Camp Walt Whitman Alum Jocelyn Bell-Mctaggart Reflects on Camp Then and Now
So you had an amazing time at Camp Walt Whitman as a kid, and now it’s time to send your child to sleepaway camp. Should he or she go to the same camp you went to?
To help you decide whether to carry on the tradition in your home, we’ve interviewed three alumni. Here, we take a look at Jocelyn Bell-McTaggart’s experiences at Walt Whitman as a camper and now the parent of a son in Middle Camp.
The CWW alum knows first-hand how your family’s legacy can determine which camp you go to. Her own mother, aunt and uncle attended Camp Walt Whitman, but when it came time for Jocelyn to select a camp, her mother wasn’t sure if CWW still existed. (These were the pre-Internet days!) Then she attended a camp fair with her mother, and Bill Dorfman recognized her and called out her name.
“For me that was enough, the fact that my family had gone there had put it over the top for me.” She went from junior camp to senior camp, to CIT, to group leader, then Area Director, and afterward, worked in the CWW office for two years. “One huge perk of that was that I had an extremely up-close view of how they hired and vetted staff and as a parent, that’s super important.”
But it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that her kids would even go to camp. Her husband hadn’t gone, and it wasn’t a shared value. Then they went to Family Camp in 2016 and her older son fell in love with it. “It just felt like it clicked for him to be there and to be outdoors, and it just seemed like he was ready for this.”
Summer camp wasn’t exactly as she’d remembered it. “Camp was much, much, much smaller when I first started and so you really knew almost everybody. And as I continued, camp continued to grow.
“But overall the values and the mission of the camp have stayed the same,” she said. “And that’s the most important piece.” Other camps may emphasize athleticism and winning as part of their values, she noted. “At Walt Whitman, it’s much more about teamwork and effort.”
The way CWW structures its co-ed activities is in line with this shared sense of community. “Being a co-ed camp they really focus on friendship building between the boys and the girls as opposed to separate sides where they don’t do anything together and they’re not working on fostering that kind of respect between boys and girls.”
Camp Walt Whitman’s package policy, and the way it tries to limit the amount of things kids can bring, is another carryover from its core mission. “I think they really try to keep the focus off of material goods. I like that they work to remind kids and families that it’s really just about being there. You have to be really present at camp. There’s a lot of value to that.”
And like Alexandra Smith Ozerkis expressed, it is beautiful to see your child connect with the camp you felt so connected to as a kid. “It’s definitely been a huge bonding experience…He loves to ask me if I did certain hikes or certain trips…He gets a kick out of the fact that I was there and there’s a shorthand, he doesn’t have to explain a lot of things to me.” The idea of sharing an experience her mother and relatives had was part of the reason she chose CWW in the 80s, and being able to do the same with her son is just as precious.
“I had a moment at visiting day last summer where I kind of got a little teary, seeing him in the lake. Seeing how at home he felt there was really powerful to me because I had long thought of that place as my second home.”