Volunteer Spotlight: Interview with Rachel Bortin
Rachel Bortin has been coming to Kingswood with her family since she can remember. The everyday activities of cooking, hanging out at the lake, walking in nature and connecting with friends and family, has sparked a lifelong interest in camping and in environmental stewardship. Growing up at Kingswood influenced Rachel’s decision to get an MA in Environmental and Outdoor Education, and she now works as Summer Camp Director at Primitive Pursuits in Ithaca, NY. There, she oversees summer programming.
After coming to camp with her family for several years, Rachel fell in love with Kingswood as a 10-year-old Woodsmoke Camper. There, she learned the art of camp craft and collaborated on sustainable work projects. She didn’t think of the experience as ‘rustic’ or as ‘work,’ rather enjoyed the opportunity to engage with her peers and building community. In high school, Rachel worked with the crew that designed and created the playground. She is grateful to Project Manager Mike Weinlein, whose building skills are matched by his big heart and ability to mentor children and teens. At the end of the day, Rachel remembers feeling tired and proud, enjoying the experience of bonding with others by accomplishing something big together.
Rachel first volunteered at Kingswood with her family when she was 12 or 13, participating in Set Up Weekend. A highlight was putting up the signs for the trails, campsites and amenities. She had never seen Kingswood ‘bare’ before and relished the feeling of welcoming in the summer season. A big perk was driving the golf cart, a coming-of-age ritual for many Kingswood kids! Rachel remembers getting stuck when they defied the rules and tried off-roading with the cart.
In 9th grade Rachel was asked to complete a project: interview folks about a meaningful experience. She chose Kingswood regular Dustan Winship, then age 9, along with a couple of adult volunteers. Presenting her essay in class, Rachel felt that her school life and ‘real life’ had been connected.
Rachel became Kingswood’s youngest Program Director in 2019 and thoroughly enjoyed learning about how much goes on ‘behind the scenes,’ observing that “what seems simple to outsiders is built from a lot of work and thought.” She enjoyed staying in the Manger’s cabin, observing both the natural environment and Kingswood’s people grow and change over the summer season. Being Program Manager at Kingswood prepared Rachel for her next steps, enrolling in the Environment Education Masters Program at SUNY Cortland, which led to her current position with Primitive Pursuits in Ithaca.
Rachel remains involved with her Kingswood family. While the Woodsmoke program was phased out before Covid, Rachel is now spearheading young people’s retreats at Kingswood, reaching out to a new generation of kids and families. The goal of this program is to help teens connect to the natural world and to each other. A Summer 2022 retreat is being planned now with youth activities that focus on skills: outdoor cooking, naturalist knowledge, leadership, and confidence.
Rachel is excited to share and expand all that Kingswood has to offer.
As a young adult, Rachel is still in touch with Kingswood friends of all generations. As she explains, “when you see people at Kingswood, even if you have not spoken to them in years, you reconnect as if no time has passed.”