Camp Courant Alumni Stories

Je’Quana Orr, featured center

Je’Quana Orr 

University of Connecticut School of Law, J.D. Candidate, 18’ 

Former Camper 

‘I started attending Camp Courant later than most, at ten years of age. As a North Carolina native, I hadn’t arrived in Hartford until age nine. My first year in Connecticut was a major adjustment. Not only had I moved to a new area and was attending a new school, but I had also just lost my mother to a brain tumor. Needless to say, I found it difficult to make friends in school. This made that first summer with Camp Courant all the more important. Here, I was able to make friends and participate in fun activities, all of which took my mind off of missing North Carolina.  

I am just one of thousands of Hartford kids who benefited from the opportunity to attend Camp Courant. During the summer months, families from all across Hartford, particularly low-income families, struggle to find activities for their children. Camp Courant alleviates that stress for Hartford residents, providing a free day camp for their children that includes a range of fun and educational programs.  As a former camper, I am truly thankful to everyone who works to keep Camp Courant running. Thank you for all that you do for Camp!’ 

 

 

Former Camp Courant Directors Clifford and Judy Moss, 1995

Clifford and Judy Moss

Camp Courant Co-Directors from 1988-1995

Judy and Clifford R. Moss of New Britain, known as Judy and Cliff to the campers, were Hartford’s Camp Courant co-directors from 1988-1995. During their tenure, they saw the average daily attendance of campers increase from 645 children to 1,007. Judy and Clifford brought a wealth of experience and knowledge of directing camps and program development, which allowed Camp Courant to progress to the intensive summer enrichment program that it is today.

A native of Gloucester, Mass., Judy Moss obtained a bachelor's degree from Springfield College. Active in the YMCA, she ran the girls' and women's program at the Middletown YMCA. She and her husband ran the YMCA's Holiday Ridge outdoor program in Farmington from 1969 to 1972.

Clifford Moss, who obtained a bachelor's degree from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and a master’s degree from Central Connecticut State University, ran the boys' program for YMCAs in New Britain and Torrington. He started teaching at the Rawson School in 1973.

The couple ran Camp Berger for the Connecticut Grange in Winchester Center from 1977 to 1987.

Judy knew the names of the more than 100 staff members, and most of the children as well. She proposed many of the special events for the campers in Farmington, such as visits from Hartford's mounted police and the football coach of Central Connecticut State University. Clifford did a lot of the administrative and maintenance work, including overseeing payroll, ordering supplies and helping program directors set-up their classrooms.

For Camp Courant’s centennial season in 1994, they orchestrated a Carnival Day at Camp for not only all the campers, but the community as well. Clifford recalls fondly the carnival games, fun prizes and activities that made the children scream with delight and laughter.

Their retiring from Camp in 1995 was bittersweet. In a 1995 article in the Hartford Courant on their departure Judy stated, ``I'm always upset at leaving things because my whole heart was in it,'' she said. ``I enjoyed working with the children and staff and it'll be greatly missed. “

Clifford and Judy’s legacy still thrives at Camp Courant today. Not just in the programming and structure of training and staffing, but in the campers and staff they helped. When Clifford and Judy attended our Opening Day Celebration this year, they were overjoyed to see no less than 5 staff members they hired over 20 years ago, still working at Camp. “That means we did something right for the children,” says Clifford, “we were so thankful every day to be a part in these kid’s futures and be part of something greater for the community.”

 

 

Josh Sylvester as Camp Courant counselor, 2001

Joshua Sylvester 

Preconstruction Manager with Consigli Construction 

Former Camp Courant Counselor & Current Camp Courant Board Member 

'My fondest memory as a Camp Courant counselor between my freshman and sophomore years of college was by far the bus stop. Getting up first thing in the morning to meet the campers and their families at the bus stop gave me the opportunity to connect with them and establish trust. On the bus ride to Camp we laughed and shared stories about our summer and what activities were in store for the day. 

When all of the busses would roll into Camp it was nothing short of organized chaos. The campers would all come running off the bus, eager to see their friends and start the day. We would collect our assigned group of kids and spend time playing sports or games until the programs started. Even though it was only the first hour or so of the day, it’s what stuck with me over the years and still resonates today. 

As an alumni counselor, supporter and volunteer, Camp Courant is a great way to give back to the kids and give them an experience they otherwise might not have. If you have the opportunity to be involved in any way you can know that you’re giving back to an organization that’s completed funded by the community. Allowing Camp Courant to continue to succeed and to grow is a commitment all alumni should be a vested in. ' 

 

 

Hector Rivera

Hector Rivera 

Former Camper

'Like many other youth in the early 1980’s, my mother always struggled to find meaningful activities for me to participate in during the summer months. As a single parent whose first commitment was to earn a living in order to support me and my siblings, she was always trying to expose us to opportunities that would expand our knowledge of the world. For her oldest son it was also about seeking out positive experiences in to contrast the perils of growing up in one of Hartford’s worst housing projects “Stowe Village.” The opportunity to attend Camp Courant allowed me to meet other youth from other Hartford neighborhoods. Some of which I still have relationships with 20+ years later.  

I believe that my early experiences as a Camp Courant camper helped shape the passion and advocacy that I possess today. Those early learning’s and teachings that the Camp Courant staff, mainly the counselors provided to me in those hot steamy summer days inspired me to become a lifelong advocate for young people, a role that I proudly cherish as a Camp Courant Board member. 

Camp Courant’s mission statement is “To provide a FREE summer sanctuary for Hartford children that enable them to develop positive relationships, learn and have fun.” In order for Camp Courant to fulfill its mission every year an enormous amount of resources and support are needed to make a fulfilled summer experience a reality for hundreds of Hartford children. We need current and future alumni, supportive friends, foundations, corporations and government entities to continue to take action in order to provide more enriching summer activities to Hartford children.' 

 

 

Natalie Patterson

Natalie Patterson

Former Camper and Bank of America Junior Leader, Current Camp Courant Board Member 

'When I was seven years old I began going to Hartford Camp Courant while my parents went to work during the day.  I attended the camp with my older brother and my twin brother.  When I first started going to camp I was very shy and quiet and I would only want to be with my brothers the whole day.  Every summer I attended camp and I began to become more and more comfortable in going and making new friends.  So when the time came to apply for the junior leadership program (when I was 12) I was determined to get accepted and make it through the interview process.  The day they announced the new junior leaders under the art pavilion and I heard my name be called I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to tell everyone.  I ran over to my older brother who was finishing his last year as a junior leader and told him the good news.  I was also excited because my twin brother was accepted as well and I knew I had someone there to be by my side through this program.  At this point I was still shy and quiet and nervous to be around so many new people.  I was also intimidated being around the older junior leaders.

Throughout my time being a junior leader I had participated in all the workshops, team building, and community service opportunities that were offered each month since the program is year-round.  Through these workshops I have learned a lot about life, goals (setting them and accomplishing them), working in a team, working by yourself, and being a leader.  Some programs that I remember doing is going to the mall and learning how to ask for an job application and filling the application out; since we were too young to actually go for the interview, we had a mock interview amongst ourselves.  I also remember holding a car wash to raise money for the Children’s Hospital in Hartford, attending workshops with different guest speakers; a few workshops included anger management, how to become and leader, relaxation and mediation, money management, public speaking, and more.  There were also opportunities that Marta offered to junior leaders to work/help with certain events and talk about the program and help raise money for the junior leadership program.  I was always eager to jump on that opportunity to help the junior leader program.  During the program we also did group and team building activities which I find to be important because it help build connections with the other junior leaders because you will be working a lot with each other during the summer and everyone is around the same age and you can build lifelong friendships.  I remember taking New York trips and Boston Trips, museum trips, sport games trips, and the most important and fun/best trip of all; the camping trip.  I attended the camping trip all three years with the junior leadership program and I can honestly say that was the best trip I have taken with this program.  At the campsite we have learned teambuilding skills, leadership skills, and how to survive with little resources, as well as getting to know your fellow junior leaders more especially since there were no electronic devices to divert our attention from each other.

During the summers working as a junior leader, I loved it because everything we were working and building on during the school year is finally coming into play.  During the summer every junior leader is placed in different areas and assist the person in charge, whether it is helping in the kitchen, maintenance, Unit A (5-6 year olds), B (7-8 year olds), C (9-10 year olds), or D (11-12 year old), art and crafts, computer lab, etc.  Rotating positions every week was beneficial because it helps you realize where your strengths are.  I realized that I like working with younger children and still love working with children and hope to have a career where I can work with them.

During my first summer as a junior leader I really had to utilize what I learned throughout the year because the bus counselor for my bus stop decided not to show up for his shift and I was alone with all the campers waiting to board the bus.  So, I decided to take lead and call the camp and let them know the situation and then basically took on the counselor’s role and board the campers on the bus, take attendance, and keep the camper safe and under control until we reached camp.  As a result I did receive and award of junior leader of the month but I didn’t do that for a reward, I know there was a situation that needed to be handle and I felt I could handle it with the skills I learned prior and handle it in a calm manner.

All in all I am happy I went through the leadership program because I did decide to apply to be a counselor there when I turned 16 and was a counselor for two summers and then went to college. Through this program I did more than I would have ever done if I had not been in this program, with all the workshops, trips, and community service opportunities.  To this day I still tell people how this program has helped me grow and how I’m not as shy a person anymore.  During high school I was involved in a lot of different clubs and when I attended college, I joined a lot of clubs and organizations as well.  By my sophomore year of college, I decided to run for an elective board position and I have been on the e-board ever since which I enjoy doing because I can help the organization and help the students in the organization in different ways whether is being more involved in the school, community service, or just be someone they can talk to about their problems.  The junior leadership program helped me paved a way to success and I give special thanks to Marta and Cordell Shepard for their help and support.'

 

 

Thomas "TJ" Clarke, II

Thomas "TJ" Clarke, II

Council President for the City of Hartford

Former Camper

'I worked for Camp Courant as a Counselor during the summer of 1997 and 1998.  Working for Camp Courant as being my first job was a tremendous experience.  The memories of the joy and laughter of the children playing in the swimming pool, struggling to complete the obstacle courses in the Challenge Course area, trying to be creative during the arts and craft module and dealing with the struggles for them to stay in line are some of the great memories I’ll always cherish.  The two summers I worked at Camp Courant were some of the hottest summers I experienced working outdoors. At the end of those long hot days I looked forward toward to eating a Snickers or M&M Friendly’s Ice Cream cup.  This made me forget the lunch I had prior to the ice cream which included those great PB&J sandwiches.   

These are all great memories I have of Camp Courant but as I look back I can say how grateful I was to be a part of a great organization that treated every employee as if they were family.  Being a Camp Counselor  has equipped me with the skills I need to possess in order for me to succeed on my job on a daily basis.  As a Camp Counselor, the job taught me patience, customer service, building relationships, working in hostile environments, and conflict resolution to name a few.  All of these skills are necessary competencies for being the Assistant to the Chief of Staff and Mayor for the City of Hartford.  There is not one day that goes by where I have to use one of these competencies.   Thank you Camp Courant for making me a greater person so that I can be able to serve the residents of the City of Hartford at the greatest level.  Hartford’s Camp Courant is a great summer camp that every child should experience and my hat goes off to Josh Reese and his team of people who are working tirelessly to keep the legacy going.'

 

 

 

Luis Martinez

Luis Martinez

Former Camper

As a child, I grew up in one of Hartford's roughest projects, and was raised by my grandparents who didn't have much money. They really couldn't afford much, and had very few options when it came to how we spent our time.  Hartford's Camp Courant impacted my life because Camp gave me something to look forward to during the summer. Camp provided a place for me to stay off the streets and it was free. It also helped me stay away from the drugs and violence which were on the streets. At Camp, I was able to reconnect with my friends who I didn't see in the summer because they did not live in the same neighborhood. The Camp day kept me busy with different activities. This was critical because when I came home I was exhausted and did not want to go outside where negative things were happening. Things could have turned out differently if I did not attend Camp Courant.

Camp helped me by providing a place to learn and have fun during the summer. The staff was great at helping and mentoring us. We learned things that I still use today as an adult such as teamwork and respect. I learned how to swim at Camp and that is a skill I will use forever.

People should support the organization because there are not a lot of places like Camp Courant. It is where kids can go meet new friends, reconnect with old friends, learn, and have fun. It is still rough out there on the streets and having a place to go to during the summer days is very crucial. In order for Hartford's children, including my own, to continue to have a place like Camp, I would encourage the community to support Camp's efforts in any way that they can.

 

 

 

Joel Freedman

Joel Freedman

Member at Connecticut Resource Recovery Task Force

Former Camper

'During the first half of the 1950's, my family lived in Westbrook Village along Albany Avenue.  Today, the complex is in an eyesore slated for possible demolition, but 60 years ago it was a vibrant post-war neighborhood.  For several summers, I joined others in the large apartment complex and attended Camp Courant.

Not unexpectedly, memories of summer camp which occurred nearly 60 years ago for a 6-7 year old can be somewhat thin.  It was not until I joined the Camp Courant Board and became increasingly active in its activities that my Dad reminded me that I had attended.  One has to wonder how many others living in Hartford during this era have similarly forgotten fond memories of Camp and that they were fortunate to have Camp set them on a successful course.

Like other non-profits emerging from tough economic times and competing for scarce dollars, Camp Courant is challenged every Summer to find needed revenue so it can send Hartford's kids to Camp as it has for over 100 years.  As we approach our 120th anniversary in 2014, we need as many alumni as possible to remind Camp Courant they attended.  Please share stories, photos,  contact information, and, of course, your dollars so Camp can continue its legacy as the oldest and largest free summer program in the country.'

 

 

Evelyn "Amy" De La Cruz, surrounded by her family

Evelyn 'Amy' De La Cruz

Former Camper

'I attended Camp Courant in the summer of 1990, when I was nine years old. To this day there are certain smells and sounds that bring me back to that summer. I cannot eat a peanut butter and fluff sandwich without thinking of Camp Courant. When it's time to tell scary stories I often find myself telling my kids the story of "Three Finger Willie." I cannot hear Coro's latin freestyle song "Can't let you go" without thinking about the dance my friends and I did for the talent show. I still remember some of the moves too.

I rode the "elephant" bus at the corner of Sisson Ave and Park Street. The bus counselor, Shawn, would tease me for always stopping at Sousa's for flavored water and candy before getting to the bus stop. My first counselor, Eileen, would help us make beaded bracelets and let us listen to freestyle music. My friends and I then asked to be switched over to Rob's group because we had some friends in his group and they were always playing basketball. We used to pretend we were the cheerleaders and named ourselves the "Fly Girls". I love seeing him coaching and talking about his team on the news when they show the high school football games.

Camp Courant gave me something to do that summer. That summer was a very tough one for my family and I am grateful to have had an opportunity to get away from my reality for the day and spend it having fun and learning new things-not only my friends but with kids from all over. Thank you Camp Courant for giving me one of the most memorable summers of my life.'

 

 

Ylaizah, Mom (Ana) and Naley heading out to their high school graduation.

Naley (Boukhanty) Gonzalez & Ylaizah Boukhanty

Former Campers

‘We attended Camp Courant since we were in first grade at MDFox Elementary. There, we met other kids from Hartford who, like us, attended on Camp Courant because of all the opportunities camp provided. We did crafts and played sports, but the most fun part was the pool especially in a hot summer’s day – and the ice cream.  As we got older, our interests changed, but we continued participating in as many activities as we could.

“When I was too old to go to camp, I signed up participated in the Junior Leaders program where I developed my leadership skills and learned how to work with the younger kids who attended camp. We also did fun activities like going skating to get to know each other better. I did not enjoy skating. I still don’t… but I know people who do.” – Naley

We did not know it at the time, but our Mom could never attend summer camp as a youngster because her parents could not afford it. She wanted for us to have a summer camp experience, and by chance, she was able to sign us up knowing we would be well taken care of by the staff and counselors, that we would be safe while she was at work, and that we would get to have that experience she did not get.

“I still run into people now who were part of some of my camping years. Some were other campers and some were my own counselors. It is nice to reconnect and remember those days.” Ylaizah

In 2011, we graduated from Manchester High School and we are both now working on our degrees: Naley at Manchester Community College and Ylaizah at Eastern Connecticut State University.

We understand that having a free campership for so many years would not have been possible by the help of everyone who gets involved to make it happen: the volunteers, the donors, the sponsors. It is our hope that once we get established in our careers after college, we are able to give back so other Hartford kids can have the same opportunity.’

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