By Barrett Seaman –
Isabel “Izzie” Simon will be going back. So will one of her former teachers at Sleepy Hollow, Joe Gentile. Both are veterans of the Shames JCC on Hudson summer camps. They will be among dozens who share the experiences of being both campers and counselors at the JCC. They will be returning there for a March 25th reunion—the first held in the 90-year history of the camps—that will also serve as a get-together for current campers, counselors and their families.
Gentile, now 30 and a social studies teacher in Ossining, once taught Simon history at Sleepy Hollow Middle School. Simon, now a high school junior, is thinking about her college applications next year, but in the meantime, she plans to return at least one more year as a JCC counselor this summer. One of her favorite camp memories was playing dodge ball, in which she confesses she got hurt “a bunch of times.”
Marisa Barbera turns 23 this winter and is a teacher and graduate student at SUNY New Paltz, but she too will be returning to the JCC in March. She started out at age five or six in the Country Day camp (later re-named Little Friends and now called River Friends) and moved on to become a Counselor in Training, then a senior counselor at Twelve Trails, the camp for kids up to 7th grade. One of her fondest memories was a three-day sleepover trip to Lake George.
The Lake George trip also sticks in Arianna Friedman’s memories as well. As a counselor at both Twelve Trials and River Friends, after a full tour of the programs as a camper, she recalled, “The environment was always friendly and loving.” She’s now a junior at SUNY Oneonta, majoring in fashion merchandizing but will do one more stint as a counselor before entering “the real world.”
For many of these returning veterans, JCC camps have defined their summers for most of their lives and in some cases influenced their career choices. Marisa first sought out a job as a counselor “to become just as cool as my older friends.” But she stayed on because of the satisfaction she got from working with younger children. “That’s when I decided to become a teacher,” she says. She studied Early Childhood Education as an undergraduate at New Paltz and is now in the midst of a two-and-a-half year Masters program while she teaches full-time in a private Montessori school. Though she works from 8:45 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. every weekday in addition to her course load, she said, “It never feels like work.”
Gentile said he was “kind of born into” the JCC, as his mother worked there in the 1990s. He went from nursery school to camper, to C.I.T (Counselor in Training), to counselor, to co-director of a team at the Twelve Trails camp. This summer, he will return again as head counselor at River Friends, working with three-to-six-year-olds.
Over the years, the JCC has touched the lives of thousands in the rivertowns and beyond. Gentile laughed as he recalled his sister’s wedding reception, where the emcee asked for all those who had ever been a JCC camper to come to the dance floor for a photo. “There must have been thirty or thirty-five that came out,” Gentile said.
The reunion is scheduled for Sunday, March 25, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. with open swimming and access to the gymnasium. Parents are invited as well.