyed some nice shower and relaxation time before heading to dinner. Following dinner and a FroYo stop, we headed to Arches National Park to enjoy sunset. We woke up this morning, enjoyed some breakfast and headed mountain biking. Everyone enjoyed seeing the beautiful views that Moab has to offer while challenging themselves with a great bike ride. Following lunch and some shopping time in Moab, its off to Cedar City, UT for the night before heading to Las Vegas on Tuesday.  

Friday, July 6, 2018

Morry's Camp and the West Coast Part 1

Following a hot and sunny day at Hershey Park, the Super Seniors crossed the NY border and arrived at Morry's Camp Sunday afternoon. After meeting with some of the oldest campers for a tour of the camp, we joined Morry's campers and staff for line up and a wonderful outdoor BBQ dinner. Southwoods campers were excited to sit with and get to know the Morry's Camp Post Grad 3 group who are approximately the same age as them. They enjoyed swapping camp stories and songs and learning about the power of camp! Following dinner, we were invited to a campfire with Dawn Ewing, executive director of Project Morry who spoke with our group about the wonderful mission of Project Morry and the impact that camp has on her campers lives.. The next day we woke and joined campers of all ages in the Morry's Camp dining room and then headed to morning line up. Following line up, the Super Seniors were divided among the many Morry's Camp age groups and we were able to participate, lead and get to experience Project Morry in a real way. We also got to know some of the PM campers really well. After a day of fun, we packed up and headed back to Southwoods.

Tuesday morning back at Southwoods consisted of community service with the Lake Champlain Trail society and a picnic lunch. After returning to Southwoods we packed our bags and then were able to get a break from the heat and enjoy free swim, free-play ski and a special evening activity with Scott of tubing and rocking the evening away on the SS Ellie Mae, (Southwoods' new double decker pontoon boat)! We slid down the two slides, leaped from the upper deck and danced like no one was watching, even though everyone on the lake came to check out this amazing new addition to the Southwoods fleet!

Wednesday morning was bitter sweet as we ate breakfast and headed to the airport. We arrived in Denver, CO around 3:45pm and headed to the hotel. Following dinner, we went to bed in anticipation of an early morning on Thursday. After a beautiful drive through the Rocky Mountains, we arrived in Grand Junction, CO and went rock climbing! Everyone enjoyed their choice of 5 different climbs bringing challenge, encouragement and a LOT of fun! Tomorrow we go hiking and rappelling at the Colorado National Monument. 

Super Seniors Take the East Coast by Roller Coaster!

After departing Southwoods Tuesday morning after breakfast, the Super Seniors headed straight to Niagara Falls. Following an awesome tour of the falls on the Maid of the Mist, we headed to dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, followed by fireworks overlooking the falls. Wednesday morning was full of soaking wet smiles from jet boating followed by a road trip to Sandusky, OH (home of Cedar Point!). After dinner, it was off to bed for an early morning in the park! Following breakfast by the pool, we headed to Cedar Point where we rode many of the United States' largest roller coasters and had an overall great day. We returned to the hotel mid day for some cool-off time and pizza by the pool before returning to the park for some fun under the stars. We woke up Friday morning and headed to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH. Campers enjoyed learning about the history of Rock and Roll and how it has helped to evolve music into the genres they listen to today. We arrived at our hotel in Somerset, PA in time for dinner and bed time. Everyone is enjoying an awesome trip and is very excited to visit Hershey Park and Project Morry in the coming days. More to come soon!