At This Camp, Spontaneity Has Become A Primary Goal

Posted: July 04, 1999

The stately grounds of Haverford College, with its manicured lawns, Victorian faculty houses and bucolic duck pond, were permeated with fun last week as children kicked soccer balls across the cricket field; whooped and splashed in the faculty pool; and enjoyed some down time cutting and pasting during arts and crafts in the old stone fieldhouse.

Camp Serendipity will be in session for the next six weeks, and local children as well as some from Philadelphia and New Jersey will make new friends and learn about other cultures in this diversified camp, whose name comes from its decided lack of structure.

``Anything can happen any day and that's pretty much the way we like it,'' said Marilou Allen, director of the college's Eighth Dimension Program, which serves the college and community, and head of the Women's Center at the school.

This year the camp, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., has about 200 children under the care of 20 paid counselors, students from Haverford and other area colleges.

Director Matt Benedict and assistant director Alex Wood, both of whom graduated from Haverford this year, plan a daily schedule for the children ages 6 to 13, but if someone comes up with a better idea, the schedule is tossed out.

But what makes the camp unique, besides its laissez-faire attitude and cultural diversity, is that no child is refused admission. The fee is $80 a week, but a sliding scale is used to accommodate a family's needs.

``Now, that doesn't mean just anyone can walk in here,'' Allen said.

``If a family shows a real interest and desire in the camp, we'll make it work for the child. They pay something because it's a matter of self-worth and sets an example for the kids that the world won't give you everything.``

Allen runs the camp with a strong hand and a big, soft heart.

With a roaring laugh, she said she ``doesn't let those little kids near her'' yet also admits that this camp is very dear to her.

Camp Serendipity dates back to 1964 when Allen's brother, Severn Moses, an Ardmore resident, approached the school hoping to wanted to find some place for neighborhood children to go during the long summer days.

Faculty members including the late Paul Desjardins, history professor Roger Lane, and then-president Hugh Borton helped get the camp underway.

``It developed so quickly that people weren't certain how it started,'' Allen said. ``Thus, the name `serendipity.'''

Some grant money came in and the camp began to thrive. By 1973, however, after many of the early supporters either retired or moved on to other things, the camp closed.

But in 1984, under Allen's direction the camp began again with 20 children.

Today, it gets financial support from Rotary clubs, St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Ardmore and from proceeds from concerts by the Main Line Interdenominational Choir.

All of Allen's six children attended the camp and Heather Allen, 15, one of her eight grandchildren, is a counselor.

``There's something about seeing all these kids, all sizes and shapes and colors, just having a good time together,'' Allen said, while taking a cigarette break outside the cricket lodge, headquarters for the camp.

One of these kids is Issan Robinson, a charming 10-year-old from Philadelphia who lives with a family in Bryn Mawr during the summer.

Walking along the path to the pool Tuesday morning with his towel draped around his neck, he smiled when he said his favorite activities were lunch, baking cookies and football.

At the pool boys and girls were jumping in, splashing each other and doing other in-the-pool stuff, like attempting to toss in a counselor.

Lauren Grieco and Maya Orchin, both 11 and both from Wynnewood, are camp pals.

They stood together shivering and dripping at the side of the pool as they spoke in unison:

``The best things are field trips,'' they agreed.

``Especially walking to Baskin Robbins,'' Grieco said.

``And the pool,'' Orchin said, chattering through bluish lips.

Back in the cricket lodge, Benedict and Wood poured bags of ice cubes into the big cooler in preparation for lunch.

Across the field, a sweaty band of kids ran after a soccer ball. When the counselor called ``time,'' they plopped down, exhausted, in the protection of a grove of trees just outside the president's house.

``Is it lunchtime yet?'' one of them called.

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