Spring has Sprung at Camp Winnebago!

Posted by: Ej Kerwin | Apr 14, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

candidcoverSpring has arrived in Maine and the snow is melting fast and the grass below beginning to show. That means summer is not far behind! Last week, the administration met over a long weekend to plan and intentionally map out the particulars of the summer that we will ask each staff member to embrace.

We have enjoyed nearly a century of fun, excitement and safety, and it is our goal to look at how camp is run and continually strive to improve. We take the feedback we received last year from parents, campers and staff and use this valuable information to tweak our program making subtle and sometimes profound changes.  The richness of the shared community viewpoints are invaluable in helping us refine camp and helps create the incredibly special place that is Winnebago.

Our Staff and Leadership Training (SALT), a week of training for the staff, is an area we continually alter in response to the needs of the campers. The week’s goals include the staff to bond as a cohesive unit while preparing to be mindful role models who help facilitate peak experiences for campers. We prepare the staff to grow personally while preparing them to foster healthy positive relationships with campers with a strong understanding of healthy boundaries. We focus with them on their roles as youth development professionals, which goes a long way in helping campers have fun at camp while engendering among other things, happiness, resilience and and thoughtfulness.

Each year we are blessed by a strong core of returning counselors and a large group of first year alumni counselors. Unusual this year, is the large group of staff, 8 to be exact, who are returning AFTER taking more than a year off.  It is a joy to see the excited looks on campers faces when they reunite with a beloved counselor at camp and we thought it would be fun to share the names of some counselors that are returning.

Uncle Sam Metzger, an alumni and 2 year veteran, is back after a year off  to help run our theater program. Sam is graduating from Bates College next month with a degree in Fine Arts and we are thrilled to have Sam return to the Winnebago stage!

Returning for his second summer is Uncle James Marais. A very popular figure last summer, James’s positive nature and love of Winnebago and working with youth makes him a wonderful role model and counselor. Hailing from South Africa, James will be returning as Head of Swimming this summer.

In the weeks to come we look forward to sharing information about more returning staff member and hope you find yourself as excited at the possibilities of the Summer of Intuition as we are!

The Power of Camp

Posted by: Ej Kerwin | Mar 11, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

1st night assemblyWhat is the power of camp? Since 1919, Camp Winnebago, for boys, has fostered an environment based on effort not achievement, on learning not results and ultimately creating a unique emotional experience and building a community that focuses on each camper while appreciating their unique qualities. In fact, the adage “Winnebago is not only for the boy who can but especially for the boy who will” is the philosophy that overlays all we do at Winnebago.

Today, children and families are under increasing pressures to succeed; whether in the classroom, on the athletic fields, or related to financial security, we are being asked to excel at extraordinary rates and to stay in a perpetual state of strife. What is this race doing to us and our children? The evidence is persuasive that while our children are becoming better test takers and more career focused, we are probably not helping them develop into stronger more resilient, tenacious, and well-adjusted people.

While Winnebago is beautiful; it sits on 400 acres of beautiful pine forest that includes 2 miles of lake and is comprised of beautifully groomed fields, tennis and basketball courts and a 12,000 square foot indoor field house, our footprint is a mere window dressing to the core elements of what makes Winnebago special.

We see child development through a prism of four basic tenets; emotional and physical safety, friendship, learning and role modeling. Our belief is, if a camper feels safe he will feel more willing to try and will generally push his envelope and whether succeed or fail, will do so knowing the result is acceptable and therefore become comfortable consistently pushing his own limits. If a child enters an activity and feels a modicum of challenge in a safe environment while being motivated to put forth effort to learn, odds are that the result will be positive. That with learning and skill acquisition, there will be a desire to continue to improve.  Nothing feeds a boys desire to continue than the feeling of real success. It can’t be faked!

Friendship is also a core driver of child development at camp. Deep and meaningful relationships are forged through shared experiences and true understanding. We don’t pretend friends don’t experience difficult episodes. Rather, when such times arise, the staff help facilitate real and meaningful dialogue allowing boys to resolve issues and learn communication skills they can use forever in managing positive relationships. Such understanding, coupled with respect and true caring gives boys the opportunity to enjoy friendships they view as special and not replicable in other realms of their lives.

Finally, the 60 role models comprising the staff is a touch of magic. Witnessing 60 adults all working under the same philosophy is a powerful developmental engine. Campers are shown repeatedly that the adults that comprise the staff listen to them, want to help them succeed and care for them. The strength of such a focused and thoughtful group of role models can’t be overestimated.  Boys leave camp embodying the values the staff shows by example: respect, thoughtfulness, caring and helpfulness.

The basic tenets of what we deem important at Winnebago are seemingly universal and can be instituted at any youth development program in the world (allowing for cultural differences). Why then is it relatively hard to find programs that are successfully implementing such basic programmatic tenets? We have found that staying true to these values takes a consistent intentionality, in order to change people’s habits in fundamental ways; it takes long term and consistent attention to the basics. At Winnebago, we have enjoyed remarkable consistency in having 4 Directors and 6 Head Counselors in 95 years. With such a remarkable run, values are inculcated and repeated and staff, campers and parents enjoy a consistent philosophy that gives campers an experience dedicated to their development while affording them opportunities to experience activities and meet people they probably would not enjoy otherwise.

Winnebago Alumni

Posted by: Ej Kerwin | Feb 19, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

As we all continue to enjoy winter in our respective corner of the globe, here at Camp Winnebago our attention is firmly placed on the upcoming summer. We have begun to assemble the group of counselors who will define the Summer of Intuition. One key component to each summer’s staff is the former Winnebago camper who has taken on the challenge of becoming a counselor, a Winnebago Alumnus. We are lucky to have a consistent flow of alumni who come back to camp as counselors. As they return to camp in a different role, these counselors make the transition between being a boy whom is focused primarily on their own experience into a young man who is facilitating the peak experiences of a new generation of campers.

Winnebago Alumni are eligible to become counselors after completing one year of college. Having had four years to integrate their camper experience, they take the lessons they have learned from camp as boys and become role models to current campers. Their unique perspective offers continuity to the camp experience, which is invaluable. They have experienced first hand the profound lessons learned at camp; this experience offers them a unique insight into campers. They remember being homesick their first summer or the thrill of hiking Mt. Katahdin. During our staff training we often ask alumni counselors to share their experiences in order for our staff to have a better understanding of the camper experience. This process builds the confidence of the returning alumni, seeing how valuable their insight is, and how with a concerted effort they can make the camp community a better place.

An alumnus returning to camp is only one way in which this community gives back to camp! We are grateful for all the contributions of our alumni, whether it is helping raise funds through Winnebago Alumni Association for camper scholarships; returning as a counselor or spreading the word of the positive impact Camp Winnebago has had on their lives. Thank you for making this the vibrant involved community it has been for nearly a century!


Posted by: Ej Kerwin | Feb 6, 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

If you follow our Facebook Page you will have seen a recent post sharing the news that Mt Winnebago, the mountain on the other side of Route 17 from camp is now officially known as Mt. Winnebago by the United States Board on Geographic names.

Although Winnebagans have known it’s name for decades, Charlie Bloom, an alumnus and Riflery counselor, realized this summer that officially our mountain was nameless. Showing true Winnebago resolve, Uncle Charlie researched and completed all the necessary steps to make this official! Upon leaving camp after the summer he let Uncle Andy know of his work and a few short months later we received a letter that henceforth, our Mt. Winnebago will be officially known as Mt. Winnebago in official geographic documents and maps in Kennebec County.

We would like to thank Charlie for spending his time and energy giving back to camp! His kind and giving act embodies a large part of Winnebago’s value system; we encourage campers to be independent thinkers who make a positive impact on the community they live within. Charlie’s effort is a shining example of this ethic. A big W-I for Uncle Charlie!

2014 — Summer of Intuition

Posted by: Ej Kerwin | Dec 16, 2013 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

 Intuition — “The ability to act without reason using more instinct”. We are excited about this theme because it seems to be one of the major payoffs for living intentionally. At Winnebago, we stress to campers and staff the importance of being intentional; making choices with thought and insight. But, as for every considered decision, many others are made in the heat of the moment. We believe that by consistently striving to think about jumping before we jump, one’s intuition will begin to fall in line with their deeper values as trust is developed and instincts become congruent with beliefs.
The Summer of Intuition will give us the opportunity to bring even more awareness to the process of internalizing Winnebagan values while understanding that in the myriad of experiences we have both at camp and beyond, we can mindfully create our own decision making process that helps lead us toward positive and edifying lives.

A Quick Tour Through Our Selected Activities

Posted by: Ej Kerwin | Nov 11, 2013 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

DSC_1698Every day of the summer at Camp Winnebago is full of activities that stimulate the minds, bodies, imagination, creativity and problem solving abilities of the campers. The day is fairly structured, from breakfast at 8:00 AM all the way to Taps, the final bugle of the day that calls  campers back to their bunks to wind down and get a solid night’s sleep in preparation for the next day’s adventures.

One of the key programming areas is Selected Activities.  Selected Activities are a selection of 15 or so more individualized activities that campers take part in for one hour a day over a ten day period. With 4 rotations, campers will do 8 Selected Activities in a summer. Before the summer, campers and their parents choose the top ten activities that they would like to participate in. This assures that a camper is excited to be assigned to an activity and camp administration makes sure that each camper participates in their favorite activities.


The Selected Activities at Camp are as follows:


Arts and Crafts - As Robin McClure writes in Art and Kids, “…young people who participate in the arts for at least three hours on three days each week through at least one full year…[show] academic achievement…more likely to be elected to class office…more likely to participate in a math and science fair…more likely to win an award for school attendance…[and] more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem.”

Archery - Archery is a fun and physically demanding sport that improves upper body strength and improves mental fitness by developing focus, flexibility and expanding attention skills. Archery is particularly useful for youngsters as it teaches them the benefits of patience.

Boating and Canoeing - Canoeing and kayaking improves aerobic fitness and flexibility. It increases muscle strength in the back, arms, shoulders and chest. Research in the Journal of Leisurability found that a 12-week kayaking program enhanced feelings of self worth, confidence and adequacy in participants. They also reported feeling better about their physical appearance.

Campcraft - Youth benefit from camping by developing self-esteem, independence, leadership and other social skills, according to a recent study by the American Camp Association. Studies have shown that humans subconsciously desire to connect with the natural world, by being around plants, wilderness, and the seas. Termed ‘biophilia’ by medical professionals, it has brought to light a fact we always knew, that the outdoors have a positive effect on a persons quality of life.

Nature - Our nature program offers multiple ways for campers to explore their relationship with the outdoors. A strong body of psychological research, supported by widespread anecdotal evidence, confirms the hypothesis that direct contact with nature leads to increased mental health and psychological development. Benefits include stress reduction, a sense of coherence and belonging, improved self-confidence and self-discipline, and a broader sense of community.

Photography – Camper’s have the opportunity to learn both digital and traditional photography. Campers grow up in a very visual world, everything they see helps develop their personality and character. A big chunk of their learning development is in the visual aspect of their lives. Having campers learn photography at an early age encourages them to look at the world around them in a more detailed manner and develop a unique perspective.

Radio - The knowledge base of radio has direct links to concepts in science, math geography and other subject matters. The use of amateur radio can improve camper’s verbal and social skills.

Riflery - Riflery increases strength and stamina while also elevating hand eye coordination and expanding concentrations level in campers. To advance both safety and skill development, personal responsibility is taught, a significant life skill that is identified as an essential trait to succeed academically and professionally. Safety and responsibility are stressed and strict guidelines set by the American Camp association regarding gun safety are followed.

Sailing - Sailing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and requires campers to be active participants more than any other type of boating. Campers become intimately familiar with all aspects of the sailboat and also learn how the sailboat relates to its environment in terms of wind and weather, which develops critical thinking skills.

Windsurfing - Windsurfing works cores muscles as they balance on the board. Campers use their entire body to maneuver the sail rigging and steer, so the back, legs and arms are used as they surf. Windsurfing also mentally challenges campers by requiring them to assess and react to the changing environment.

Tennis - Tennis players scored higher in vigor, optimism and self-esteem while scoring lower in depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and tension than other athletes and non-athletes according to Dr. Joan Finn and colleagues at Southern Connecticut State University. Since tennis requires alertness and tactical thinking, it may generate new connections between nerves in the brain and thus promote a lifetime of continuing development of the brain, reported scientists at the University of Illinois.

Theater - Participating in theatre cultivates an appreciation of the arts and the ability to work cooperatively with others, while developing camper’s ability to verbally and physically express themselves in front of others. Working in the theatre helps campers learn about other cultures, historical events and traditions while enhancing their confidence and self-esteem.

WAG - Writing for our newspaper, the Winnebago Afternoon Gazette (WAG), helps develop individuality, self-expression and independent thinking. When campers take part in the process of conceiving stories, interviewing and writing they develop their listening, reading, speaking and writing skills.

Woodworking - Counting, measuring, and problem solving in the woodshop are transferable life skills. The development of fine motor skills and the ability to conceptualize and create make woodworking an activity that is not only fun, but also an activity that encompasses life  long skills.


As you can see from this list of activities they contribute to the positive development of a boy while at the same time providing an engaging and entertaining experience!

Personal Development in the Dining Hall

Posted by: Ej Kerwin | Oct 25, 2013 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

Step into the dining hall at Camp Winnebago at breakfast, lunch or dinner and you will see the organized chaos of over two hundred campers and staff nourishing themselves, socializing and having a great time in the process! Our goal for campers at meal times is that they enjoy their time, connect with others at their table, enjoy nutritious food and learn the balance between having fun, getting their needs met and being a part of a community.

The dining hall is a living embodiment of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.  At the base of Maslow’s theory is, humans have physiological needs, which at the most basic level need to be met in order to have any hopes of meeting more subtle or refined needs. Simply put, a boy cannot enjoy the myriad of mental and physical activities at camp without proper nutrition. A staff of ten feed our community three delicious and nutritious meals each day. They are cooking hours before the rest of camp awakes preparing a breakfast that includes protein, carbohydrates and fruit. A cereal bar is available at each breakfast as well as a breakfast entrée, juice and hot cocoa.  Lunch and dinner offer a broad range of nutritious and kid friendly options. The chefs prepare special meals to meet dietary needs, from vegetarians to gluten intolerance with food allergies in-between. At both lunch and dinner there is a full salad bar, which is constantly changes offering a broad range of vegetable options. There is nut free sunflower butter and jelly for campers who would like to supplement their meals. Our kitchen staff is considerate and accommodating and receives vociferous praise from the campers throughout the summer.

Our next step up Maslow’s needs lands us in safety. One of the wonderfully functional aspects of bringing the entire camp together for each meal is the opportunity for all campers to be accounted for and observed. Bunk counselors sit with their bunk at least twice daily letting them check in with each camper and make sure they are physically and mentally well. Whether it is helping a camper celebrate a success or sort out an issue, counselors are there to make sure each camper is safe and well.

The next stop on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a more subtle and emotional level of human existence; love and belonging. It is fitting that this need is square in the middle of the model, because it is literally the heart, the vitality that keeps us going.  The dining hall at camp is a place where campers connect with the boys they live with, but at the same time we come together as a whole community. Campers talk to their bunkmates, rub elbows with campers of all ages, take part in or witness good-natured pranks

canoeprankand discuss the happenings of the day. At each meal announcements are made, so campers are aware of upcoming events and are asked to become a part of camp events including campfires, talent shows and chess tournaments.  Meal times at Camp Winnebago are a joyful time where the utilitarian need to share information fosters a sense of oneness and belonging that are imperative to a functioning community.

The second highest level on Maslow’s triangle is esteem, the feeling of respecting and being respected by others. This balance is promoted in the dining hall by our emphasis on the campers having a good time at meals while also acting in a respectful manner. This is a necessary emphasis, because it is a thin line between meals being fun or out of control. With the coordination to feed over 225 people in a condensed time frame there are clear procedures that campers follow in order to make it all work smoothly. Campers, with the help of their counselors, find the blend between laughing and having fun and acting in a respectful manner. They learn to balance personal impulses with respect for their fellow campers, kitchen staff and counselors, and in turn, they garner respect back from their peers and counselors.

The highest and most complicated of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the level of self-actualization, of realizing full potential.  It may be hard to see how the controlled chaos of a camp dining hall may help a boy become aware of his own potential, but by being surrounded by a community of individuals having fun and balancing their own personal needs with the needs of the group, boys see a broad spectrum of behaviors, some admirable and some less so. Boys struggle with their impulses and getting caught up into positive and negative social dynamics. By succeeding and sometimes falling short, boys see their strengths and their weaknesses. Social groups have a way of clarifying an individual’s most attractive assets and those, which may be a barrier to a higher level of functioning. The structure we have created over 94 years in the dining hall helps bring focus to all aspects of a boy and gives him insight into what kind of a young man he would like to be.

It may seem like our dining hall may just be just spaghetti and meatballs, Sloppy Joes and Caesar salads. However, like many things at camp, once you look a little deeper and see the intentionality that is brought into the experience, you might notice this is another platform where boys learn more about themselves and with the help of mindful guidance become more self aware and thoughtful young men.

Build the Foundation to Face Adversity

Posted by: Ej Kerwin | Oct 14, 2013 | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

moxieFor over 100 years, parents have sent their children to camp in the hope of fostering a deeper relationship between their children and the great outdoors, and wilderness camping trips are a perfect vehicle for this experience.  While many camps, responding to a culture that has less tolerance for discomfort and “winging it” and the increasing fear of liability, have simplified or eliminated their trip programs, Winnebago has maintained our trip program as we believe there has never been a more important time to maintain this keystone of the camp experience. In a world where parents are more cautious then ever to let their children play unsupervised, where electronic devices have become the incubator for creativity and a majority of individuals live in either urban or suburban environments, summer camp may be the only place a child may become intimately acquainted with the outdoors.

Being out on a trip offers our campers the opportunity to respond and react to truly uncontrollable circumstances while giving them a chance to become comfortable and competent spending time in the wilderness. In camp, every camper is required to learn basic camping skills in our Campcraft class. In a 10 day period campers learn fire building, campsite evaluation, how to set up and take down a tent, basic cooking and packing strategies. We prepare boys as best we can with the skills to not only survive, but also enjoy their time in the outdoors. Our camping trips include hiking, backpacking, rafting, bicycling, canoeing and kayaking. In addition to our basic Camp craft course each camper also takes Boating and Canoeing so they learn the skills necessary to ply canoe and kayaks on lakes and rivers.

Having been armed with a foundation of skills and knowledge that helps prepare campers to become competent and responsible while appreciating being in the outdoors, they head out on trips ranging from three to nine days under the supervision of two counselors, one a certified Maine Trip Leader and the other a supporting member of our staff. This is where the fun begins! Through a combination of camper and counselor preparedness and systems honed over 94 summers of experience, we set the stage for campers to challenge themselves both mentally and physically while developing their ability to think critically and react responsibly in the wilderness.

This past Summer of Fortune offered a myriad of opportunities for our staff to work together in facing the inevitable challenges faced. Weather was the primary obstacle with a number of trips facing challenging conditions. On a number of trips, rain and wind lashed at campers, who, in the face of great adversity overcame soaking conditions to achieve their goals. In fact, one of our canoeing trips waited out a storm for 36 hours before continuing on.

This is an excellent example of the gift of maintaining a trip program. Campers face adversities that at times get the best of them and lead to a drastic change in plans, but more importantly they see the importance of being able to face adversity and move forward with an increased confidence that only comes from experience; All of this while staying safe and having fun!

One of the great fortunes of this past summer was our staff. We drew a dynamic talented and thoughtful group from all over the US and the world including South Africa, England, Scotland, Australia, New  Zealand, and Switzerland.

In our training we emphasized the importance of having appropriate, engaging and intentional relationships with campers at Camp Winnebago. It was clear throughout the summer that the staff took this directive seriously and maintained a high level of awareness and intentionality. They spent much of their free time engaged, either watching camper games or hanging out with the boys and as a result, developed strong positive relationships with campers. Counselors engaged daily in one on one conversations with the campers and this proved one of the heartbeats of camp because when campers were treated in a kind and respectful manner by older mentors, they realized even more their potential. We thank our staff from the bottom of our hearts for being so thoughtful and giving.

Not only did we have an emotionally in tune staff, but we were surrounded by an immense amount of talent. Uncles Terry and Bongani ran a strong theater department where boys of all ages had the opportunity to work with professional and passionate individuals who helped them learn how to tell a story on stage. The productions were diverse and entertaining, the subject matter spanned from zombies to The Lion King and ended with an informative and engaging presentation of 1776 by our staff where Uncle Tom stole the show as Benjamin Franklin.

The talent rolled right downhill from the theater to Arts and Crafts. Uncle Chris and Aunts Sarah and Jody had campers making a myriad of creations. Aunt Sarah helped campers create functional (mugs, plates, etc.) and non-functional (wall hangings, plaques, etc.) pieces of pottery on the wheel. Uncle Chris turned our wood shop into an assembly line creating a variety of wooden creations. We can’t tell you how many ping-pong paddles were created (and used), in fact one bunk made a miniature ping-pong table, which they played on after hours. Campers created bookshelves, tables, chairs and many other functional items that were loaded onto buses at the end of the summer.

These are only a couple of the activities that thrived this summer at Camp Winnebago, next blog we’ll talk about our nature program and our bountiful garden!!! So long, see you in two weeks!

Reflections on the Summer of Fortune

Posted by: Ej Kerwin | Sep 12, 2013 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

Another beautiful summer has been chronicled at Camp Winnebago. Campers from all over the world enjoyed a summer full of sports, swimming, theater, trips, dining hall antics and pranks, and much much more. This summer’s theme was Fortune and many a camper and counselor voiced how fortunate they felt to be at Camp Winnebago for our 94th summer!

Our summer began wet wet wet! No one was more aware of that then those campers who went on camping expeditions in the first two weeks of camp. A highlight of the summer was Uncle Graham Macgregor, a senior counselor from New Zealand, leading a group of boys down the St. Croix River, in spite of three inches of rainfall on the first night of their trip. His solid leadership not only helped them complete their trip safely but also left them with an outdoor experience they will never forget.

As the summer progressed, beautiful sunny days dominated the summer landscape. The Seniors, Camp’s oldest division, were wonderful role models to the younger campers and thoughtful in their expression of their love of camp throughout the summer. They set the intention, it seemed from the first day of camp, to enjoy every moment of their final summer as campers. They forged deeper relationships as a group, reached out to younger campers, consistently soaked up the wisdom of a tremendous staff and pulled many clever and fun pranks along the way! The senior lodge of 2013 was a precarious and fun spirited bunch that have left camp a better place through their presence!

This summer marked the unveiling of our new Field House, a building that blew our socks off when we saw it for the first time. This truly impressive and utilitarian building improved our programming in a number of ways. Our two oldest divisions of boys enjoyed the ability to play sports and enjoyed late night climbing sessions on the bouldering and climbing wall supervised by Uncle Matty, a counselor who has spent over 15 at camp as both a camper and a counselor, who was always more than willing to share his time and outdoor expertise. When rain crept into our days the field house offered a myriad of programming options. From giant bombardment games and indoor hockey to instructional basketball and volleyball, our campers experience was enriched by the addition of this new building.

In the next couple of blogs we will take a look back at the Summer of Fortune to some lessons learned and experiences realized to discuss just what made us feel as fortunate as we did. We look forward to reflecting back on the summer with you as an experience in appreciation as well as the beginning to plan for 2014 the Summer of ??????