Your camp has been in existence for over 100 years. That’s a lot of alumnae. How much are your alumnae part of your camp program?
We maintain a list of around 5,000 active alumnae. Twice a year we send out a dedicated alumnae newsletter- once in the fall and once in the spring. Our fall newsletter also includes a donation appeal for our camp scholarship program. Our alumnae are generous supporters of our scholarship program and also volunteer for specific camp programs, like maintaining our camp archives and participate in camp cleanup days. Alumnae also stay active by assisting with June staff orientation, attending our family camp session, and some have rented our facilities for events and equipment for alumnae canoe trips. Additionally, we have alumnae groups that have connections and gatherings independent of camp’s alumnae programs and we assist them in communicating with one another.
Yes, we have a museum on our summer camp property with archives from our over 100 summers with photos and memorabilia.
How does your active alumnae group relate to your current camper group?
Our camp enrollment is heavily impacted by our alumnae group. We currently have many 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation Wyonegonic families and even a few 5th generation families! Almost 70% of our campers come from generational camper alumnae, referrals from existing families or current Winona (our brother camp) families. This speaks to the power of maintaining that alumni relationship.
Wyonegonic and Winona were initially one camp business owned by the same family. The change in ownership and split of the two camps happened over 45 years ago, but we still operate as a brother/sister camp, keeping the same camp dates, visiting days, etc. This close-knit relationship contributes to our larger alumni group, as families often have campers at both camps.
How important are alumni to the business of your camp?
I see the purpose of summer camp as almost a threefold enterprise. Primarily we are in the youth development business, but our second purpose is in land use conservation, and thirdly in alumni development. Development is much more than just money it is about maintaining an active group of advocates for camp. One way in which we use their advocacy to benefit camps is that we invite our alumni to attend promotional gatherings during the winter times as a meet and greet with new and prospective families. We believe Alumni advocacy programs are not just for Wyonegonic but benefit all camps!
Does the alumni community consist more of past campers or past staff?
It is definitely primarily a community of former campers, but an alumnus who has served on the staff as well adds strength to their connection. We see our long-term campers who also participated in CIT and leadership programs as having the strongest long-term connection to the alumni group. We also find that alumni often relate the most to those who also participated in their CIT group year.
Our heaviest volume of alumni is always those that have most recently left camp, and as the years go by the number of active alumni from each year balances out. There is a substantial alumni group currently from the 1960s and 1970s.
Alumni are often thought of related to high school or college, but a camp alumni connection can be equally as strong or stronger. Have you seen this to be true at your camp?
Yes, absolutely. A lot of that has to do with the close-knit living community. And yes, college is also a residential environment, but for some reason it is slightly different. It might be that campers are at an age that has a massive influence on their long-term development.
During this stage of life and being in residence sharing space with other campers, forces campers to learn to negotiate, accept not getting their way, and thus learning about respect and maintaining strong friendships.
As a girl’s camp, one way that the strength of this bond becomes obvious to us is when one of our alumni gets married. It is her camp friends that are her attendants at her wedding.
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