1+1=3 The Gove Family at Camp Jewell

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It’s always exciting when new people arrive at camp, but there’s something particularly exciting when that person is a newborn baby. Peter and Jodi Gove welcomed their son, Jonah Paxton, in late June and he’s already become a regular face around camp and a part of the fabric of the camp community. Here’s their perspective on raising him at camp.

Though Peter’s family is in South Africa, and Jodi’s is in Minnesota, they consider themselves surrounded by family at Camp Jewell where they’ve lived for the past eight years. And they’re tapping into that camp family even more now that their own has grown from two to three people with the birth of their son, Jonah.

“We’ve always spent so much time here at camp that having a baby really hasn’t altered our lifestyle,” Peter said. “And if we do need or want to leave camp for the evening, we’re lucky we’ve had an overwhelming number of people who have offered to babysit anytime.” First in line was Kathie Reese, our office manager who’s also taken on the role of “camp grandmother” for many kids who’ve grown up at camp.

The couple had said while they were expecting Jonah that they intended to incorporate him into their already established lifestyle at camp, and that’s happened over the past three months. Jodi took the summer off to be with the baby, and Peter went home for lunch daily so he could check in with them. Now Jodi has returned to work, and the baby is with a nanny here at camp on the days when she and Peter work.

“We’re really looking forward to Jonah growing up at camp,” Peter said. “I think he’ll have a unique experience, not one many kids have. He really is going to be like a Jungle Book character,” he said with a laugh.

Together, Peter and Jodi hope that Jonah will grow up to be comfortable around different people and be flexible as a result of being raised here. “I think a lot of kids today are so sheltered, and they don’t get a lot of interaction with different people so they’re introverted,” Jodi said. “I was extremely shy as a kid and it took me a long time to get out of that, so my goal is he’ll spend a lot of time around people as he grows up and just be more comfortable.” Peter, who was also pretty shy as a kid, has a similar hope for Jonah.

Working at camp has definitely impacted their parenting style and the way they intend to raise Jonah. “I’ve seen a lot of different kinds of parents and I want to be the kind who lets my child be an individual, to try things on his own and let him fix things himself without being coddled,” Jodi said. “I don’t think I’m going to be a pushover, but he’ll know I’m in his corner and that I am here for him.”

For Peter, working at camp has taught him skills he wants to share with Jonah as he grows up, especially things he’s learned from working in maintenance. “I also want him to learn to take responsibility for both his actions and his surroundings,” he said. “I think my parents were really good role models. They gave a never-ending supply of love and discipline, let us make our own mistakes, and they encouraged us to spread our wings. I hope we are as good at parenting as they were.”

So if you come up to camp, you’re likely to find Peter or Jodi out and about with Jonah, much the same as they were before he was born. “If there’s anything that prepared us for parenting it’s working at summer camp,” Jodi said. “During the summer we’re working 15 or 16 hours, straight all-out physical work for the day. We’re used to life being all-encompassing and all-out go. Now we’re doing it with Jonah alongside us, too.”

Jerome Alper’s 35 Years at Camp Jewell as Camper, Staff, Parent & Board Member

Jerome Alper

I first came to Camp Jewell as a camper in 1968. I loved it so much that I came back every summer through 1978 as a camper, tripper, kitchen staff, junior counselor and counselor. Though a lot has changed since I was a kid, there is a lot that has remained the same, especially the spirit of Camp Jewell and what it offers kids and counselors. That’s why it gives me great pride to send my three kids to camp and it’s a big part of why I have chosen to serve on the Board of Managers.

After moving around the U.S. several times for work, my wife, Robyn, and I returned to Stamford, and we started thinking about summer camp and our options for our own children. I came up to visit CJ after having been away from camp for a long time, and immediately that camp feeling came back. After bringing Robyn up to visit, we decided there was no other place we would want to send our kids to camp. So, when our oldest son, Ben, turned 8 he started as a Bandit, and I joined the Board of Managers. Now years later, Ben was a Ranger this past summer (his 10th year), our son Zach will be an L.I.T. (his 8th year) and our daughter Becca will be a Nit Nois (her 4th year).

Being on the board has helped me stay connected to camp and what’s happening here, which is important to me as a camp alumnus, but also as a parent. It helps to keep the camp feeling alive for me, it reminds me of how I felt when I was a camper and staff member; it is fun in the same way. That enthusiasm is still here and it makes me want to keep being involved. I really enjoy coming up each session during the summer to help check in campers of all ages, sharing that joy and expectation is a lot of fun. I also like being a part of the Strong Kids Campaign that brings kids to camp regardless of their ability to pay, and I value that the camp continues to make it a priority to bring international staff to camp each summer. Giving kids the opportunity to meet counselors from around the world brings the world a little closer to them.

I have three perspectives of camp: that of a camper/staff member, a parent, and a board member. All three perspectives are different, but they overlap in a lot of ways. I want my kids to experience the same things here that I did. Camp helps make kids independent as a result of being in a place where they are protected by the staff but are given the opportunity to really be themselves. When they are at home they have to conform to all the different powers that be, whether it is parents, friends, teachers, etc. When they come here all of that is left at home and they can just be who they want to be. That is the way I felt as a camper, and I know my kids feel that as well. Camp instills respect, responsibility, caring and honesty without campers always realizing that is what is being taught to them. They learn it in fun, creative ways while they are enjoying the Camp Jewell experience.

You hear a lot of people talk about how important the friendships they made at camp are to them. It’s the same for me. As a result of being on the Board and being an active part of the camp community I’ve reconnected with some of the campers I grew up with at Jewell. Many are scattered around the country so I don’t see them often, but when I do we instantly re-connect because of the experiences we shared when we were here. Those feelings come right back and bring me back to the great times I had as a camper — even more than three-and-a-half decades after the fact.

That’s the power Camp Jewell has and I am really happy my family and I have continued to make Camp Jewell such a big part of our lives.

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.

Camp Jewell Alumni Association Awards Scholarships


is this May
Congratulations to Evan Katz, Ranch Village Coordinator, and May Liu, Nit Nois international counselor from China, for each being awarded a $500 CJ Alumni Association Scholarships this summer! This is the first annual scholarship, which recognizes the hard work and dedication of current summer staff members. This is one way our Alumni Association commends our amazing coordinators and counselors for choosing to dedicate their summer to help kids discover the possibilities at Camp Jewell.

Evan is currently a student at Tunxis Community College who’s headed to Central Connecticut State University in the spring to study elementary education. May is studying communications and English studies and plans to attend a postgraduate program to study elementary education. Good luck in your educational pursuits Evan and May!

Meet Norm Button, Camp Jewell’s Property Manager

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When we were seeking a camp property manager earlier this year, Norm Button rose to the top as a perfect fit for Camp Jewell. With training as a mechanical engineer and experience as property manager at other camps, he had the right combination of skills and experience to take on the huge task of overseeing all of camp’s facilities, including our upcoming Capital Campaign. Here’s Norm’s story.

My first experience working at a camp was in 2001 when I took on a job managing a brand new private camp in Hamilton, N.Y. I was in school for mechanical engineering and had a lot of experience with maintenance and building, and it ended up being a great job for me.

What affected me at that camp wasn’t just how rewarding the property manager job was, but also how much kid’s lives were changed there. The campers came from New York City, and the kids were expected to come for 10 years and essentially graduate from the camp program. As a result I made some strong connections with some of the campers and I’d like to think I helped make a change for them.

In early 2008 I moved on to a maintenance job at Colgate University, but after my previous camp experience I felt like something was missing. So, a year later I took a job at Wa Wa Segowea, a YMCA camp just over the Connecticut border in Massachusetts as the facilities manager. The camp was run down and had been vacant for five years so there was a lot of work to be done. I saw it as a challenge and was motivated by the improvements I could make there.

When I heard Jewell was looking for a property manager, my wife, Dianne, and I decided the move could be a good one for us and I was excited to start here in May. I’ve found Camp Jewell to be very friendly and I like the general attitude here—it’s very optimistic. It’s nice to have staff support and that people are always willing to jump in and help out wherever they can. Working with Ray has been great; we see eye to eye on our priorities and he respects my expertise and my ideas.

My rule is that anything I do has to turn out as good or better than what’s next to it. I’m looking forward to getting some of the aesthetics of camp in order to make things look even better cared for. As for working with the maintenance staff, my job isn’t to supervise them it’s to teach them how to do their jobs. When we do things right it means the counselors and everyone else here can do their jobs right.

I’m most excited about the big changes that are coming as a result of the Capital Campaign. I’m really looking forward to renovating or replacing the cabins. Having the ability to design buildings makes me a better builder and I’m excited to show what can be done to improve the functionality and the energy efficiency of our cabins.

I’m always learning and always doing what I can to make what I work on the best it can be. And that’s what I’ll do at Camp Jewell.

How Derek Hall, our Argonaut Coordinator, Found the Power of Diversity at Camp Jewell

Derek Hall
I didn’t go to summer camp as a kid, but I did come to Camp Jewell for Nature’s Classroom when I was in middle school and it left a strong impression on me. I went to college thinking I might want to be a teacher, but the public school system wasn’t a good fit for me, and I was trying to find a way to work with kids in a different way. When I searched online for places to work as a summer camp counselor five years ago, Jewell popped up and I applied. I came in as a CIT counselor to work with kids, and to become more active in my life, meet new people and broaden my horizons. It’s done more for me than I ever could have imagined.

During my first staff training, I met the most motivated, positive group of people I’d ever met, and they were all here for you—the campers—to be sure you had an amazing experience. I heard people open up about their lives during our first devotion like I’d never heard before. In a short period of time I was able to connect with people in ways I’d never considered before—they were people I’d always thought were so different from me. I started to understand diversity in a different way, and I was so fulfilled by the work we did together.

My coordinator that summer was a guy from Wales named James Waller; he was this big guy who played rugby, was really fit and was a rough and tumble kind of guy. I’d never met anyone from Wales before, and I wasn’t good at sports so I was immediately intimidated by him. But then I got to know him. And you know what I found? A really great person who was willing to speak from a real place, and he became like a father figure to me. That’s what I found here at camp, at a place where I never would have gone looking for it.

I’m from the North End of Hartford, so I’m a city boy, not a country boy, and being here at camp really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, doing things like walking around in the dirt and finding a raccoon in my room. Because of all these new experiences I went back to Hartford with a renewed sense of self-reliance after that summer; I felt like I could do anything. I started my own property management company, and I also started working for the Anti-Defamation League as a public speaker and facilitator, where I talk to groups about building connections between people of different cultural backgrounds.

I’ve taken some summers off from working here, but I’m back this year with a vengeance. When I think about camp it’s not just about me growing as a person, it’s about being able to give young people of different backgrounds the ability to grow as people as well.

While you’re here, don’t be afraid of who you are right at this moment. Let camp be a place where you try new things and grow and change because you’ve tried something you’ve never done before. There are a lot of amazing people here who really love you and want you to become a better person. It’s up to you to make the choice to do all you can to make that happen.

Sean Riddick, Jedi Coordinator, Gets as Much (or More) from his Campers as he Gives

Sean Riddick
I’m a city kid from Philadelphia, and coming to camp for the first time four years ago was a new experience for me. My brother told me about it after working a summer here so I jumped at the chance to come check it out. When I first got here everyone was so welcoming and I felt right at home. I made a lot of friends right away; it was such a cool atmosphere and I felt like no one was judging me and I was free to be myself.

I made lifelong friends that summer, and the summers since then that I’ve come back to work at camp. We keep in touch throughout the year and check in with each other to see how things are going. My camp friends have come to visit me in Philadelphia, and even if it’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other it feels like we just hung out yesterday.

I’ve really enjoyed getting to know a lot of you campers, and seeing how you’ve changed over the years. I see a lot of differences in you, I see attitude adjustments, changes in your style, and I see you becoming nicer people who are more accepting of people from different cultures.

Camp has become a way of life for me, even when I’m back at home. And I know it’s like that for a lot of you, too. I’ve paid a lot of attention to the changes I’ve seen in you, and that makes me want to change myself. I’ve become a more serious person when I’m in the real world. Camp has opened my eyes to a world that’s bigger than just the city where I’m from. It’s made me want to finish school and it’s made me more accepting of different kinds of people. Being here helped me become more comfortable talking in front of big crowds, it taught me how to make new friends at college and it taught me how to communicate better.

What I’m most looking forward to this summer is spending time with all of you, hearing your stories from throughout the school year and seeing all the positive changes you’ve made in your own lives.

Kat Pearson Finds a Home Away from Home at Camp Jewell

Kat Pearson, our Utopian Coordinator, is back for her third summer at Camp Jewell. She spent time at various camps as a kid, but it wasn’t until she came to Jewell as a counselor that she found a camp that felt like home.

Kat Pearson
I grew up going to various sleep away camps and always loved the spirit and feeling that summer camp brought, but I never found one camp in particular where I really felt at home. When I started working at Camp Jewell in the summer of 2011 I knew it was a place where I wanted to stick around. Being from Virginia and working 7 hours away was daunting at first, but I was immediately welcomed and made to feel at home.

I quickly figured out the routine of camp and had the best summer experience as the swimming PC and a counselor in the Nit Nois village. At the end of a session I got a note from one of my campers saying she hated the woods before she came to camp, but after two weeks here she had changed her mind about spending time outdoors. It made me reflect on the impact I’d had on her and how rewarding it felt to know that I was able to be that much of an influence on her life.

I keep coming back to camp because it’s filled with amazing people and I really enjoy meeting people from so many different backgrounds. I never feel insecure or excluded or out of place here; instead I feel a sense of home even though it’s so far away from where I live.

One thing I’ve learned at camp that I want to pass onto you is this: don’t sell yourself short. Always reach for something that might not seem attainable. Here at camp, there will always be someone there to help you do it even if you don’t think you can. And my message specifically for the Utops is this: be strong and independent women. We’ve got ourselves and that’s all we need, our sisterhood.

Camp Jewell & the Weavers–a Family Affair

Last week we shared Jocelyn Weaver’s camp story, so this week we’re making it a family affair by sharing her dad’s story. Ray Weaver, now a Board member, has been involved with camp since 1978. Find out what keeps him coming back!
Ray Weaver
Camp gets in your head, your heart and your gut. That’s what happened to me the first time I came to Camp Jewell in 1978 as a counselor and I’ve been here, in one capacity or another, ever since.

My first camp staff training was one of the best weeks of my life. I came up knowing only one person and came away with more friends than I could have imagined. I had grown up as a jock in Newington,CT and didn’t know anything outside of that; I’d never interacted with people from different places or who were older than I was. It was fascinating to me to see their thought processes and how they solved problems. I learned how to work with other people that summer, I developed such a strong sense of camaraderie with other people here, and I caught the camp bug.

Paul Berkel, the camp director at that time, went to the same church I did. After a Youth Group led service, during which I gave the Sermon, Paul approached me and asked if I was interested in being a summer camp counselor. That first summer changed my outlook on life. Paul is the kind of leader who inspired you to do something before he asked you to do it, which is one of the many reasons why Paul and his summer camp assistant Gordon Hodne are receiving this years’ Scoobie Award at Corn Roast. I learned to anticipate what the needs are before you need them, and that’s something I aspire to do to this day.

I held several different jobs at Jewell during seven years as an employee, including counselor, LIT assistant director, Outdoor Center staff and full-time maintenance staff. Paul asked me to come to Woodcutter Weekend in 1978 after my first summer at camp and I’ve been to every one since then. I have also participated in most of the work weekends that are held in the spring. As a result there are a lot of places around camp where I feel connected and it gives me great satisfaction to see the areas I’ve helped build and maintain. Another great joy for me is that my daughters, Brianna and Jocelyn, also participate in as many as they can get, offering them the opportunity to give something back and understand the personal satisfaction that volunteering can bring.

I really enjoy coming up for Corn Roast and actually roasting the corn (instead of boiling it) with Bob Stearns, Doug Malins, Tom Eng and Jerome Alper. Bob and Doug kick started the old tradition that had waned a bit. The fourth session LIT’s help us out quite a bit and some have told me Corn Roast is the highlight of the session for them. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to talk to the campers these days, so that’s another reason I enjoy coming to Corn Roast, along with meeting alumni, both those I knew back in the day as well as some new faces. It reinforces that there’s plenty to do and lots of ways to stay involved at camp.

More than a decade ago, Gary Forster, the executive director at that time, asked me to join the Board of Managers and I was honored to do so. Being on the Board is a way for me to further my involvement with camp and to continue to be a part of giving kids a place where they can be together to talk, make new friends and to be exposed to new things. I served as Vice Chairman for a number of years, and now I have the opportunity to share my expertise as Manchester’s municipal waste water treatment plant supervisor by heading up the Board’s Property Committee.

Another satisfaction I get from camp is having shared it with my family. My wife, Sheryl, worked as a camp nurse at Jewell, and Brianna and Jocelyn grew up as Bandits and Nit Nois. When Jocelyn was old enough, she got to go where she really wanted to be: Ranch Camp. She thrived there, has been a Ranch counselor, and this summer she’s back as Ranch Camp Coordinator. This position has been a goal of hers for years, she worked hard during her previous summers and now she has attained it. I am so proud of her.

Camp grabs you. I see the stories from other kids and counselors and what it means to them and it feels good to be able to relate to them based on my own experiences at camp. Some Board Members come to the check-in area on the first day of a summer session and talk to parents and campers. I high five every one of the campers that tell me they want to meet new friends; this is one of Camp Jewell’s many goals for a summer camp experience here. I also really appreciate the stories from kids who attend camp on scholarship thanks to the generous donations of many alumni and friends of camp to our Strong Kids Campaign.

Participating in the Camp Jewell Cabin Rebuilding Campaign will be an exciting long-term goal of mine—imagine what it will be like with new cabins with lots more bathroom space. I was honored when Kari Trost and I were asked to lead the beginning of the project. We worked over two great weekends at camp with 100 participants where we dreamed, brainstormed, drew and refined ideas for what the future of camp will look like.

Though the details have changed, camp is still the same as it was when you were here. I hope you’ll consider joining us here again one day soon.

Meet Jocelyn Weaver, Camp Jewell’s Ranch Camp Coordinator (and lifelong member of the Camp Jewell family)

I grew up coming to Camp Jewell with my family and I couldn’t wait until I was finally old enough to come to summer camp as a Bandit for two weeks. After being a Nit Nois I turned 12 and was able to go to Ranch Camp, where I worked my way up to CIT and Ranahan. The past two summers I was a Ranch counselor and now I’m really excited to be Ranch Coordinator.

When I first came to Ranch I knew nothing about horses. But as much as Ranch Camp is about the horses, it’s really about the people. I didn’t know anyone when I started and within two days I felt like the other campers were my best friends. That first summer I got my Colt and I still remember how amazing it felt to get called up on the stage at closing campfire to get hugged by all my counselors and to be awarded my neckerchief. At that point in my life, getting my Colt was my biggest accomplishment and that feeling of pride has stuck with me. That’s why I still love Ranch Camp so much, and I feel that sense of pride every time one of our campers earns a neckerchief.

Since Ranchers work so hard, and we spend so much time together, we learn how to turn even the most mundane tasks into games. We turn chores that are exhausting and tedious into fun times. And all that work helps us build camaraderie and makes us even closer friends.

Camp is my home away from home. I consider the friends I’ve made here at camp my family; I’m closer to them than I am to my other friends. When I’m here I feel safe and happy and I want everyone who comes to Ranch Camp to feel like that, too.