Camp Chrysalis is a Berkeley-based camp for kids 8 to 15 years of age. In its 30 year time frame, it has helped teach kids about their native surroundings and built many young friendships based on kindness and respect. Camp Chrysalis is offering a special camp this winter season for kids interested in skiing and snowboarding. The camp will run from December 28 – January 4 and is open to kids 12-18 years of age. Click here for more details.
We asked founder Lee Tempkin a few questions about Camp Chrysalis.
Lee Tempkin: I’ve been teaching for 40 years primarily as a 5-7 grade teacher and was a middle school director for 8 of those years. I’ve been leading outdoor education trips with kids for over 35 years and started Camp Chrysalis 30 years ago with my deceased partner, Michael Rossman. A former director at our independent school asked me to start a summer program and Michael was the science naturalist at our school. We were very excited about joining forces and creating a camp for the students from our schools in an outdoor and overnight setting. It was a natural fit, and we began camp with two sessions at two different natural environments. Within a few years, we had decided to focus on the three rich environments that we go to today. Over the years, our camp has grown but still holds on to its roots in appreciating the wonderful natural environments of the redwoods, the coastal tidepools and sand dunes, and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Fifteen years ago we started a backpacking session that changes location every year to continue to deepen the camping skills and connections with campers that begin in the core sessions. Often campers start with Big Sur, move on to Mendocino and then to Sierras before going backpacking with us in the backpacking session.
LT: Besides developing an appreciation and knowledge of the natural environments, we work very hard with campers to develop a feeling of community and personal responsibility to themselves, to each other, and to the environment as future stewards of the earth. LNT (leave no trace) principles are balanced with learning to use the plants and other natural resources of each of these environments. We strive to develop a balance between these two perspectives. Campers are broken into four small groups of about 8 campers and a staff mentor and meet daily to deepen their connections. They also do projects and activities together each day often with another group. They help with daily tasks including cooking dinner, building the camp fire, etc.
The other experience that we want to give young people is the feeling of working with real tools to create real objects of personal value. They are involved with cooking and learn the basics of helping prepare meals for the group, and they also learn how to use many craft and woodworking tools like saws, drills, files and other real tools to create jewelry and other personal items for themselves or their family. They learn to use flint and steel, make leather bags, create their own journals filling pages with water colors, poems and natural observations. They’re kept really busy within our camp structure that also gives them time to relax and hang out with each other.
LT: Parents often mention how much their children have grown up after a week at camp and how they take more responsibility for themselves. They’re also very impressed with the stories about and knowledge of the environments that we camp in. When campers bring their parents to these sites, they have a huge amount to share with their families. Parents also love the songs that the campers bring back. We have a songbook of folk songs and some modern additions that campers take home with them every session.
LT: It’s been a pleasure to have influenced so many young people over the past thirty years and several have written their college essays about the importance of camp in their lives. Over the years, we’ve kept the camp small to keep its intimacy and feelings of community strong in camp between campers and the staff as mentors of young people. We take our responsibilities as mentors of young people very seriously and have many returnees who come back year after year, so we see them grow and mature into young adults in the ten years that many stay with us. In addition, many continue as staff over the years and then influence the next generation of campers. It’s a fabulous cycle that keeps the camp culture stable yet dynamic. Some parents say that we’re a well kept Berkeley secret. We have some enthusiastic parent comments on Yelp.