At Camp Jewell’s Family Camp, Friends Become Family–Literally!

IMGP2138(Photo credit: EC Shots® Edwin Cruz Photography© All Rights Reserved)

A lot of people think of Jewell as a summer camp, but we offer lots of other programs throughout the year, including Family Camp. Here’s a great story about two families who met at Labor Day family camp 20 years ago and now–quite literally–are family.

When Joe and Karen Obuchowski came to Camp Jewell’s Labor Day family camp for the first time in 1991, they had no idea it was the start of what would become a 23 year (and counting) family tradition. The same can be said for Frank and Hilary Micalizzi who started coming the following year. A few years into their time at camp Joe invited his brother, Tony, and his family to come along.

It’s a tough family tree to follow because the Obuchowskis and Micalizzis have invited so many family members and friends to family camp with them over the years—it’s become common to have upwards of 30, 40 or even 50 people in their group each Labor Day. They never found it hard to recruit family and friends, all they did was describe the camp activities, explain that all meals were included and that accommodations were in cabins, not tents. In essence, reinforce that it wasn’t “camping” as most people know it, and to come to family camp is truly to join a camp family.

The kids felt a sense of community at camp when they were growing up, and they particularly appreciated the independence they enjoyed here that they weren’t offered at home. Their parents’ only requirement was that they show up for meals; otherwise, they were on their own to meet new friends, reconnect with old friends and explore all that camp had to offer. Many of the family members and their “family camp” friends felt like no time had passed even though it had been a year since they’d been together over Labor Day, much like the feeling so many summer campers talk about when they reunite with their “camp friends.”

The stories from over the years come to mind quickly for the Obuchowski and Micalizzi families, who initially met through various sports-related activities. Memories abound of never-ending volleyball and wiffle ball games, an all-camp power outage that followed a hurricane, lying on the courts star gazing, and enjoying camp favorites like Gold Rush and Underground Railroad. They loved coming back each year to reunite with families they’d befriended in prior years, to see what improvements had been made to the camp and to reunite with staff who’d left an impression on them.

Today the Obuchowski and Micalizzi families are more than just friends. For one member of each family, Sarah Micalizzi, Frank and Hilary’s daughter, and Mike Obuchowski, Tony and Carm’s son, the relationship they made at camp would truly last a lifetime.

Ten years ago, when Sarah headed off to her freshman year at Quinnipiac University, she was homesick and decided to join her family at camp over Labor Day. She and Mike had known each other as kids, but over that weekend they spent more time together and exchanged phone numbers—a first for them. As Sarah adjusted to school, she and Mike developed a closer friendship and began dating. Four years (and four more family camps) later the two were engaged.

In keeping with their camp connection, Mike proposed to Sarah on the Friday night of Labor Day family camp six years ago, in front of 60 friends and family members! They all knew about Mike’s plan except Sarah, who was shocked when Mike got down on one knee and proposed to her near a campfire outside of Cabin 1 while everyone looked on.

They became family six years ago when the two, who grew up alongside each other at family camp, got married. This year Mike and Sarah and their 3-½-year old daughter, Sophia, joined their family and friends for another round of Labor Day family camp.

Though a lot has changed over the years, much has stayed the same. In the early years, the Obuchowskis became good friends with the Zetye family, who came to many family camps with their three boys and many foster children. Their oldest son, Ray, is now Executive Director of Camp Jewell after spending his teenage years with his brothers at camp as counselors, and later many years as the director of family camp.

For Joe Obuchowski (who started coming to Camp Jewell with the Indian Princess Program with his daughter Laura 27 years ago) coming to family camp became a tradition for his family and his extended family; adding a third generation, Sophia, Mike and Sarah’s daughter, to the Obuchowski and Micalizzi families has brought things around full circle for them.

Joe and his family remember meeting a family made up of three or four generations during one of the first years they came to family camp. Now, almost 25 years later, he is proud to be part of a family just like that with the hope that this family tradition will continue for a long time to come.

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