Summer Camp

By Nellie Hermann / September / October 2000
October 29th, 2007
It’s not unusual for college students to spend a summer or two as camp counselors. You know the drill: sixteen-hour days, terrible food, and virtually no pay. But for four members of Brown’s most recent graduating class, this summer’s counseling experience had a different set of rewards.

The 600 children who attend Ramapo Anchorage Camp in Rhinebeck, New York, all have emotional or behavioral problems. Some have been seriously abused; others are hyperactive and overly aggressive or suffer from serious cases of attention-deficit disorder or autism. All of them, says camp director Bernie Kosberg, are simply “very, very fragile.”

“These kids have an expectation of injustice,” says Rachel Lissy ’00, who is now an administrator at the camp. “[Ramapo] is about trying to create a place for these kids where things make sense.”

Lissy, along with Bess Massey ’00, has been spending summers at the camp for the past six years. Three years ago they were joined by Liana Maris ’00, and this summer Tom Gray ’00 helped to make Ramapo an unofficial Brown affiliate.

Founded in 1922 by the Jewish Big Brother Association, Ramapo was originally intended as a summer escape for poor, orphaned boys. Since then the camp has evolved to serve children who would not do well at a more conventional summer camp. Every camper is referred to Ramapo by mental-health professionals, social workers, and social-service agents in New York City, and most of them have in fact never been outside its five boroughs. There is a waiting list numbering in the hundreds.

As in any summer camp, the children swim, play dodge ball, have ice-cream parties, and camp out overnight — all while learning how to interact with one another. No deviant behavior — a light push, a rock tossed, a curse — is tolerated, and the campers are all taught to accept the consequences of their actions. It’s an exhausting job, Lissy says, but the rewards are as bountiful for her as they are for the kids.

In her six years at the camp, Lissy has seen some of the same children return every year, and watching them change over time, she says, has been gratifying. “It takes kids so long to believe that what we want is for them to not be in trouble,” she says. “It’s amazing to be able, sometimes, for some children, to confirm the idea that the world could ever be fair.”

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September / October 2000