Laura Henrich was a director with HFH Summer Camps for over 20 years. She is a legend in the camp world and has been instrumental to the success of our Summer Camps program and—of course—always ensured that the kids and staff had the best time at camp.
Laura was with HFH Summer Camps at Camp Lanowa since its inception in 1989. She stepped down from her responsibilities as director in 2017, but remains available to mentor incoming stuff, and as she says, is always just a phone call away. She took some time to reminisce about past years of HFH Summer Camps and her hopes for HFH Summer Camps 2022.
Q. What are some memories about HFH Summer Camps that have stayed with you?
A. You would see the children come off the bus [saying,]
“We saw deer driving up the driveway.”
“What is this place?”
“What are we going to do?”
“When do we swim?”
“Can I put my suit on now and go right to the water?”
It’s a process of shedding the city, little by little, as they became more comfortable in a natural environment. If you’ve been to the camps, it’s rustic. It’s more than just a natural environment there; there are moths, there are birds, there are deer and chipmunks—kids were crazy over the chipmunks.
[My memories are of] watching them lose their “city-ness” and gain confidence and learn so much about the natural environment. They had a glimpse of who they could become and what they could be. [And they learned so much]—not just the songs and the arts and crafts—so many of the children went home knowing that they could swim. I worked with the older children for the most part, so [I was able to observe] the confidence they gained from the activities and from being able to lead some programs and perform in a talent show. [They were] given so many opportunities that I think they wouldn’t have had had they just been in the city for that time.
Q. Why is it important for the kids to experience Camp?
A. It gives them a chance to play and learn. These kids who are still camp age are [often] charged with helping to raise the younger ones in the family, and [it’s so important] to give them a chance to be a kid themselves and not have the responsibilities of having to be a caretaker for the younger ones. And [for them to be able to] try new foods, experience a campfire and s’mores, fish, swim, and maybe learn how to row a boat—these things that you just don’t do in the city. The relationships that they develop with other children and with the staff is just priceless.
Q. What effect does Camp have on the staff that work there?
A. I think so many of the staff came expecting to “change the world” and have this momentous impact on the children, and I have to say, they always did. But I think what surprised most staff is that they were going to learn from the children as well. [They learned from] how courageous these children are [and how they can navigate] a city. Tears are shed on both sides—staff and kids—when they board the buses to leave, with both kids and staff members having made lifelong connections or experiences.
Q. What crucial role does Camp play for the parents of the kids that attend HFH Summer Camps?
A. It gives parents a little chance to take a break from that child. It is such a gift that these parents give the children to be able to be able to go and have these new experiences and meet new people, be in nature, grow some independence, and be empowered by the things that they’re learning and doing.
Q. Can you talk to me about the impact that you have seen staffers have on campers through the years?
A. There are so many stories, but in 2015 or 2016, a woman applied to be a counselor. I interviewed her, and she said, “You know, you probably don’t remember me, but I was a camper way back, and camp meant so much to me. Even though I only got to go for a summer, it really changed how I went forward in the world. I got to go to college, and I just want to be able to give back to the camp and to the kids.”
You never know what impact that you are going to have on a child’s life.
Q. What is your hope for HFH Summer Camps 2022?
A. I do hope that that they are able to offer the children a great place and programs and terrific staff that will have an impact on the kids and offer those magical moments that kids need. To be able to give all of that to the children, it really is a gift. I hope they can be successful and fill [camp] up with as many campers as they can take and have a safe, happy summer. Tyrone is [the new Camp Administrator at HFH Summer Camps]. I have great confidence in him; he’s a great one. It’s not an easy job. But it’s so worthwhile.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.