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From the Deputy Publisher: Camp Counsel


Published February 1, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated February 1, 2023 at 10:10 a.m.

Solomon Neuhaus as a counselor at YMCA Camp Abnaki - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Solomon Neuhaus as a counselor at YMCA Camp Abnaki

This summer, would the kids in your life like to practice hip-hop dance, learn to use a laser cutter, or build a kayak and paddle it the length of Lake Champlain? Would they enjoy horseback riding, harvesting and preparing their own food, or building Rube Goldberg machines?

All these activities are on offer at Saturday's 26th annual Kids VT Camp and School Fair at the Burlington Hilton. Staffers from more than 30 local programs will attend. There's a list of exhibitors and information about many more summer programs in the camp fair guide inside this week's Seven Days.

I attended my first camp fair in 2011, after Seven Days bought Kids VT and took over the event. My kids were 2 and 5 at the time, too young for camp, but I spent hours talking with exhibitors and collecting brochures, marveling at all the options.

In 2012, my wife and I signed 6-year-old Graham up for a day camp session at YMCA Camp Abnaki, a traditional all-boys camp in North Hero. It went pretty well. The following spring, while writing a story for Kids VT, I talked with Solomon Neuhaus, a 12-year-old Abnaki camper from Plattsburgh, N.Y., who convinced us to keep sending Graham there.

When I asked Solomon what he loved about camp, he could barely contain his enthusiasm.

"Oh man, everything," he gushed. "At school, there's a teacher trying to boss me around, tell me what to do. At home, my parents boss me around, tell me what to do. At camp, they lay out the ground rules on the first day. It's like, 'Have fun — and flush.' That's it, pretty much. It's awesome."

His advice to other kids assuaged my fears of sending Graham to an overnight session: "Go. You'll love it," he said. "Don't be scared ... Nobody is going to be a bully. Plus, it's going to be a lot of fun."

A decade later, I can report that Graham loved Camp Abnaki as much as Solomon did. After two years of day camp, he returned for seven summers as an overnight camper for up to a month at a time. His sister, Ivy, has had a similar experience at Camp Hochelaga.

As I was putting together the camp guide, I remembered Solomon and looked him up online; he was happy to talk.

He's 22 now, finishing his senior year studying entrepreneurship at SUNY New Paltz and playing varsity basketball. After 10 summers as a camper, he returned for another as a counselor-in-training and one as a full-fledged counselor. If COVID-19 hadn't canceled camp in 2020, he might have gone back again.

He's still passionate about his time at Camp Abnaki. He loved the pickup basketball games, trading Magic: The Gathering cards and joining camp-wide contests like Zombie Apocalypse, where half the boys were zombies and the other half were human survivors.

"I literally, no exaggeration, have nothing but positive memories," he told me.

He still keeps in touch with other campers and his fellow counselors, and he said his camp connections are different from any of the other relationships in his life: "As cliché as it sounds, it really is a brotherhood."

Every parent I know wants their child to have those kinds of friendships.

The other thing Solomon cherished about his time at Abnaki: There were no screens. Abnaki, like most camps, doesn't let kids bring their digital devices.

"You think you'll hate it," he said, "but it's so amazing how entertained everyone is all the time at camp. You realize you can still have fun playing outside."

If you want your kids to rediscover that feeling, think about sending them to camp this summer. And consider going yourself — some of these programs have family sessions, too.

Publisher Paula Routly will be away until February 8; her next column will appear in the February 15 issue.