By Carl Schoenberger '66-'67
Last year, on the 50th anniversary of my first summer, 1966, I helped organize a 50th Reunion, and this coming summer, I am again helping put together a 50th for the campers and staff of 1967. What are some of the motivations which might lead someone to undertake this task? And what are some of the challenges and rewards one might discover along the way? After all, organizing a reunion of any type involves a fair amount of time and effort. There should be some expectation that an organizer will find satisfaction in the task him- or herself, in addition to any possible benefits to the institution involved.
The 2017 Camp reunion this summer will fall between the two sessions, allowing alumni to relive their memories as if they were going back to Camp again. If you choose, you can even sleep on tent hill and have your meals in the dining hall. This new model is much more like the World Reunions which take place every 4-5 years in different locations around the world. I have attended a number of these since 2000, and they have all been outstanding. In addition to getting to see a city and country which many attendees have never visited, the World Reunions offer a chance to meet alumni from all age groups and all parts of the world. It's almost like going to CRS all over again as the range of viewpoints and backgrounds is truly staggering.
Organizing a CRS Reunion involves a number of steps. The biggest challenge for us is finding all of the alumni from a given year. Those of us for whom CRS was a critical experience in our young lives tend to maintain a close connection not only to some fellow alums but also to the institution itself. We update our contact information, we participate in the CRS Forum, Facebook group, email lists, as well as things such as camper selection and Foundation Committees. But there is a significant fraction of alums who drift away after Camp. Putting together a reunion requires a big effort to try to locate all of these lost sheep.
I have started with the contact information within the LAJF database, which provides email or snail mail addresses, as well as phone numbers, for many alums. Many of these turn out to be incorrect, as they have not been updated. But sometimes an old address or phone number can strike paydirt as a long lost alum voices their excitement at hearing a voice or reading a note from a long lost campmate. For those whose contact information is not correct, the digital age provides a number of other options. Web searches can often locate someone through their professional life or organization. Searches can reveal publications, web postings, listings on such platforms as Linked-In, etc. Searches can also sometimes provide home or business addresses and phone numbers. Sometimes, obituaries turn up.
Some of the phone calls and emails are brimming with enthusiasm. I know from my time working on the LAJF Board and in various Board Committees that nearly every year, there are a few alums who have been out of touch for years, and become highly engaged with the Foundation, donating time and money with great personal generosity. They want to hear what is happening at Camp, how we are facing our current challenges and difficulties; what we plan for the future; and how they can help bring it to fruition. There are some who are polite, who are happy to hear from me, but who are nevertheless too heavily engaged with other priorities and other commitments. That is certainly understandable. There are also a few who have fallen completely out of touch and are unreachable.
Institutions such as CRS, just like most schools, can only survive in today's environment by doing substantial fund raising. Fundraising requires alumni engagement, and reunions are one of the most effective means of engaging alumni. Working on a reunion for one's own camp year provides one of the easier ways to help engage alumni who have been out of touch for some time. Most people are happy to hear from one of their old friends, even someone with whom they may not have been close at Camp. Calling about a reunion can be less stressful that simply calling to solicit a donation, since the conversation revolves more around shared memories and mutual acquaintances. Once they begin to hear about current events at Camp and the importance of future viability, the stage is set for converting that distanced alumnus into a potential donor. I have had great fun attending reunions and working on them myself. I would strongly encourage others to consider trying their hand at this highly worthwhile task.