Sunday, July 31, 2011

Nicole Parisi-Smith, FV'er who makes change

Nicole Parisi-Smith, one of our people....a Frost Valley lifer who has gone on to do very good work for people in need. If only we really knew where all the former FV people ended up. We have a sense of it, of course, but someone should make the effort to gather it all together. I think we, as a collective, are an impressively good bunch.

the lives we change (several stories)

Here is a note I wrote to my fellow members of the Frost Valley Board of Trustees the other day. Near the beginning I refer to Cathy McFarland; she is a long-time friend of Frost Valley and a terrific member of the board. She sent her two daughters to camp years ago; they become members of the staff. Cathy was the president of the Victoria Foundation, and in that capacity met Halbe Brown and they began a sustained productive relationship as grantor and grantee. Okay, so here's what I wrote the trustees.

- - -

I'm at Frost Valley, where it's not yet in the 90s and where it cooled down to the 60s last night (I needed a blanket). That's one reason to be here but of course there are 999 other reasons.

This morning I added a few blog entries to "Al's Frost Valley alumni blog" and these you might find amusing and perhaps informative:

In particular I hope you'll read about Cathy McFarland Harvey's grandchildren, who are here this session:


Cathy's daughter Cathy has two children -- Andrew and Sarah. Sarah is here for the first time. Their mom was a camper and counselor, and worked with me in my time as camp director. So Andrew and Sarah are double legacies. This morning, at breakfast, I asked Sarah to rate yesterday on a scale of 1 to 10. She said: "11!" I asked her what she likes about Frost Valley and she looked at me as if I were a fool and said: "Everything!"

That's exactly the word used by Nami, a 10-year-old camper here through our Newark Partnership, who yesterday met a visitor from the Prudential Foundation. Jerry and others were showing the Prudential guy around, and there were lots of opportunities to speak with the children. They met Nami at the waterfront and asked him what he likes about Frost Valley. And he said: "Everything!"

Nami is a very complicated young man; he often needs special attention. But his counselors have the clear sense, from their supervisor ("village chief") and from their camp directors, to do whatever it takes, within reason, to accommodate Nami's needs. Nami told his counselors recently that the other kids here don't tease him as they do at school. One boy in Nami's cabin befriended him, and because that fellow was a social leader all the other boys have come to accepted Nami's differences. Nami's time here won't be easy but it will have a lasting positive impact.

Walter, 9 years old, comes from a family of means in Upper Saddle River. But plentiful means can't prevent homesickness, and Walter was homesick last summer - terribly homesick. With lots of help, and clear communication with the parents (with assistance from yours truly), Walter made it through his two weeks and smiled a lot by the end. And said to his parents when they arrived to pick him up: "I want to come back next summer." Walter is here this session and is having the time of his life. I received the most fabulously grateful and excited email message from Walter's mom yesterday. She realizes that Walter is growing up and that Frost Valley has played a big role in that. She loves our approach and cherishes our values. I'm guessing that Walter will become a "lifer" and will one day by a counselor himself.

Eddie has two dads, one who works in Manhattan and the other who commutes to a job and second home up here in the Catskills. Eddie is 12 but has never been away from his parents. He was spending his summer at the upstate house, to beat the NYC heat, but he was really, really bored. So they signed him up for two weeks at Frost Valley. All three of them were really nervous about this. Within 24 hours Eddie realized that the other boys in his cabin are really fun and energetic and that at Frost Valley there's always something exciting and interesting to do. I see Eddie every day, at least briefly, and ask him if he's bored here. It's a running joke. By now, he smiles at my mild sarcasm and says he can't believe it took him and his dads so long to find this place for him. He's such a natural here. He's made several very close friends already.

Pedro had a bad April. His kidneys finally failed. He's been on dialysis only since then, so he's not quite used to it yet. His father's best friend is a tissue match and has volunteered to give Pedro one of his kidneys at the end of the summer through transplantation surgery. Pedro has a number of reasons to be distracted and not quite ready for camp. But he's here and he's part of the social and physical mainstream - the only camp (well, at least the first camp) to integrate kids on dialysis with everyone else. This is crucial at such a moment for Pedro because he so badly wants this phase on hemodialysis to be brief and wants to cling to a sense of himself as "normal." He's got a fabulous sense of humor and after a day and night of homesickness, and a little difficulty with his diet, he's running and playing and goofing around and going on overnights and has a little reprieve from his fears about his future health.

Sarah and Nami and Walter and Eddie and Pedro are five very different kids. They broadly represent the American socio-economic range, and spread variously along the spectrum of health and illness. But they are all equally our kids, Frost Valley's kids. They all thrive on the Frost Valley experience, for what's good here for them is precisely everything.

I feel enormously privileged to be able to see the positive effects of diversity and inclusiveness and tolerance for real. I know you feel the same. Fenn [Putman, Chairman of the Board] is coming here Monday to get his dose of this happiness. I know that Jerry has offered every one of us a standing invitation to visit any time. Come August 6 [annual meeting at camp], yes, but come another time too. Just a few hours immersed in summer camp and you will completely remember why we all volunteer for Frost Valley so assiduously.

Photos by Sandra Shapiro Bohn.

Monday, July 25, 2011

the amazing Dave

David Allen, Village Chief of Totem Village, 1980.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

a note on theme days; or Grandpa's Day Off

Villages create theme days. Some are merely ideas for costumes lightly affecting an otherwise regular daily schedule. Some shape the entire day. Forest today is enjoying "Survivor Day," and I don't quite know what it is but I saw some grittily painted faces, some camoflouge and some talk about how we will ever make it through the heat. Next week Lakota will have its Throwback Day, a return to old Frost Valley/Wawayanda traditions, practices and programs. I have been asked to teach the girls the old "Boys' camp" grace tune (we all now sing what used to be the girls' melody). They will learn some of the old cheers and songs and play some of the forgotten games. Today Lenape is enjoying "Grandpa's Day Out." I just saw them (with Sacky) playing a hilariously boring (and thus hilariously fun) game of Bingo in the dining hall. Here above you see two photos of the Lenape staff as grandpas.

$ for camperships

Click on the image above for a larger view. I know you won't believe this but it's true: the summer camp staff (not a well paid bunch) contributed $11,000 toward camperships (financial aid for families who can't afford to send their children to camp) on the final day of staff training in June. The total for all staff (year-round and summer-only) is $29,000 so far for 2011. This we call "Project 332," the aim being to send 332 children to camp who couldn't otherwise come for financial reasons. Of course the overall goal for FV's annual campaign is much larger. But what you see here gives you a sense of how the fund-raising on the part of camp staff continues through the summer. We all wear our tie-dyed 332 t-shirts on check-out day. Counselors who greet parents and receive kudos and compliments ask parents to make a donation to Project 332 instead of the traditional "tip" to the counselor. The village staffs compete to see which raises the most money for camperships. The winning group of staff each session gets to have an evening off at Dan Weir's house - enjoying DVDs and some serious BBQ and grilled eats.

If you're reading this and want to contribute, please go to and click on "Help Us Change Lives, Donate Today!"

they can't keep away

The summer of 1986 was a strange one for me. For the first time in 23 years I was not spending at least part of my summer at Frost Valley. I only vaguely remember the specifics of the disorientation and heartache, but I certainly recall the fact of it. I kept looking at the calendar and thinking thoughts such as: "Tonight is the opening ceremony of Olympics." Fortunately I have the opportunity to spend time here, sometimes lots of it, to this day. But most folks can't manage such things and life's commitments--all for the good, since the FV magic does its magic elsewhere as the result--encourage us to move on.

I do find it fascinating to see the reactions of those lifers, enduring their first summer out, when they come back for a visit. Smiles on the faces, here, of Shannon Mooney and Annie Galligan, belie their intense nostalgia and longing during a recent visit. At right is Mariah Bohn who is most certainly here this summer, as a counselor in Windsong--daughter of Sandra Bohn, whom you might know as Sandy Shapiro from her many years as camper and counselor years back. Sandy manages to spend some weeks (this summer = 4) here too, helping out (driving, always a huge need).

a blog entry for the FV wonk

Lots of heads were put together in order to come up with a more efficient check-in for the beginning of each session. I should have said "an even more efficient check-in" because in the past few years it's been already quite good.

When parents and campers arrive, and find out that this form or that (or many forms) are incomplete or missing, they've had to discuss it with the director right there at the table and then wander through various administrative set-ups to finish the paperwork. (I say "paperwork" but I don't mean it's trivial stuff. We're talking about whether we know the camper is going home by bus, a crucial piece of info. Or via health forms, about the medication the child is taking.) But for the start of session 2, we assembled a high-level team of staff, with access to the database of forms via computers. Parents arrive down the hill and are giving a green card if there are no forms missing; these folks move right through to meet directors and go up to the cabins, whereupon mom or dad makes the bed, greets counselors, says goodbye and hits the highway. If you don't have a green card, you move through the room in this photo above, where your forms are completed and any further work is described. Basically, we're just using the square footage of our site a lot better, to keep the lines down and move along fast those who can. Everyone seemed happy with this.

This is the sort of blog entry only former directors or true FV wonks will want to read. But I'm one of 'em, so there you go.

going up Slide (for the Nth time)

Looking north from the top of Slide Mountain a few days ago. Although the trees at the top have grown up and now you can't command a view from the entire top of the mountain, as you could back in the '60s, there are a few spots where you get a spectacular view. It was in the humid mid-80s as we started up the trail from the road (county road 47, the one that passes through FV), but by the time we got to 4000+ feet, it was less humid and downright cool (low 70s) with a breeze. Fantastic relief and a reward for what really is quite a steep climb. The trail isn't the most beautiful at the bottom (too much travelled), but it's still 2.5 hours up and a real workout. (Going down takes 1.5 hours at most.) The much more interesting and beautiful way up Slide is from the end of the East Branch Neversink Road (by the Tison house), the "back way." A further note: while snapping this photo from this viewpoint, I heard a little bing go off on my phone and realized that from the top of Slide we were picking up the slightest cell phone service. From where? I don't know. But I actually was able to upload this photo from the top of Slide and to call my wife Jane to report our successful ascent. I didn't know whether to howl with laughter or with crying at this new aspect of immediacy.

some thoughts on the raid

"The raid" is an artifact of friendly village-to-village affectional rivalry. I've never been a fan of it (to say the least), but was amused by this mild, aesthetically pleasing version. What you see here is a little raiding done by Tacoma "against" Lenape. You're looking at the main room of Quirk Lodge, where Lenape resides, after some folks from Tacoma had come and gone, leaving a symbol of indoor-outdoor switcheroo. A little bit of camp left behind in what I consider a very non-camp kind of space (common room of lodge, with video-game-enabled TV, etc.). I like the humor here. Do you?

another McFarland joins us

Pokey girls at lunch...from the youngest cabin (21). At far right is Sarah Dickson, daughter of Cathy Dickson who as Cathy McFarland was (with her sister) a camper and counselor years ago. Cathy's mom, and Sarah's grandma, is (also) Cathy McFarland, a fabulously effective and helpful member of FV's Board of Trustees and former executive director of the Victoria Foundation. Sarah's brother Andrew is also here for his third summer. All in the family, for sure.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

the weekly VC meeting - the same as ever

I continue to be amazed at the continuity represented by what you'll see in this video. For anyone since 1976 who (as a program staffer, a director or a village chief) has attended the weekly VC/Program meeting, this video will speak for itself. After the round of announcements, the VCs scramble to negotiate the use of spaces, program staff, and other resources, sharing them (through a grid arrangement of the daily schedule) with all the other villages and programs such as Tokyo, Day Camp, etc. Watch and listen as VCs, who weren't born when this exact system was invented, talk with their colleagues, make reservations, confirm plans, and collaborate with each other to resolve scheduling conflicts - and then, ultimately, sketch out a beautiful weekly plan on one side of one copy-able page. What I find amazing, as I've said, is how absolutely the same this has been for 35 years. Below are two photos capturing the busy earnest scene, taken just a minute or two after the bugle was sounded (as it were) for the start of the sign-ups.

cheese puff record at a weekly VC/Program meeting

Keeping somewhat to the theme of outlandish camp-y behavior - in the spirit of what it takes to work this hard so close to so many other heart-filled people for such a concentrated 10-week period - I couldn't help but take a photo of CIT Director Rich Krudner as he broke the record for most cheese puffs stuffed into a human mouth at a weekly VC/Program meeting. So there you have it. Rich came over to me and a few others, and indicated with his hands and fingers that he has 27 cheese puffs in there.

Monday, July 18, 2011

closing campfire

Camp Hird's closing campfire a few days ago, the final night of session 1. It was a gorgeous night. After a while, the sun all the way down, a full moon rising over Wildcat, and plentiful stars, the songs got even sweeter and the sentiments rose - with the finale being (of course) the VCs each saying a final word about the session and then singing together (with a little help from yours truly) "Four Strong Winds."

Lion Hunt once more

If you look closely at this photo, at left, you'll see me sitting on a chair on a table - leading Camp Wawayanda in the "Lion Hunt." "I'm NOT scared!" (The photo was taken by Dan Weir, our Director of Camping Services.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

checking in with the Kremers

Ray Kremer was the very first of the many, many, many Kremers to work at Frost Valley. We think that Marie Kremer (the matriarch of the clan) was the second to work here - as a cook, at first, then office manager. Others came along too, quickly: Charlie Jr., Margaret, Ann Marie, Charles Sr., Andy, and John (did I miss any?). I've written about the Kremers variously in this blog over the years, so search for "Kremer" in the searchbox at right or click the keyword/label below - for much more about them.

Anyway, Ray is at left in the photo above. Along with Bob Eddings and me. Ray and Meg Kremer (Meg, Ray's wife, also worked at FV) joined Jerry and Patti and several dozen other neighbors and FV staffers at a belated July 4 party on the evening of July 10 - camp's decided-upon date for celebrating independence day with the annual "Small World" carnival (featuring booths on countries represented by our international counselors), an evening stage show, and fireworks shot over the lake.

It was great to see Ray, now 65 years old and long retired. He and Meg have built a cabin on the Kremer family property at the end of the Frost Valley road (country road 47) in Claryville.

alumna comes cross-country to give her own young children a chance to be Frost Valley people

Jen Antinoro and her brother Matthew were campers during my years as camp director, and I remember them both well: they were lifers. Jen (now Jen Antinoro Storey, residing with her family on the west coast) stayed on and became a prominent staff member (did Matt do so, too? I'm not sure). Then, like so many of us, she kept her connection to Frost Valley, visiting reunions and staying in touch with FV friends, but mostly setting up her life apart, or mostly apart, from her great FV upbringing. And when her kids came along she hoped they would grow up soon so that she could send them for two weeks to summer camp back here. Well, such waiting - until they're 7 or 8 or 9 - was not for Jen. She brought her two children across the country, rented a cabin in Claryville, and has been sending them to our day camp for the past two weeks, and getting a view of camp life herself here and there as she dropped them off and picked them up. One day she stayed the day, and I saw her in the dining hall, and snapped this photo of her witnessing the mealtime chaos and remembering her own hooplas past.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gottscho Board members visit

Today Judy Eichinger (daughter of Eva Gottscho) and members of the Gottscho Foundation Board visited us and met with many of the kids affiliated with the dialysis unit - from various villages. Above are some photos I took during our lunch with the Gottscho Board.

Monday, July 11, 2011

three beards

Three beards converged yesterday afternoon during the "Small World" carnival (booths arranged around the field, each celebrating the nation represented by an international counselor). The beards belong to (left to right): junior counselor Jonah, myself, and junior counselor Sam.

This (on July 10) was our belated celebration of American independence, six days late. It ended with a dazzling fireworks display shot up across the lake from the end while the campers and staff were sitting at CIT Point. I stationed myself at a fabulous party hosted by CEO Jerry Huncosky at his house, just above the end-of-lake location of the fireworks shooters. Lots of noise and smoke up there.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hemlock does a Project Adventure activity

in pajamas at campfire

Sacky staff, led by Maddy Geftec (at far left), wears pajamas to opening campfire (session 1).

son of the Amazing Dave

All Frost Valley people from the mid-1970s through the mid-80s will remember David ("The Amazing Dave!") Allen. He was a counselor, then a Totem VC, and later our Wawayanda Director. Now David's son Jon (in the middle, above) is here - a counselor in "Pac" (Quinnepiac) Village, living in Hird Lodge. The Allen legacy, intact. We'll be sure that Jon is deemed "Amazing!" too.

CITs become JCs

Last summer's CITs, now JCs. These photos were taken on the final day of staff training. Excitement....

Friday, July 1, 2011

you've got to be a little whacky to do this

Camp is just camp. And at the start of the summer, some craziness of spirit just gets out, a defining moment reminding us that you have to be game to do this. So when Mike T. last night was challenged to drink an entire quart of duck sauce - yes, that sweet gooey stuff the Chinese restaurant adds to your order - he of course went through with it. And this morning - I saw him - none the worse for wear. And maybe better than before, because we all now just know that Mike is fully in.