Rick Richter's Letter to Alumni/ae

Rick Richter (1).jpg

To all alumni/ae of Camp Rising Sun:

Soon after returning to his home in another country after attending CRS, a camper from a recent summer wrote to me. "Camp started me a new lifestyle, I have new and different worldviews, new knowledges, new ideas and new friends. They made a deep impression on me. On the first day everybody was extremely nice and lovely no matter what my religion, my nationality was, no matter how I looked like. And that didn't change. Unfortunately in my class [at school] there is a huge amount of judgment, you can be a member of the clique if you have expensive phones, bags, clothes... And [after returning home] I lost a few friends. Now I'm inspired to talk to these old friends and tell them my opinion... Camp gave me this sense of straightforwardness and I am extremely grateful for everyone there. Camp made me brave enough to stand by my opinion, people at Camp changed me "

There have been disputes about whether one month is long enough for Camp to produce desired results. For this camper, at least, one month was enough to have the effect that he described. I feel that a month is generally long enough, especially  because modern communication technologies make it possible for young alumni/ae to remain in contact with their campmates and thus continue to have camp-like experiences after they have returned to their geographically separated homes, in ways that would have been inconceivable to campers of long ago. As this camper wrote, "We...have distances between us but we are all there for each other." No camper could have been expected to say anything like this after returning home in 1950 (my first CRS summer), in a world that still had to wait several decades for efficient communication via the internet, and a world in which it took a week for a camper to get from Finland to New York and a week to get home again to Finland.  

In the July 1947 issue of The Sundial, an alumni publication, George E. ("Freddie") Jonas who founded CRS wrote that "we do not think of a boy as a camper, but rather as a potential alumnus. The possibilities in the CRS Alumni Association are far greater than those in CRS."  But with communication technologies being what they were then, it took a long time for alumni connections to develop effectively. In Camp's early years, even with all alumni living in New York, communication among them was unavoidably inefficient by today's standards. Alumni would often be notified about forthcoming events through phone chains, with alumnus A phoning alumnus B who would phone C, etc. And when campers began to come from other countries, post-camp connections were extremely limited.

For several decades all members of the Board of Directors and of various Board committees had to live in New York or be prepared to travel there for meetings since there was no way for a member to participate by phoning in from a distance. The first international Board member was Dirk Dolman of The Netherlands, a 1951 camper who became President of the Netherlands Parliament. While on the Board, from about 1993 until 1998, he came to New York every year to attend the annual Board meeting. But very few alumni living far from New York were prepared to do this, and the Board consisted mostly of New Yorkers. And the Board did not communicate with alumni very much since a letter from the Board to alumni would have required delivery by postal mail. I can remember a time when such a letter would have to be reproduced in thousands of copies, with thousands of envelopes to be addressed, and with office personnel spending hours stapling pages together, folding letters into envelopes, and carrying everything to the Post Office, where postage had to be paid, in especially large amounts for international mail.

Then something important began to happen, on a very small scale at first. The 1993 Alumni Directory, a bound volume, listed about 3300 alumni/ae (including staff) and 83 of these reported something totally new, ---  email addresses! Most of these, 53 out of 83, were college or university addresses with ".edu" suffixes.  As email use spread in the 1990s, alumni/ae began to establish yahoo-groups and then google-groups, permitting an alumnus to send a message to many campmates simultaneously. But when an alumnus' email address changed, he or she would thereby automatically become separated from his/her Yahoo Group or Google Group, and ".edu" email addresses were usually canceled when an alumnus left an educational institution. Today alumni/ae remain in contact with their campmates through Facebook and in other new ways which keep evolving.   

And Freddie would have been amazed and delighted if he could have seen what happened on November 15, 2016, which was this year's "Wear Your CRS T-Shirt Day," an event that has become possible only with very new communication technology and that campers of earlier generations thus never experienced.  On that day, by pre-arrangement, alumni/ae all over the world (mostly but not exclusively young alumni/ae) took photos of themselves wearing their Camp T-shirts, and posted them online. The next morning I turned on my computer and found photos of alumni/ae sent from Denmark, Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Britain, Spain, Hungary, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus, from Egypt, Turkey, Israel and Azerbaijan, from South Africa, from Japan, from Colombia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, from New York, Virginia, Minnesota, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, California, South Carolina and Maryland. The camper from Azerbaijan sent a message with her photo, saying that she hoped this would be the last year that she would be the only camper from her country. A camper from Utah sent, with his photo, a message saying that "it was worth it to share my love for a program that gave me tools to help me fulfill my role as a leader in this world."

 As always, I would be pleased to hear from all of you. And if you have not yet seen the 2016 version of the history of Camp that I wrote, send an email to me at mauricerichter@gmail.com and ask for it.

Rick (Maurice Richter)