Summer camp owner is living a childhood dream
Kerry and Jake Labovitz with their children, Tyler, 3, and Ellie, 4, at Windsor Mountain International Summer Camp. “They absolutely love camp life,” Kerry said of the children. “They have about 200 big brothers and sisters.” (SCOTT MARTIN)
When Jake Labovitz was a kid hanging out in the woods at summer camp in Merrimack, he and his best friend talked about how, when they grew up, they were going to buy a camp of their own.
“Camping was my first professional dream when I was 12 years old,” Labovitz said. “Camp is just a really powerful experience for kids. It certainly was for me. The friendships that you make become really strong. The self-confidence you develop, the sense of independence, the sense that there are things you can do at camp that you can't do anywhere else in the world ... And it's sort of an escape — for me and for a lot of kids — from their daily existence. But it was really just a powerful experience for me.”
Labovitz grew up to become a litigation attorney in Boston. Not only that — he also married a litigation attorney. But their careers didn't last.
“Basically, I was fighting people for a living,” Labovitz said. “I guess ultimately I didn't feel like I was doing very much good in the world as a litigation attorney. I mean, I was helping people on an individual basis, but oftentimes it just felt like I was battling people. I felt like I wanted to do something more meaningful with my daily existence.”
That's when he heard the voice of his 12-year-old self, hearkening back to those earlier summers. And the lure of nature, of summertime laughter, of helping kids come into their own — all became too powerful to ignore.
So, three years ago, Jake and Kerry Labovitz left the litigation world behind, bought Interlocken International Summer Camp and turned it into Windsor Mountain International Summer Camp. The Windsor-based camp is based on the ideas of nurturing the creative spirit, developing self-understanding and independence, fostering lifelong friendships and trying new things with a diverse group of kids from all over the world.
The Labovitzes do this through non-competitive camp programming that uses experiential learning to foster the personal growth and development of each camper.
“I think a lot of people in professions like law have a dream of escaping to do something more fulfilling,” said Kerry Labovitz. “And I think it was easy for us to take that leap and chase that dream because it was a concrete dream for Jake, and it was something very easy for me to get behind.”
Although she didn't quite have the same intense, residual feelings from her camping days in the Midwest, Kerry Labovitz said, her husband helped her see his vision. And, she said, he made it easy for her to fall in love with the idea of what camp could mean for them and their family.
“It was a little bit scary to take that leap,” she said. “But, at the same time, we felt strongly that it was the right decision for us and our family.”
But it wasn't something they could jump into right away since, Jake Labovitz pointed out, it takes a few years to actually buy a camp. Most summer camps are not advertised when they go up for sale, so purchasing one becomes a matter of making connections in the camping world and being in the right place at the right time.
In the Labovitzes' case, it took four or five years to settle on Windsor.
The Windsor Mountain site had been in existence for 50 years before they got there, Jake Labovitz said.
“What we wanted to do was become part of a place that was more than just about activities and more than just a place about swimming and volleyball or softball,” he said. “It was more about wanting to do something good with kids and having a real impact on them. And so we fell in love with the philosophy and values that had been in place at the camp for half a century.”
Among those values, Labovitz said, are respect and responsibility and a belief in the value of taking safe, appropriate risks to get campers out of their comfort zones. And, as much as possible, the Labovitzes try to get the kids to be a part of creating their own experiences at the camp. To that end, campers have a free-choice program in which every three days they choose activities from more than 100 options.
The only required activity is swim instruction. Forbidden activity: anything involving electronics.
“We are the last bastion on earth where these kids are not in front of a screen,” he said. “And it is amazing. The first couple of days, the kids are, like, twitching because they are so used to being in front of a screen and a phone. And then, after awhile, they settle into this zone where they are looking at the beautiful lake and the mountains around us and the trees and are looking at actual frogs, not virtual frogs. And they are making real friends and real connections.”
Those connections extend to the Labovitz kids, Ellie, 4, and Tyler, 3.
“They absolutely love camp life,” Kerry said of her children. “They have about 200 big brothers and sisters. They spend their days splashing in the lake, playing on tire swings, visiting the animals on the farm and running around camp.”
The Labovitzes divide their time between residences, spending half the year at Windsor Mountain and the other half in Sudbury, Mass. And while the change in careers has resulted in a net loss of income, it's also meant an improved quality of life.
“It has been a major lifestyle change for the better,” Kerry said in an email. “We wake up every day in this incredibly beautiful place and feel so blessed to spend our days helping to create magical experiences for children. When we decided to pursue this dream, we knew that it would be a financial adjustment, but we made the commitment to do something with our lives that would be more fulfilling and rewarding for us and our family, and we could not be happier with the decision.”
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