Camp has always been a family experience for Ellen Sheridan. From fourth to ninth grade, Sheridan went to Camp Harlam in the Poconos, a camp that continues to provide recreational and educational activities for Reform Jewish youth today. Both of Sheridan’s older sisters also attended, so when she was old enough, she begged her parents to go. “It was a great, wonderful experience,” she recalls.
Most adults can only remember their camp adventures, but Sheridan is one of many former Maryland campers who returns to volunteer, or in some cases, to oversee a summer camp, making the experience truly a family affair.
This summer, Sheridan and her son, Ethan, will enter their eighth year at Camp Airy in Thurmont. He is a camper and she works for a week as a nurse to earn reduced tuition. The all-boys camp, which has a sister camp, Camp Louise, for girls, is a Jewish-focused overnight camp. “We both love it,” she says. “Every year he goes, he likes it more and has just an incredible life-changing experience.”
Sheridan’s older sister Donna also continues to work as a nurse there, even though her two boys have aged out. The camp has five nurses and two physicians on staff each week. This will be the fourth year the sisters have worked together.
“Not many people get to say they can work with their sibling side by side, even if it is only for a week, so that is a neat kind of bonding thing for us,” she says. “It’s a busy week but it is a healthy, fun week.”
Sheridan’s mother also attended Camp Louise one year, but her experience was cut short after a camper was suspected of having polio and all the campers were sent home as a precaution.
Sheridan enjoys the friendships with staff members and being around the campers. “It’s a fun week,” she says. “The kids are fun. They are a really good group of kids. They are very appreciative of what we do. They are a little bit homesick, so you are a parent figure for a little while.”
Alicia Berlin first went to Camp Louise at age 10 with her best friend, whose mother worked as a nurse at the facility. She became extremely homesick. But after a phone call with her mother, she realized she had a choice: Be miserable or make the most of the situation. She chose the latter and has pretty much been at the camp ever since as a camper, counselor, unit leader, assistant director and now as camp director.
“It is pretty amazing when you think about the impact that camp has on campers; not only while they are there, but for years afterward,” Berlin says. “People will often think back to their camp days with such fond memories, and the fact that I am in charge of camp and am the director, it is a big responsibility to create this amazing community that people are going to not only enjoy in the summer, but have these memories and hold onto forever and I don’t take that lightly at all. I want to make sure we continue to provide the amazing experience and community for our kids.”
Berlin’s husband, Neil, went to Camp Airy and now works for both camps as director of operations. When asked if there are any drawbacks to working with your spouse, Berlin says no, because the two are so passionate about camp and share that common mission.
The couple has three daughters and “they have been here at camp since the day they were born.” Her in-laws, as well as her parents, also worked at the camp during the summer, working with campers or watching their grandchildren when they were younger. Both Berlin’s mom and her mother-in-law went to Camp Louise as campers. “It truly is a family affair,” she says. “Having camp as a second family for all of us has just been incredibly important and meaningful in our lives.”
In 1966, Pete Rice decided to buy Echo Hill Camp after years of dreaming about running a summer camp. Prior to that, he worked at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. Today, his son, Pete Jr., owns and serves as director of the Worton-based camp and his wife, Libby, a registered nurse, has worked at the camp as well. Katie Rice Moulsdale serves as associate director, Julie Rice Blyman is employed as an assistant director and Pete Rice III works as director of operations.
Moulsdale says the camp is her favorite location in the world and helped shape the person she is today. “It’s just an exceptional place and we love it, and it is a part of who we are and our life,” she says. Most of the family lives
within 20 minutes of the camp. “We are very much centered around this place. Working with your family is really a unique and special experience. Thankfully, we get along really well and we have the same visions and goals, so that makes it easy. My siblings and I are our best friends. We really get to spend three months attached at the hips, and that is a pretty cool experience.”
Not only is the camp a family affair for her own family, but also for people who come there at an early age as campers and later stay on as counselors. “Helping children have the time of their lives is … incredibly fulfilling,” Moulsdale says. “Making the experience for them that I had, and hundreds of other children had, is just really cool.”