Ohana Family Camp is featured in Reveille, the Aloha Foundation newsletter for parents, alumni, and friends.
The Lowman Family – Ohana Family Camp
“Our multi-generational family of 23 is grateful for our week at camp – the fun, the joy of family, the spirit of Ohana.
We could not have dreamed what our week at Ohana would be! We are all now back in our five respective home states, reflecting on a wonderful week together. I spearheaded our family gathering, so I came to camp with apprehension that not all would be pleased: some live only an hour away, our age range is 4 to 4 score and more, teens are in the mix, foodies, too. Yikes! But Ohana delivered a knock-out punch to any skeptics!
Everyone, to a person, loved Ohana Family Camp. What’s not to love? It is simply wonderful in every way possible, beginning with the camp leadership, Vanessa and Gretchen, who are imbued with the beautiful spirit of Ohana, and who somehow infuse the entire camp team with it.
On one of the glorious days of our week, we were in the first session at the Art Barn where I caught a glimpse of Vanessa and Gretchen strolling up the road next to it, gathering wildflowers. Later, a bit into the second session, Fran, arms full of art supplies, hurriedly passed me, cheerfully calling out a hello, on her way to the Lodge where she was to greet her next nature group. They were already seated at the table, waiting to draw wildflowers. On that table was the bouquet of wildflowers Vanessa and Gretchen had picked. Ah-ha! Ohana.
One hot day, after so patiently and tirelessly teaching two big sessions of needy, would-be artists of all ages, I saw Cheryl speeding down the bumpy lake road on her golf cart, basket full of I knew not what! Soon she was sitting on the hot dock, surrounded by several campers of all ages, teaching “Underwater Basket Weaving.” (So that’s really a thing, after all!) But Cheryl wasn’t through yet. During Announcements, she made several about art projects on display, ceramics in the works, and about all that would be happening in the Art Barn the next day.
This seems to be the hallmark of the staff, the team. Having fun helping each other while helping all of us. And being such great examples of all ages and stages of life, from young adults to middle age and beyond, to the spectrum of married love and families. Thank you so much for these examples for our children and grandchildren.
Olivia and Kasie set a high bar as they exemplified for everyone, especially the children, how to handle adversity, how to power through it, how to put on a happy face, how not to host a pity party.
Leave the parties to Shannon. Tea parties, that is. Being with Shannon and my little granddaughters on a pretty, sunny morning as Shannon presided over the tea table like the sweetest of princesses, reading a storybook from her British childhood as the girls and I, wearing animal ear headbands, sipped tea and ate sugar babies, was a far cry from the Ropes Course. Thank you for both experiences, Shannon and Nolan. And thank you, Erin, for the ice cream making party (against all odds) that the kiddies were as happy with as if they had made three-scoop cones!
Carl and the dock guys and girls could not have been more helpful, patient, kind, friendly, hard-working nor accommodating to the kids and parents alike. Oh, what great times were had on beautiful Lake Fairlee. Thank you to all the lakeside crew, including Jim.
And to Steve, Bill and the entire kitchen crew, as our “Foodies” said, “They crushed it every single meal!” Thank you for somehow being able to please a multitude of palates with a multitude of delicious, nutritious meals. And thank you to the terrific servers and clean-up/dish crew for helping to make each meal a very pleasant experience.
And to make sure not to miss a meal, shuttling up and down from the lake was a big help. Thank you, Andy.
But a shuttle ride meant missing the walk through the woods, which might not have mattered much if it weren’t for Fran, who brought the woods and all things natural to life in magical ways. We found evidence of fairies and gnomes and reconnected with wonder. Thank you, Fran, for sharing your many gifts (and your husband) with us.
The entire staff had us all convinced we were scientists, wood workers, artists, musicians, singers, climbers, athletes, sailors. Oh, and baton twirlers !
So do we “have a message we would like to share with staff ?” Yes. Two. We love you and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being who you are, for going the extra mile every day, no matter your assigned job or task, for caring enough to learn our names, for buddying up with us for a meal or a chat or a sail, for exemplifying all the character traits we want our children and grandchildren to possess, for embodying the Ohana spirit.
Thank you all – from Vanessa and Gretchen, who welcomed us like family, to the robin who chose to nest above our door and chirped a big sigh of relief as we all left.”
Greta & Crosby – Ohana Wedding
“Our Ohana experience began with deciding there was nothing we would love more than to get married—simple enough, right? It was at that point that we learned an age-old truth that only becomes known once you’re engaged: that’s the easiest part!
One thing we knew for sure was that we wanted our wedding to be more than just a celebration of us. We felt strongly that this event should be an opportunity to knit together two families and a cross-continental array of friends, and provide a place where everyone could mix over the course of a whole weekend, not just a few whirlwind hours. Although we were planning from our home in Seattle, we both hail from New England and knew that the east was where we wanted to be. With these criteria in mind, Ohana soon flew to the top of both of our lists.
Vanessa, Ohana’s director and wedding planner extraordinaire, warned us before we arrived that once couples visit the camp, they become so enchanted that they can’t imagine any other venue. She was right—Ohana was pure magic upon first laying eyes on the campus. With our parents enthusiastically in agreement, the decision was made- Ohana was “the one.”
The next few months were filled with planning, with Vanessa gently guiding us through the process from cabin assignment to dining hall table layout, suggesting trusted vendors and offering lessons learned from previous weddings along the way. Jason, the camp’s humbly phenomenal chef, walked us through menus and dishes that all shared common themes: locally sourced, seasonal, and dangerously delicious. During one visit, Jason created a custom tasting for us in Vanessa’s home, complete with menus decorated with great care by her daughter. From the very beginning, we felt like a part of the Ohana family, which ties delightfully back in to the camp’s name, guiding principles, and our whole goal for our wedding weekend: building community through shared experience.
Before we knew it, it was the wedding weekend, and all our plans were finally ready to be unveiled. While we could go on forever about all the special details, we’ll keep it broad: Ohana delivered the best weekend of our lives, and allowed us to build exactly the experience we wanted to impart to our friends and families. From Friday afternoon through Sunday lunch, our guests were constantly forming and reforming different groups to help with wedding prep, to play games, to tend the s’mores bonfire, or to champion trips to the lake. The cabins allowed everyone to unplug and be present together, rather than staying tethered to work or social media. The staff of Ohana was both ever present yet invisible, there to help at all times but never obtrusive. The night became a blur of nonstop dancing to the fabulous band playing in the dining hall, but when we finally returned to our cabin, there were two pieces of wedding cake waiting for us. Perfection.
When you have your wedding at Ohana, you don’t sign up for a packaged event. You are welcomed into the Ohana community, encouraged to create a unique weekend for your guests. New and old bonds are cultivated over morning cups of coffee, badminton, volleyball, and hours of lake time. Who we are as individuals is best represented by the friends and family that gathered at camp, and we were beyond thrilled to see all these facets of our past thrive collectively across the Ohana grounds. While the invitations read “Greta and Crosby,” the weekend headline was community through and through.”
The Russo Family – Ohana Family Camp
“The season leading up to our week at Ohana in July 2017, was plagued with struggle. It was a warm spring, but I’m referring to the season of life we were in. My husband, a previous cancer survivor not 3 years before, had been diagnosed for a second time with the disease. The year, or season of life at that time, was intense and serious, revolving around Dr’s visits, tests, hospitals, radiation, chemotherapy and quiet conversations. The culmination of the year lead to a dangerous surgery in Jan of 2017. We were told it would be a year to “full recovery”, or rather, whatever my husbands ‘new normal’ would become.
My husband had been living and breathing, cancer treatments, medications, surgeries and struggling to get back to some semblance of normal. Recovery was an every day effort. I had been living and breathing the precarious balance of being my husbands advocate and cancer care giver, and, in contrast, also the ‘normalcy bringer’, ‘homework checker’ and ‘decision maker’ to our home, and 4 sons.
Life had not been easy, and by the summer, I had lost myself somewhere in the urgency and sickness.
But then came Ohana.
From the moment we were welcomed and directed to our cabin, I knew that we had arrived at a special place. Apparently, there is an unnatural (or is it natural?) effect that literally falls on this unique place. I sensed it shortly after arrival, and if felt ……good. After inquiring, I came to understand that this effect is often called the ‘Ohana Bubble’. What I had detected, others had also tuned in to, identified, and labeled.
My definition of the ‘Ohana Bubble’ is this… a little slice of heaven on earth.
This is where the cozy and rustic (yet comfortable) accommodations are free of electronic distractions – no internet, TV, cell phones(work email) or computers. Where the view from the main lodge does nothing less then inspire. Where, we soon would find: new friends to be met, quiet moments to reflect in, abundant (and crazy delicious) meals to enjoy(that I had nothing to do with!), and plenty of activities to chose from. I remember walking around camp that first day, excited to explore and discover what there was to see – I felt like a little child(!) and I recall a grin had crept onto my face for the first time in a while. I recall those first few days, looking at the views, feeling thankful for the beauty and the change of scenery. I recall feeling grateful for the time to engage my family, sans electronic distractions. I had become excited about discovering everything Ohana had to offer!
So, we jumped in.
During the week we started to learn the gentle rhythm of the camp. We started to to engross ourselves full on. We scouted out the frisbee golf course, become pottery makers and basket weavers, played some serious badminton and wiffle ball, and spent time at the beach. We paddle boarded, kayaked, sailed. We played tennis, basketball and tried our hand at archery and leather works. Exciting excursions were made – rock climbing and a high ropes course. We sat on our porch, while the kids played volleyball with new friends. We rested at the lodge, while the kids challenged each other at ping pong and “ball”. We saw a show, we touched a snake, and my husband and I played Giant Scrabble while lounging in lazy rockers. Days were full, yet not. They felt balanced.
At some point small, yet momentous, things started to happen. And I had time to notice.
We walked every where, especially back and forth from the beach, it was hard work, especially for my husband, but the exercise was good and his body was responding well. During our time that week, my husband, who has always been a musician, but lost his drive to play, and some dexterity, during the last year of treatments and medications, started to strum peacefully at his guitar in the relaxed environment. Was it the lack of distraction, the closeness to nature, the lessoning of stress? I don’t know, and I’m not sure I care, but it was a lovely gift to see him doing one of the things he was created to do. During that time, he also was able to ease off of the last of his medications. This was a feat. Again, I wondered, was it timing, or was it the ‘Ohana Bubble’? I’m not sure. And again, I’m not sure I care. But. It. Was. Good.
The boys met some new friends along the way(my 14 yr. old still ‘chats’ with a friend he met that week), and we can’t forget to mention how much we all thoroughly enjoyed the counselors as well. Good people, leading good fun.
For me, the benefits of camp were staged. Initially, releasing myself from the responsibility to lead and be in charge, letting someone else figure out events, schedules and meals, was huge. That took the edge off the strain that had built in me and stayed during the last year, and it felt good to ease out of that position. But then there was another level of enjoyment. I discovered the fun of being creative again, and not just by myself (yes, there were times where I went off by myself to just ‘be’ and ‘do’ alone and that was healing as well ) BUT creating art with my family – that was a TRUE JOY. Working the clay with my boys across the table, for example, was a blessing. I witnessed their creative juices flowing now and it made my heart sing, “mom, look what I made!” “Ooo, nice, what color will you glaze it?”. We chatted lightly, while seriously enthralled in our act of creation. Seeing them engage creatively was heartwarming, especially since this was something I had not been able to focus on fostering in them myself lately, regardless of my natural creative inclination and deep desire to do so. Circumstances and technology had snuffed out the opportunities, and exhaustion had stolen my ambition. But not at Ohana.
At Ohana, things get relaxed and creativity has ample opportunity to flow. It’s invited to flourish. At Ohana, life slows down, and gets more engaging. You can engage with yourself, alone in the quiet. Or meet a new friend at a class. Better yet, engage your own family with no distractions or planning, Ohana allows you the time to spend with the people you love most, in play and conversation or while creating something new.
We had a week at camp. I felt changed. Renewed. Energized. Inspired. My husband had made headway! The kids were outdoors all week. We had a significant week of both relaxation and stimulation. I won’t lie, Ohana may not be for everyone. My oldest son had a hard time with the lack of internet – some people may relate, but even he enjoyed both the food and the beach! (I know because he actually said so!) And apparently, he especially enjoyed the traditional end of week challenge, Bailer Battle. (If you don’t know, you need to come to camp to find out.)
Overall, my family had a beautiful experience at camp.
I became refreshed and had opportunities to engage in activities that inspired me and sparked my creative side again. I am grateful for the time spent together as a family, eating, playing and enjoying each other. Honestly, I would seriously consider living at Ohana if given the opportunity. The fact that there is no internet doesn’t bother me, I imagine that offers more of an opportunity to tune into the people in my life. To see them, really see them. (That gives me an idea, maybe I should start an Ohana week (or day?) at home once a month, where we turn off the distractions of life and just hang with each other, what a sweet way to remember the week away and reconnect on a regular basis!) Regardless, what I want to say is Ohana – thanks for the ‘Bubble’ experience. It will not soon be forgotten and I am grateful for my time there. Whatever you do, don’t change. From my perspective, as long as we have distractions, technology, stress, health issues, noise and careers… basically, as long as we live life, we’ll have a need and desire for the ‘Bubble’.
As a way of closing, I’ve created my own tag line for the heart-warming family camp that came into my life last summer. I made this one up back in July before we even headed home: ‘Ohana – the way life should be.’
Enjoy the Bubble.”
Brandon – Ohana Family Camp and Former Staff Member
“When you close your eyes and ask yourself, “What does home feel like?” What enters in your mind first? Is it the butterfly feeling you get in your stomach knowing home is right around the corner, or is it the anxious smile when you walk in the front door? For more than a decade my family and I have called a little camp on the Lake Fairlee our home away from home. The feeling when the Green Mountains start to come into view and when the major interstates turn into just two-lane highways are just some of the nostalgic feelings I get when I enter Vermont and then onto Lake Fairlee. This place is my Ohana.
My family (often referred to as the Bassett Clan) have been a part of The Aloha Foundation for four generations. The timeline beings with my great-grandmother who started as a counselor at Hive. She worked closely with the Gulicks and helped influence what The Aloha Foundation is today. I attended Lanakila from ’02-08. When I outgrew the residential camps our family looked for other ways to support the Foundation. One day an email was sent asking for volunteers to help assist the Foundation and their most ambitious project yet, the start of a new family camp on Lake Fairlee.
I’ll never forget arriving at Ohana for my first time. I was nine years old about to turn ten. There were only a handful of us volunteers along with a few staff and the directors at the time, Andy and Deb Williams. The morning was a classic Vermont day really foggy, damp, with just a bit of crisp coldness in the air. At first glance Ohana looked like an abandoned scrap yard from a movie. Twisted metal figures were all over the property, most of the cabins were heavily damaged from years of neglect, and the main house was sinking. We gathered together for the first morning meeting held at Cabin 22 and listened as the Williams’ pitched the dream to this naïve band of volunteers that this would eventually be the newest camp of The Aloha Foundation. At the time, nobody was really sure that this dream would come true. Being just a kid I thought this was the coolest place I’d ever been to. Right as the meeting was wrapping up the weather began to clear and the fog was lifting. We grabbed our tools and headed off to do the jobs that were assigned to us and then I saw it. I vividly remember the first time I witnessed the view from the top of the main house. I have never seen anything so detailed and beautiful before. Everything was so clear it was hard to look away. I knew from that moment on that this was a very special place.
As I started to grow older the thought about working at Ohana during the summer became a reality. When Andy and Deb announced that they were retiring, there was definitely an unsettling feeling. Here lied the newest camp that was slowly growing in popularity, but with no replacement in mind who would be brave enough to take on this challenge? Who would be able to fill their shoes and keep the dream growing? Vanessa Riegler. It’s hard for me to talk about Ohana without mentioning Vanessa in the conversation. Vanessa is more than just a director at a summer camp to me. She has been a mentor and friend. Each summer Vanessa builds a staff that is family, creates a place like no other, and welcomes you in.
I started officially working at Ohana the summer of 2013 while I was still attending college. I worked for 3 summers and continue to volunteer when I can. One of my favorite counselor memories was during my first summer. The job itself was like nothing I ever tried before, but I was determined to make the most of it and have an incredible summer in the process. At Ohana, staff needs to not only be engaging with the children during activities and programs, but also interact with the parents throughout the day as well. It was Tuesday night and we just finished our evening program. I was talking with a few parents when one of their children came running up to us. The child said, “Mommy, can my new best-friend come over and play at our house before bed tonight?” There was a short delay before the parents and I gave a genuine laugh together. “Of course she can, but you have to ask her parent’s first, okay?” Before long the two kids were off looking for the other’s parents. After the kids went running to play together, I stood there taking in what just happened. For eight weeks, new families arrive every Saturday. Many times families sign up with no knowledge of the Aloha Foundation or any summer camp experience at all. But the fact that Ohana hosts families from many parts of the country with no technology distractions parents and children can enjoy what life is really all about. Friends and company. It’s a place to experience new things, meet new people, get out of your box, or read a book under a shaded tree. It’s amazing if you think about it. This young child who may have never met this person is now their best-friend and is calling their cabin “home”. This interaction lasted less than a minute but as I walked back to my own cabin the moment stuck with me and I began to reflect. It was just the day before the two kids barely said a word to each other but fast-forward to now they are the best of friends. It’s amazing what this place can do.
What makes Ohana special to me? It’s the realization that no matter where life takes me or what path I may end up on, I know Ohana will always be with me. There is so much love and support built into this place that once you become part of it, you’re family. I have been so fortunate to become a part of the people’s lives for they are some of the friendliest, most genuine people the world has to offer. Though life keeps us busy, Ohana will always be my home away from home.”
Sasha – Ohana Culinary Intern
“As a student at the Culinary Institute of America we are greatly encouraged to find a ‘perfect externship’ to start our culinary experience with and I did just that. My experience as a baking intern at Ohana was extraordinary, I went in thinking that I would bake a little and learn a little but I didn’t realize that I would learn about myself in the process. I oversaw all things baking and pastry – this meant that I was responsible for having baked goods at breakfast and lunch and dessert at dinner. I had a chance to teach campers too, I ran a weekly program with another counselor teaching the basics of pasta and pesto making. It was delicious and messy.
Ohana was a wonderful experience for me as I could show my learner’s talent and gain insight from an experienced and talented chef. I had tough days too, like when the cookies burned, or I used all the butter and needed more, or when my experimental muffin didn’t taste so good (ok, they were bad) and had to be redone fast. I took away from Ohana so many new skills and experiences. I learned to take chances and follow my creativity. I learned that I could problem solve and think on my feet. I learned leadership skills and front of house hospitality. I learned the importance of patience, scooping 300 cookies is not a fast task, same with teaching 10 kids how to make pasta. I learned a great deal about organization in the kitchen, patience, and most importantly I gained a family. My experience was amazing, and I appreciate everything that happens behind the swinging doors of the kitchen!”
Lib and Claire – Ohana Wedding
“When my wife, Claire, and I really started to plan our wedding, we knew one thing only: we wanted to have it at a place that felt like home to us. We wanted the space to convey the spirit that we hoped people associate with us as a couple – comfort, joy and a little down-home charm. My Maid of Honor would later and perfectly describe the feeling in her beautiful toast as ‘hygge’ (it’s pronounced hyoo-guh) – a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, ordinary or extraordinary, as cozy, charming or special.
At first, we toured rustic barn-like spaces a few hours outside of New York City, but none of the spaces we saw were quite right – they were sandwiched in between highways (too loud), or smelled like cow poop (way too rustic) or worst of all, our guests, some of whom were travelling thousands of miles, would be immured in hotel rooms a 60 minute drive away for everything except the ceremony and reception. Where was the joy in that?
And then, Claire had an idea. What if we rented a summer camp for a long weekend? What’s more comfortable than a beer on an Adirondack chair? What’s more joyful than flannel shirts that smell like campfires? What’s more charming than the fresh mountain breeze? How to better spend time with our friends and family than to stay all in one place and willingly forgo cell service for three days!
We made our first trip up to Ohana on a weekend in February, which, in hindsight, was perhaps a mistake for two Southerners – I’m from Alabama and Claire is from Louisiana – in a car without four-wheel drive. It took some imagination, and a great deal of trust in Vanessa Riegler (our fearless leader) to see under the 10 inches of snow, but we felt right away that Ohana, which means ‘family,’ was comforting, joyful and charming – it was hygge.
Over the next 15 months, we planned a crawfish boil at the barn, we arranged a family vs. family kickball game and we even hired some horn players to lead the guests from the ceremony to the reception, second-line style. It all spoke to us, and it all fit in at Ohana. Vanessa and Peggy and Gretchen were lifesavers; they calmed us during table-arrangement-associated panic attacks and didn’t bat an eye when we mentioned that we’d be shipping 120 pounds of live crawfish to their kitchen.
Yes, we visited a few more times, including a memorable spring trip when Vanessa described ‘Mud Season’ to us (how do you people live there?), but when we arrived in late May 2017 for our wedding weekend, we had never seen Ohana in her full green glory. It was even better than we had imagined under all that snow. Even the air smelled like home. Whatever anxiety we may have had before rolling up to the camp melted away the moment we stepped into our cabin.
The weekend was perfect. Everything felt natural and relaxed – we never felt pressure to ‘make the rounds,’ and talk to as many people in as short a time as possible, because everyone was staying at the same place, eating around the same tables. Friendships formed and families joined. Guests helped themselves to beers from coolers we kept in the Library, snoozed in Adirondack chairs and made fires in stone fireplaces. My team whooped Claire’s in a trivia match and Claire’s team whooped mine in kickball. The kitchen staff didn’t (seem to) mind that we had to keep those very alive and very annoyed crawfish in their refrigerator overnight. Vanessa and Gretchen handled it all – from mint-flavored water to private golf cart rides to the lake for photos.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that our wedding day was beautiful – the sun was warm, the flowers were gorgeous and nobody fell into the lake as we were taking photos. We vowed and we kissed and we danced and we were married and that was that. But the best part about the weekend of all wasn’t the food (which was amazing) or the music (which was also amazing) or the wine (which was amazingly plentiful), it was having our family with us for a full three days. It was the ability to relax, to unplug and to really spend time with the people that had shaped us, as individuals and as a couple. It was the comfort and the joy and the down-home charm. It was the hygge of the whole affair.
It was Ohana that allowed us to have that.
Legally we may have entwined two families that weekend, but in our hearts we know there was a third family there – the Ohana family. We are so honored and blessed to be a part of your family.
And we’ll be seeing you all again on Memorial Day Weekend 2042, for our 25th anniversary party!”