By Nurit Kohl Special for Shalom New Haven
For more than 80 years, Camp Laurelwood has provided life-changing experiences for countless members of our community. During the 1970s, Laurelwood expanded some program areas including adding an Indoor/Outdoor multi-use building known as the “Chuppah.” Over the last 40 years, the Chuppah has been the site of many programs including weekly Shabbat Services, legendary basketball games, rainy day activities and of course the announcement of countless “Big O” (annual camp Olympics) winners. Over the past several years, the Chuppah roof has started to deteriorate causing it to leak in several locations leading to Laurelwood looking for ways (means) to replace it.
Enter Steven Pite, a Camp Laurelwood alum, who, this year, generously made a gift to replace the original Chuppah roof. “As a camper and then as a waiter, dishwasher and cook, I loved the sense of community at Camp Laurelwood. The camaraderie, the games, the new and returning friends, and the cherished memories have meant so much to me over the years. Since attending camp my family and I have remained very involved and active supporters. The ’Pite Family Club’ even dedicated a bunk in honor of our great grandparents years ago.”
Steven, who now lives in California and is a Senior Partner at the multi-state law firm Aldridge Pite, LLP, grew up in Milford, in a community with limited exposure to Jewish life outside of home. He did attend Hebrew school, but it “wasn’t too much fun.” At age 9, Steven began attending Laurelwood, where he found a Jewish community of friends and the opportunity to learn new things, to better himself, and to connect with different groups of people.
Steven says, “As you get older and you are fortunate enough to be able to help other people, you’re starting to think, well, who helped me?” For Pite, the answer is Camp Laurelwood. The nine summers he spent at camp - first as a young camper and eventually as a staff member - gave him “great pleasure” and helped him become the man he is today.
Pite gives full credit to his parents, Mickey and Nancy Pite, for making that pivotal decision, which has had such an impact on his life. “Parents should send their kids to camp to help expand their relationships, give kids the chance to be kids, help them meet new people, and get a little bit of the Jewish community in, if they don’t have that opportunity” says Pite. “Camp is a chance to grow, especially for kids who get labeled during the school year,” he said.
Pite’s sense of gratitude to his parents and his formative summers at Camp Laurelwood propelled him to want to give back. When Scott Cooper, a Camp Laurelwood board member and past president, approached him with a pressing need for camp, Steve did not hesitate to help. He recognized the importance of Jewish camping experience, and he and Cooper have been old camp buddies. “We went through camp together all these years, and we were waiters together. I was a power washer” said Pite, “and somehow, Scott got to do nothing and became a third cook,” Pite chuckled. “We’ve had a good time and a good stretch” he said with his eyes sparkling.
Pite made the Chuppah roof a gift in honor of his parents.
In the dedication service, Camp Director Ari Golub said, “Today, I’m proud and honored to welcome back the Pite family. Steve Pite, who spent nine years as a camper and a staff member, has been gracious enough to support our Laurelwood family. We are very honored to have Steve and his family here and appreciate their support for our mission to help campers expand their Jewish identity within a safe, fun, and friendly environment.”
Golub added, “We are very humbled and thankful to have friends like the Pites to continue to support this camp that has meant and continues to mean so much to so many people.”
When asked about why he continues to support camp, Pite said, “As you get older, you reflect on what is important and what was a positive force in your life. As a child, Camp Laurelwood was that positive force.” Because Laurelwood has remained in Steven and Lisa’s (Steven’s wife) hearts for so many years, the heart of Laurelwood will get a much-needed update!
If you are interested in getting involved with Camp Laurelwood, please contact Ari at firstname.lastname@example.org or (203) 421-3736.