To many residents of the La Cañada-Pasadena area, Tom Sawyer Camp is a summer institution, and with good reason: The camp was established in 1926 and celebrates its 85th anniversary this year.
“We have third-generation children attending, children whose parents and grandparents also attended the camp years ago. Not much has changed, we still have good old-fashioned fun — the only exception is that we now use seat belts and helmets, unlike decades ago,” said Executive Director Sarah Horner Fish.
Kristin Lockridge, assistant director of Tom Sawyer Precamp for 3- and 4-year-olds, says that she loves seeing the kids realize they can have fun and get dirty at camp.
The camp organizes children into play groups from preschool-aged children to those in elementary school and junior high. Campers swim every day, regularly ride horse trails bareback, make forts and partake in archery games. Some special activities include an elevated rope course, rock climbing in Chatsworth, windsurfing and kayaking in Bonelli Park.
Children benefit from attending summer camp, but camp counselors like Joanna “Jojo” Mariani, a third-grade teacher, said she reaps professional benefits from working at camp too.
“I find that 95% of my success as a teacher comes from my time spent at camp. Camp gives me great insight into the minds of children and how to better communicate with them. And I also acquire skills by socializing with other adults at camp, too. I really describe myself as a camp counselor first, and a teacher second,” Mariani said.
One of the aspects that makes Tom Sawyer Camp unique among other summer camps involves the many stories that counselors tell kids, stories children ask to hear year after year, said Lockridge.
Camp counselors have told children about Ivan, the friendly giant, who lives above the Hahamongna watershed dam and who operates the red fire department helicopter that frequently surveys the watershed area. Counselors encourage children to respect nature and park grounds by telling them they can feed Garbog, a creature that lives in trash cans, their trash.
Because of its popularity and the expanding lists of children waiting to attend the summer camp, the organization opened a second location in Arcadia in 1997, allowing another 100 children access to the camp’s services. The original Tom Sawyer Camp site is located in the Hahamongna Watershed Park, where counselors oversee activities for 375 to 400 children.
Tom Sawyer Camp is accredited by the American Camp Association, meeting standards on staff- to-child ratio, extensive staff training and background checks, safety at the camps, and more, said Horner Fish.