Laughing, Learning, and Leading

Each year, A Thousand Summers is honored to have some of our campers selected to prestigious leadership positions and programs at our associate camps. This year is no exception.

Our campers are regularly recognized for their strong personal and social skills, their successful camp outcomes, and their positive contributions to the camp community. Some of our kids are hired and return to camp as staff members, giving them the opportunity to give back and provide a fun and personally enriching experience for other kids.

We want to introduce you to three of our campers who are leaping into leadership roles this summer:

Meet Tomas 

  • Tomas D.
  • 10th grade, 16 years old
  • Lives in Miami Beach, Florida
  • Has attended Camp Kawanhee for 3 years (2017-2019)

I have seen counselors from the Leadership Program and how they inspire younger campers. It is amazing to be chosen…Being a leader at camp is a pressure, but a good kind of pressure. I know I am now going to be able to have a positive impact on younger campers. – Tomas D.

His first year as a camper, Tomas was nervous. Getting on a plane alone for the first time was scary, as was going to Maine, which was just a word on a map.  When he got there, he was instantly comforted by counselors and lodgemates, welcomed, and introduced to all of the activities. He knew right away he was going to love camp.

Over the years, Tomas tried a lot of the camp activities.  His second year he tried sailing but did not like it—he couldn’t even stay on the boat. His third year, he wanted to give sailing another try and found he really enjoyed it. He ended up receiving the Barnacle Award that year. Tomas hopes to use his sailing experience and what he has learned about perseverance to encourage younger campers who may not succeed at an activity right off.  If they just keep trying they will find somewhere that they will succeed.

Tomas has put that resilience and hard work to good use away from camp as well. He is on the rowing team at school and has the coxswain position because he knows how to guide the boat. He knows how to lead the crew and to get people to follow by showing them the way, not pushing them to do something they do not want to. He is a natural leader that people like to follow.

According to Tomas, Kawanhee is a tight community and as a junior counselor this summer he will draw on what he has observed and been taught by his counselors. “I have seen counselors from the Leadership Program and how they inspire younger campers.  It is amazing to be chosen. With school being from home, every day has been repetition so to escape away to camp is so exciting.  Being a leader at camp is a pressure but a good kind of pressure. I know I am now going to be able to have a positive impact on younger campers.”

Liz Standen, the co-Executive Director of Camp Kawanhee, speaks very highly of Tomas and is excited to have him back at camp in a leadership role this summer. Liz says, “Tomas is a boy who demonstrates social maturity well beyond his years.  He is resourceful and his many interests and contributions to the community are notable, especially in the positive attitude and motivation he brings to all that he does.”

Tomas’ mentor, Gwendolyn Foote, agrees and believes that Kawanhee couldn’t have chosen a better candidate for their Leadership Program. Gwendolyn mentored Tomas at school when he was in 8th grade and shares that he was an amazing leader, helping the other students and supplementing the lesson she was teaching. Tomas would pull kids aside that were struggling with the lesson and guide them to the solution. Tomas is a very interpersonal person and likes communicating, collaborating, and brainstorming with others so the pandemic isolation has been a challenge. Gwendolyn is excited that he will be going to camp to interact with others again. Most importantly, “The kids he will be leading at camp are lucky for him to be their role model. He’s got no ego. He is patient. He is a true leader and teacher.”

Tomas’ mom, Stella, is so grateful for Tomas’ time at camp. His brother attended a different camp, and Kawanhee became Tomas’ own special place where he could thrive. Stella is excited for Tomas this summer and all that he will gain from the experience. “We are so happy and thankful for the opportunity for Tomas to go to camp and be selected for the Leadership Program. He really needs camp this summer after a difficult year of remote learning. I cannot think of a better place for him to be.”

We can’t either, Stella, and we look forward to hearing about Tomas’ positive impact on the Kawanhee community he loves so much!

Meet Jade 

  • Jade L.
  • 11th grade, 17 years old
  • Lives in Chicago, Illinois
  • Has attended Clearwater Camp for Girls for 3 summers (2017-2019)

I’m willing to put the kids first… to give them a memorable experience. I think it’s fun to be around kids, and I want to be a positive role model, encourage them when they might be down or need a boost. – Jade L.

When Jade was a first summer camper at Clearwater Camp for Girls, she was shy but curious with a spark in her eyes that yearned for adventure. She was reserved at first, but once she got to know the people around her, other campers knew she was a true friend. The following summers Jade participated in more and more activities, especially all of the water sports and the hiking trips, and came out of her shell in her cabin.

Jade is grateful to have had the opportunity to go to Clearwater Camp for Girls for the last several years and meet people from all over the world. At camp Jade learned to be good with being herself, without concern about trying to be different to fit in.  At camp, everyone is different, from different areas of the country, different ethnicities, different income levels but they all become a family. When Jade is at camp, she becomes her best self.

Camp has helped Jade become independent and more confident. Her increased confidence made the transition from middle school to high school much smoother. It gave her confidence to approach a teacher when she had questions, where before she was too shy. As a result, her grades have improved. Her confidence gives her a voice when she sees others being bullied and she speaks up for them.

Camille Vicino, Jade’s mentor at Metro Achievement Center in Chicago, shares, “When Jade talks about camp she comes to life. She talks about her friends, cooking over campfires and not having a cell phone with the biggest smile. She’s learned to feel valued through the campership program. She has learned that she is able to achieve big things and work hard to achieve her goals. She is a leader by example, always doing what’s asked of her and ready to step up when needed.“

For summer 2021, Jade will have a new adventure at camp, participating in Clearwater’s Leadership program, the equivalent of a Counselor In Training (CIT) program. Jade will learn how to teach activities, take care of campers in their cabins and participate in seminars. Seminars cover topics such as conflict resolution, problem solving, and community building. Through this experience, Jade hopes she can be a role model for younger Latino campers and that they will see someone in Leadership that looks like them.

Jade is child-focused. She loves to work with young people, and she will bring that joy to the other campers at Clearwater. Jade says, “I’m willing to put the kids first…give them a memorable experience. I think it’s fun to be around kids, and I want to be a positive role model, encourage them when they might be down or need a boost.”

Additionally, Jade wants to set her career path in education. This summer will be a fantastic opportunity for her to put some teaching into practice. Jade is looking forward to teaching swimming and said that she’d like to bring water polo to camp. And, according to the directors of Clearwater, they would love that!

Liz Baker, the Executive Director at Clearwater, says that “Jade is a good listener, and this will be a big help to our campers and staff this summer. She knows that getting to know people as individuals is a vital part of being a leader. Jade is an excellent person for our girls to look up to!”

Erika, Jade’s mom, is proud that Jade was selected for the Leadership Program. “Attending camp and being in the Leadership program will help Jade as she moves on to college. She feels confident in being away from home and this will give her the confidence that no matter where she goes and whatever she experiences, it will be ok. She can handle it.”

We agree—Jade is prepared for anything and everything and will be a wonderful role model and teacher!

Meet Branden
  • 21 years old, sophomore at Bradley University
  • Lives in Chicago, Illinois
  • Attended Camp Kawanhee for 3 years (2015-2017)
  • 2021 Kawanhee Staff

I love the idea that younger Hispanic campers will see me and know that they can be a leader someday. I want to be a role model for them. I will bring a unique perspective because of my diverse background. It feels like an honor. – Branden M.

Branden was a camper at Kawanhee for two summers and then one summer as a Junior Counselor. He is a sophomore at Bradley University in Peoria, IL, double majoring in political science and economics. He hopes to go to law school in the future and was inspired to pursue a legal career by Mark Standen, the co-Executive Director of Camp Kawanhee who is an attorney. This will be Branden’s first summer as a counselor.

Liz Standen, Mark’s wife and the co-Executive Director of Kawanhee said of Branden being on staff this summer, “We were so happy to see Branden’s staff application.  Branden is a responsible, polite, positive person, who is also kind, compassionate and sensitive.  Can’t wait to see how these qualities will be shared with our campers this summer!”

Branden’s camp story and his pathway to leadership are told best by Branden himself:

“Being away from home and at camp, I was able to let my guard down and be a kid. I love the amount of kind, empathetic support the camp leaders were able to provide for me. They were willing to give me the tools to learn. I want to support others like I have been supported. Camp is a safe place where everyone is allowed to be themselves, and I want to offer that to others and protect this safe haven.

I found my long lost brothers at camp. I met kids from all over the world. Now as I consider study abroad opportunities, I can ask friends from camp who live all over the world to give me pointers on their country. I have no limits.

Being given the opportunity to go to camp and enter a world I didn’t even know existed and getting to know those around me and their character was a true gift. Camp made me the confident individual I am now. Now I understand that I belong here—that I deserve to have a seat at this table and I can talk to anyone. I lacked this belief before camp.

I love the idea that younger Hispanic campers will see me and know that they can be a leader someday. I want to be a role model for them. I will bring a unique perspective because of my diverse background. It feels like an honor.

I want to take this time to truly thank A Thousand Summers for everything that you’ve done for me and all the other Foundation campers. Without you, this city kid wouldn’t have experienced a 7 AM polar plunge in Webb Lake! Without you, I wouldn’t have been able to climb the highest point on the Appalachian Trail. I wouldn’t have been able to go to that little town in Weld, Maine, and eat pink hot dogs with my long-lost brothers!

Camp has impacted me in more ways than I can even begin to explain. It provided me with a sense of confidence, the pathway to self-discovery, and above all taught me to be more empathetic in my daily life. I am determined to one day pay it forward and send a Cheley Foundation camper to camp!”

We can’t wait for that day, Branden, and are proud of the path you are blazing!


A Thousand Summers Campers in 2021 Leadership Programs

Congratulations to our A Thousand Summers campers and alums in leadership positions this summer! We are so proud of our campers, their achievements, and their strong leadership skills. They will be incredible role models for the campers they work with this summer, and we wish them the best!


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