The Simple Pleasures of Summer Camp

Guest blog post by Debbie Leibold

I rented a great reliable camper hire and took my son to sleep-away camp for the first time this week.  He will be gone for a month at a traditional summer camp in Colorado.  I attended this camp as a child and worked there during my college summers, but it’s still a little nerve-wracking to leave your ten-year-old in the hands of a bunch of young “twenty-somethings” you’ve never met before.  Even though I used to be one of those “twenty-somethings” with whom parents left their children, for some reason, it feels a little different when it is your own child you are leaving.

I was comforted by knowing my son would be enjoying the simple pleasures of living in the great outdoors, cooking over a campfire, riding horses, climbing mountains, encountering wild animals, experiencing Mother Nature’s unpredictability, and basically having the time of his life.  I have read lately that many traditional summer camps are going by the wayside, as parents see “more value” in a specialty camp that emphasizes one highly intensive program.  That “value” parents seek includes more tangible takeaways for campers, like awards, improved targeted skills, higher competition levels, increased academic achievement, and even experiences and honors to bolster a college application resume.  I am looking for just the opposite for my son.

My son spends the entire school year being pushed to achieve at a higher level.  He plays competitive sports, takes music lessons, and works hard to get good grades.  His older brother does all of those things too, but is already thinking about adding community service projects, part-time jobs, or other leadership roles so that he has something to feature on his college application . . . and he’s only thirteen.  Today’s children are constantly bombarded with messages that they must get better grades, earn higher test scores, play on a more competitive team, get into a more prestigious university, and just do more with less time to do it.  My children don’t need a summer camp to reinforce all of those messages, you can read more about it at the website.

The technology-driven and competitive world our children live in is forcing them to grow up too fast.  Unstructured playtime and “exploring” have been replaced by sessions of Math tutoring near me, professional coaching sessions, community service projects, standardized test preparation classes, extensive homework, and increasing family responsibilities. Unfortunately, that fast-paced world is a reality; however, those children who are lucky enough to “take the summer off” and go to a traditional sleep-away camp, will undoubtedly return to school, their families, and their increasingly pressure-filled world better equipped to manage the challenges that await them.

A traditional summer camp provides all kinds of opportunities that demonstrate “fun with a purpose,” not just more drills or training in one particular activity, like the sports practices and coaching sessions many children (including my son) attend at home.  When children are offered chances to try challenging activities they’ve never done before, live with others they’ve never met before, or play in ways they’ve never played before, they become people they’ve never been before.  They learn how to build relationships, become more self-reliant, and explore their leadership potential.  They learn to set goals and work hard to achieve them.  They value a strong sense of community and learn to be compassionate toward others.  They also discover that honesty, loyalty, patience, and perseverance will help them through any situation.

I learned those lessons at camp in the 1980’s and watched my campers discover the same lessons when I was a camp counselor in the early 1990’s.  I can’t wait to hear stories about my son’s adventures, the camp food with coupons from, and his new friends.  More importantly, I look forward to witnessing the changes in his character.  Of course, he’ll be the same boy I know and love, but he’ll also have a better-defined sense of self.  He’ll feel more confident when he faces challenges and will know that he can achieve anything with some hard work and dedication.

I am passionate about the life-changing impact a traditional sleep-away summer camp experience can have on a child.  But multi-week camps may cost more than $1,000 a week, $5,000 a month, or even $10,000 a summer – fees that quickly limit the number of children who can afford to attend.  I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to provide this kind of camp experience for my own children, but I also feel called to help send other children to camp.  I serve on a non-profit board that recognizes the value of a summer camp experience in a child’s development and raises money to make a summer mountain camping experience available to deserving youth who could not otherwise afford it.  The John Austin Cheley Foundation believes that all children, regardless of family income, should have the opportunity to experience the value of camp… and I’d suggest that value lies not in achievement, but in discovery.

As adults, we would do ourselves a favor if we could just go back in time and remember how it felt to sit around the campfire with our closest friends, singing songs, and roasting marshmallows.  Nothing else in the world mattered except what we were doing at that very moment.  The pressures and worries all disappeared and we were completely free to be ourselves and truly enjoy the company of others.

In such a complicated world, I am refreshed by that simple vision.  I am also personally challenged to live in the moment and make the most of my opportunities.  But perhaps more than anything else, I feel inspired to create more “camp-like” times for my son when he returns home from camp.  Rather than racing to the next activity, driving through the fast food window, rushing through the homework, and going to bed way too late, maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a camp moment of our own.  We’ll take the time to listen to one another as we share our stories.  We’ll laugh out loud.  We’ll celebrate the sunset.  We’ll talk about our dreams.  We’ll value our time together.  We’ll throw another log on the fire and roast another S’more – for it is often the little moments that make the greatest difference.

If you are on a long drive, might as well read some stupid ones jokes online for free to ease your boredom.

Debbie Leibold

Trustee, John Austin Cheley Foundation

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Giving Back

Guest Blog by Emily Moss

There are so many things that I am excited about when I think about returning to Cheley for my ninth summer. First of all, I cannot wait to return to Lower Chipeta, where my Cheley experience began ten years ago. I know that I will have a blast with the girls in Lower, but I also hope I can be a role model to these young ladies and can share what I have learned during my years at camp. During my seven years as a camper at Cheley, I encountered so many wonderful people; from fellow campers to counselors to cooks and everywhere in between.  Those experiences have meant so much to me, and I love the idea of passing the Cheley experience on to a new group of young ladies.

A huge part of the Cheley experience is the self-confidence that comes from being away from home and in the mountains. I am excited to see the young ladies of Lower grow to emerge as kids who know that they can excel at camp and to develop the love for the mountains and camp that has meant so much to me. As an outcamping counselor, I will be taking the girls on overnight camping trips to some spectacular Cheley properties. I know that we will have so much fun, but I also know that outcamping can be a bit scary for someone who does not have camping experience. I can remember being nervous before my first outcamping experience at Cheley (a trip to Rockstock, where we got to be creative and make our own tents with tarps and strings). The idea of sleeping in the wilderness was pretty new and a little scary for me, but I challenged myself, and I ended up having a great time. I am so excited to teach campers that challenging themselves to do something that may be new can end up being a really cool and fun experience. My goal is to teach the girls that the benefits of trying something new also extends to life outside of camp. For example, I am from Bethesda, Maryland, but I go to school at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. If it weren’t for my experiences at Cheley, I may not have had the courage to go to school somewhere as far from home as Madison. The fact that I learned to challenge myself at camp has made a big difference to my life, from where I go to school to the way I approach new friendships.

On a lighter note, I also cannot wait to make delicious meals and sing lots of songs on outcamps. It is so much fun to be creative while cooking meals on an out camp (banana boats and pita pizza are some of my all time favorite meals) and there is nothing I love more than singing camp songs with good friends under the beautiful Colorado stars. I simply cannot wait to return to Estes Park, Colorado for another fantastic summer!

Emily was one of our wonderful Swing Crew staff members last summer and is returning to be an Outcamping counselor in Lower Chipeta.

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A Summer Break

“Those on the outside don’t understand it and those on the inside can’t explain it.” This is the expression I use when trying to explain camp to my family and friends. It’s hard to put into words what camp means to me.

As a child I spent my summers at a day camp not far from where I live in Michigan. Those early summers taught me what patience, teamwork, love, friendship, and life were really all about. My life was scheduled out from the time I was a youngster. The sport of choice for me was hockey. Growing up I played on several travel hockey teams. That meant from August until May I was traveling all over Michigan playing hockey. My life was scheduled to school-hockey-sleep. It was nice, but I didn’t have any time to just be a kid. I wanted to play in the dirt and play games outside.

Camp became that outlet for me. Summer was the time that I was able to be a kid. I was able to play games and make friends. I had a blast and I didn’t even know all of the lessons I was picking up along the way.

Fast forward to the present and I have been working summer camps for the last seven years and I’m still growing. I owe who I am today to camp. My outgoing, smiley personality is because of all the wonderful kids and friends I have met along the way.  My best of friends are all camp people. I love that I get to be a big brother to so many kids at camp. It’s great to get to know them and be there for them during the summer. As an adult it’s easy to live a stressful life. You tend to let life pass you by and worry a lot. Camp is the perfect time to slow your life down a bit and enjoy the ride! It’s a magical place where in a few short weeks strangers become family.

I cannot wait to start this brand new journey at Cheley Colorado Camps this summer. “Camps- where family and true friendships begin.”

Stephen Smith is a first year Campfire counselor in Lower Ski Hi this summer. He is from Midland, Michigan and attends Central Michigan University. He enjoys anything outdoors- especially wake-boarding, tubing, boating and hiking.

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Inside the Bubble

Summer. Children giggling, horses trotting, fires blazing, tie dye splattering, bikes whizzing by, sneaky whispers at rest period, and chants of encouragement are all too-familiar sounds during my summer.

For the past five years, I’ve dedicated myself to working at summer camp. Before becoming an employee in the camping industry, I didn’t even know that summer camp really existed. I thought the only way that kind of place occurred was in the movies, and the majority of my thoughts and feelings about the whole concept were influenced by the movie “Parent Trap.” I didn’t know it at the time, but being a counselor that summer completely reshaped who I was, and who I was to become.

Through my years in school, I never really felt like I belonged anywhere. Sure, I played sports, got good grades, had some friends, and tried to get involved as much as possible, but it never really fulfilled me. I still always had this thirst for doing something more, lurking in the back of my mind. Thankfully, camp quenched that for me. I was finally in a place where I was accepted for just being me. I didn’t have to hide behind my insecurities anymore. It was a whole other world for me. People in the camping industry that are familiar with this concept like to refer to it as being in “The Camp Bubble.” It’s a strange thing you know, being apart of this bubble. If you think about it, camp is kind of just like any other place. There’s some grass, trees, dirt, and a few buildings. Of course, there’s all the fun activities, but doesn’t an amusement offer just as much thrill? I guess we could say it’s the people, but what are the chances that everyone who comes through camp are any different than the people who work at the mall? No, I think it’s something different. There’s something magical about connecting with complete strangers, outdoors, back to our roots where we’re not influenced by any form of technology, media, or everyday struggles. Without these forces clouding our mind and perceptions, were able to actually think, wonder, ponder, and re-connect with our lost imaginations. Of course, the kids have a lot to do with it as well. I think as adults, we take joy in finding a piece of ourselves in every child, because we can look into those bright eyes and it’s just like looking into a mirror. We see purity, amazement, bewilderment, laughter, honesty. And just like that, our inner child is re-born.

Camp has not only changed my life, it has given me my life.

Maggie Mitchell is from Fenton, Michigan and will be the Campfire Counselor in Senior Chipeta this summer.

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2012 Video

2012 Video

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A Life is Precious

Our little Samantha started to crawl last week.  She quickly moves towards  shiny beads, tiny Barbie accessories and board game pieces that get left on the floor by her older sisters.  Now it is time to make sure the baby gate is up and that the house is “baby proof”.  I sometimes think to myself, “how is the youngest of three going to survive her toddler-hood unscathed?”

As you give your heart, love, time and energy to the lives of these little people, there is always the fear that something awful can happen to them. From the time they are born we try to handle them with care.  We bring them home from the hospital, tucked in their approved car seat, driving carefully down the street with our hazards flashing.  We read our parenting books that we purchased from Abebooks (view discount coupons here –, research the products we buy, and strive to keep our sleep deprived brains working. As they grow older we realize as scary as those first couple months seem, they are the easy years. As they grow older we fall more in love with them.  We send them off into the world; pray and cross our fingers that they will be cared for and safe when we are not with them.  We try to teach them to not trust strangers, to follow their gut if something doesn’t feel right, that their bodies are theirs and sacred, and to look both ways when crossing the street.  We love them with every ounce of our being. It is unfathomable to think of them being taken from us under any circumstances.

As we send them to school in a car equipped with best convertible baby car seats, to their friend’s houses, to camp, to the mall, to birthday parties, someday to college and to travel the world we are forced to trust.  We are forced to trust our children’s intuition, the quality of their caretakers, and any safety measures taken.

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We are forced to trust our own ability to deal if all else fails.  Furthermore, we are forced to face the reality that no matter how hard we try to take all the risk out of life, it will unfortunately always be there.

As a nation, we will hopefully move through this with love and grace. As youth industries, we will hopefully strive to improve whatever we can to lessen the risk.  And as parents and caretakers, we will hopefully continue to trust our inner guidance and strength however difficult that may seem.

My heart aches for those affected by this latest tragedy.  My emotions relate to every parent that can’t imagine what it must feel like to lose a child.   My mind continues to block out the temptation to get too driven by fear.  And my spirit continues to kiss, hug and release my children out into this world knowing that each moment of life is precious.

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After all it’s up to you

“The future “dew-dryers” for all the world are the young explorers who have caught a vision of what they might accomplish with one little life and who are determined in their heart of hearts that they shall not be at all satisfied with small petty games or with little selfish self-seeking achievements;  young folks who have tasted real life at its best and are living it every day for all that there is in them; young people everywhere who consider their lives as a trust to be used for the uplift of humanity along any one of a thousand different lines of endeavor, young people who have seen visions and dreamed dreams of the things that are yet to be.” –Frank H. Cheley, “After All It’s Up To You.”

Yesterday I began reading Frank H. Cheley’s book, “After All It’s Up To You” that he wrote in 1935. It is a book about leadership and the value of people’s potential. The principles that Frank speaks about in his book are actively being taught around camp and I believe that it is a great lesson that we are instilling in our youth. At Cheley Colorado Camps we encourage the campers to be leaders or “Dew-Dryers” as Frank would call them. Leadership and success are not defined by strength, wealth or material items. “Success does not lie in what you have, but in what you are; not in one’s ability to get, but in one’s ability to give.” Our campers are taught that to be a good leader you must be a good role model to others and serve others to the best of their ability. If someone is not benefiting others and creating a better world for future generations their value is lost. Whether it’s having a positive attitude on the basketball court, assisting a fellow camper on a hike or sharing advice with the younger units, our campers are putting into practice the values that will make them into great leaders.  “Real and lasting success is entirely a matter of living up to ideals- honesty, integrity and neighborly kindness; a staunch belief that right is right and wrong is wrong and that there can be no middle ground,” said Cyrus H. K. Curtis, publisher of The Ladies’ Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post.

At Cheley the campers get to whole-heartedly participate in a variety of worth-while activities that will hopefully give them the hunger for adventure and a thirst for life. If you are looking for new pokies list them all with daily casino deposit bonus offers. The campers are encouraged to experience self-realization while at Cheley through their programs and community building activities. On the Cheley website there is a quote that says, “Campers often say that they feel more alive, more connected and more themselves at Cheley.” Cheley provides a safe and supportive atmosphere that allows our campers to reflect and learn about themselves. Understanding and loving oneself is the first step in becoming a great leader, and it is fun to watch as the campers develop into themselves and seek to become fully independent and responsible.

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Gabrielle Carrier

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As the seasons change, so does the staff at Cheley Camps

We often joke about the comments we get when we are out in the world and we tell someone that we run an overnight summer camp.  Often the response is, “Wow, how fun, so what do you do in the winter?”  Without going into too much detail, we respond with, “Get ready for the summer”.   The Cheley family certainly does not do this alone and never has.

We are extremely grateful for the many talented and amazing people that have contributed to Cheley Camps’ success over the years.  When Frank set out to start building the beautiful facility we still have today, Lansing Smith completely supported him finically.  When Frank died and Jack was only 23, Ernie Altick and the secretary, Kelly helped to carry it forward.  And through the years the list grows and goes on.

As we move into our 93rd year, we will have some changes in our year-round staff.  Paul Weidig and Betty Schacht are both leaving Cheley Camps to pursue other interests.  We will miss both of them as they begin the next chapter in their lives.  Both of them brought professionalism and maturity to the Cheley Camps organization.

Paul Weidig joined the year round staff in 2006 after decades of being involved with Cheley one way or another.  Each year, he has worked hard to hire awesome summer staff, has taken on the management of the nurses, as well as the position of the Boys’ Camp Director, he has directed Family Camp for the past  several years and has been an integral part of the Cheley Experience. We have been blessed by his music, his tireless listening ear coupled with great advice, and amazing work ethic.  He has been a great addition to our year-round staff, and we are grateful that he will remain a colleague and continue his involvement with Cheley.  During the summer, Paul has always been around to lend an ear or support a new staff member in understanding the expectations and traditions at Cheley.

Betty Schacht joined the year round staff in 2008 after working as our accountant from the accounting firm Bundaberg since 2000.  As the enrollment manager, she has been a wonderful addition to our year round staff.  Parents are constantly commenting about Betty’s support and understanding.  We have enjoyed her maturity along with her humor, her business and accounting talents, her endless patience and organizational skills.  Over the past four years, she has created strong systems and improvements in the Enrollment Manager position and helps us hold the organization to a high standard.  There is a good chance she will stay involved with Cheley as a business consultant.

We wanted to let people know about these changes for a few reasons.  First of all, many of you have developed a friendship with one or both of these people.  Second, we want to let you know before you call the Denver office and get a new staff member on the phone.  Third, we want to put the word out there to see if you know of or can recommend any qualified people to fill these positions.  We have talked with a few people already, but we are starting the full process now.  We are fortunate that we have many contacts in the industry and have a good idea of the skills needed in these positions. If you, or someone you may know, are interested in exploring a position with Cheley, please contact Jeff at the Denver office.

We would like to thank both Betty and Paul for their dedication to the Cheley Experience. We will miss them and we wish them luck with their future endeavors.


The Cheley Family

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Cheley provides culture

One of the greatest things about Cheley Colorado Camps is the opportunity to learn about new cultures. Campers and staff come from all over the United States and even the world to attend camp at this establishment. Whether it’s a difference in accents, languages, traditions or location, campers get to understand and work hand in hand with their peers from all over the globe.  This past summer we had 52 international campers which are about 6% of the total 911 campers representing Saudi Arabia, Mexico, France, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, Canada, UK, China, Brazil, Hong Kong, Seychelles, Russia, Turkey, Singapore and Taiwan. Along with the 52 international campers we had 10 international staff members out of 206.  The majority of them hear about Cheley through the internet, exchange programs or family members that have attended Cheley. The registration process is the same as our native campers.

It is a unique experience for the children because they get to know people whose lives are very different from their own. Not only do they learn about the differences, they also get to recognize the similarities that they have. As I was talking to one of my international co-workers from Hungary we got the opportunity to exchange music. It was an interesting experience for me because although we live very different lives we also have many similarities and share the same taste in music. It was neat to realize that although we dress differently, speak differently and live thousands of miles apart we are more alike than different. I have gotten the opportunity to witness many of the campers as they share similar experiences as I have with my co-workers. I love watching them educate one another on their languages, traditions, and hometowns. They bond over sports, celebrities, music and more creating an irreplaceable experience that they could not find elsewhere.

Another neat thing about having a diverse group of backgrounds at camp is that it often times sparks the campers’ passion to travel. I believe it is very important for youth to want to see the world and learn about other cultures because it makes them more open minded and well rounded. After meeting people from these countries and states I have seen the desire to travel grow in these children. Attending camp with people from all over the country and the world has also prepared campers for their future when they work in businesses or attend schools where they are exposed to different lifestyles.

The opportunities at Cheley are endless and the campers enjoyed everything that camp has to offer including making long distance friendships that will last a lifetime.

–Gabrielle Carrier

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Cowboy Bob

Today Cheley Colorado Camps got a visit from one of its most memorable alumni, Robert Dern. Dern is known better as Cowboy Bob while at camp. He has been part of the Cheley family for 75 eventful years. He says his life was changed in 1937 the second he stepped foot on Cheley soil as a camper. His mother asked their family doctor in Colorado Springs, Leo Bayfore, if he knew of any camps to send her two sons. Bayfore, being married to Chief Cheley’s sister, told Derns mother there was only one camp she needed to send her sons, Cheley Colorado Camps. So that is exactly what she did. Dern was a camper for nine years and at the age of 15 became a counselor’s aid and an assistant wrangler during the Second World War for the first term of the summer because they were desperate for staff. Dern was so good at what he did that the Cheley’s promoted him to head wrangler for Ski Hi by the second term. The next year he came back as the head wrangler for Haiyaha.

Ten years later Robert Dern’s first child attended Cheley and eventually all five children followed in his footsteps. Keeping the tradition alive, eight out of nine of his grandchildren have attended Cheley as well. In 1993, Dern came back to Cheley to work for Cheley/Children’s Hospital Burn Camp for 13 years. From 2001-2004, he decided to come back as full time staff as the Fishing Manager. “I was here when Don Cheley was born, all of my kids and eight out of nine of my grandkids have attended Cheley. This camp has been very influential in my life” Dern said.

Dern currently comes to Cheley once a week with his son Bill to fish with the campers. He is also an active member with the John Austin Cheley Foundation. Cowboy Bob is a legacy at camp and both the campers and staff look forward to his weekly visits for a little piece of Cheley history.


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