Camp Walt Whitman Alum Alexandra Smith Ozerkis Reflects on Camp Then and Now
You had an amazing time at Camp Walt Whitman as a kid, and now it’s time to send your child to sleepaway camp. But, should he or she go to CWW too?
To help you decide whether to carry on the tradition in your home, we’ve interviewed three alumni. Here, we take a look at Alexandra Smith Ozerkis’ experiences at Walt Whitman as a camper and now the parent of a son and daughter in Upper Camp and Junior Camp.
Alex attended Camp Walt Whitman from 1989 to 1996, first as a camper, then as a counselor-in-training, and ultimately a counselor. Her brother Matt also attended CWW, and at the age of 10, he met the camper he would one day go on to marry. (This has actually happened more than once!)
“My experience at camp was so amazing,” she said of her long history with CWW. “A lot of it had to do with the friends I made and the community that was created and the values that were instilled at camp that really stuck with me throughout life.” When pressed as to the particular lesson that stayed with her all these years, she said that one of the things she and her camp friends—14 of whom attended her wedding!—loved about camp was that “we always felt like we could be our best selves at Camp Walt Whitman.” (If there was any doubt whether kids really do feel this way at CWW, here’s your proof.)
When it came time to decide where to send her oldest child to camp, though, she did her due diligence with her husband, who went to a different camp. Together they researched the best possible place for their son.
“Camp Walt Whitman has always attracted a well-rounded, grounded, down-to-earth group of folks, and I just wanted to make sure that despite the changing times and the necessary improvements…that they were able to maintain that rootedness in the value system that Ann and Chick and Jancy and Bill]…had always put forth.”
She spoke to the director (yours truly) and other current camp families and came to the conclusion that CWW had stayed true to its original mission. “I just think that Camp Walt Whitman allows each kid to be themselves,” she said. “To push themselves in the way they want to be stretched. And it’s so well-rounded, you don’t have to be a sports kid, or an arts kid, or a swimmer, or a hiker, you can do all of that within the context of a safe, supportive, fun, loving environment.”
The fact that it’s co-ed was also a deciding factor, as it allows her daughter to attend the same camp, and soon, her youngest son as well.
“There aren’t many purely, real co-ed camps. Walt Whitman has always been able to integrate boys and girls and those friendships in such a unique way, and some of my closest male friends are those that I met hiking up Mount Piermont when I was 11.” Walt Whitman, she adds, was the first time she’d hiked a mountain or been in a tent. “It has become so important to me to be connected to nature and to be outside”—a value she attributes to her time at camp.
And now her son is experiencing this same kind of immersion in the outdoors. His first traverse in the White Mountains, in fact, was led by the same head of the hiking program, Geoff Ashworth, that led Ozerkis on her first traverse. “It’s just a really special bond to share intergenerationally.”