Parent/Guardian FAQ

Camp Counselor and smiling camper teen at Camp Starfish
Smiling Camp Counselor and 2 camper girls at Camp Starfish
Camp Counselor and smiling camper teen at Camp Starfish

Camp Starfish’s core programs provide a 1 “to” 1 (also known as 1:1) direct care staff-to-camper ratio. This means that at the meal table, there are four campers and four staff members. If there are five campers living in a bunk, five staff also live in the bunk. If six campers are playing a game of soccer, six staff are playing soccer with them!

One “on” one is different. Starfish is not 1 on 1. One-on-one means that a specific child is assigned a specific adult for the duration of their experience. Examples of 1 on 1 in a school setting include a para-professional or individual aide assigned to one particular child for the entire day. This is not the model utilized at Starfish.

The staff at camp work as a team to take care of everyone. Campers often grow to prefer one counselor over another for any number of reasons, as is the case regardless of the ratio at any camp. But, unlike if they were paired 1-on-1, a camper is never “stuck” spending a majority of their experience with one adult. Starfish’s 1-to-1 instead allows camper and staff relationships to form more organically and allows campers to practice their social skills with many different individuals.

Please note that although Starfish is 1:1, campers are never alone with just one staff member.

In general, we have found that one session of camp can be of great benefit to campers, while spending the entire summer at camp can have the unintended effect of negating some of the wonderful work that campers do in the early weeks of their attendance; this is naturally due to the highly-structured nature of our 24/7 group-living environment that can become tiring and repetitive after multiple weeks of camp attendance. We consider each request for multiple session attendance on an individual basis, considering a camper’s needs, any history of previous attendance at camps (including Starfish), the needs and requests of the family/parent/guardian/agency, and balancing those needs with that of the camp community. We reserve the right not to enroll campers for more sessions than, in our professional opinion and after considering all of the above factors, we feel is appropriate.

For campers who do attend multiple sessions, we require the signing (by parents/guardians) of a Multi-Session Agreement. This helps ensure that we are all on the same page about expectations and responsibilities for multi-session attendance.

Camp Starfish welcomes campers from all across the United States and even other countries! We do require that a parent/guardian or adult responsible for your camper be accessible within a 3-4 hour distance of Starfish during the camp session. Some parents designate a friend or relative in the area as the emergency contact, while others choose to vacation nearby while their camper attends Starfish. We can help you with arrangements should you choose to stay nearby and enjoy the Monadnock region of New Hampshire during the time your camper attends Starfish.

We hire our summer staff with care and intense consideration. Starfish seeks only the most qualified staff, individuals who are committed to working with children and youth. Many are in college or graduate programs, studying areas such as education, social work, and psychology. Others are teachers who return every summer to camp. All of our staff have a desire and ability to work with children who have extra needs.

Camp Starfish holds personal interviews, runs national criminal and offender checks, and requires multiple written and phone verified references for each staff member. All staff members go through a minimum of fourteen days of training before camp begins to equip them with the skills needed to care for children. This includes training in behavior management, schedules & planning, teamwork, leadership, CPR & First Aid, communication, and specific camp procedures.

It is very important to us that we meet your child’s dietary needs while they are at camp. If your child has allergies or dietary restrictions, please make sure to include them on your camper health form and talk with us prior to camp. Some things, like vegetarian options, we routinely provide so long as we know ahead of time. For other things, like gluten-free options, we have most items but we may ask you to provide others to supplement the menu (especially if your camper, as many are, is sensitive to textures or likes only specific brands of gluten-free items). Camp Starfish provides sugar-free beverage options at all meals and offers a salad bar at both lunch and dinner. Guidance around portion sizes is offered. Our kitchen is not kosher and therefore cannot accommodate kosher meals.

The fee structure for our camp is determined by the costs associated with providing a high-quality programming experience. We pride ourselves on maintaining a one-to-one ratio and employing highly trained and experienced staff. For example, our supervisory staff arrive at camp four weeks prior to the arrival of campers for extensive training. These factors, along with our all-inclusive approach that covers supervision, supplies, meals, transportation, and special events, contribute to our tuition being higher than that of some other camps. There are no hidden costs outside of the tuition cost.

Camp Starfish not only provides a fun and enjoyable experience for children but also offers a therapeutic environment with a focus on social and coping skills programming. To offer this level of service to children who have not been successful in other settings, our costs may be slightly higher than those of an average “summer camp” experience.

We encourage you to compare the costs of our camp against other similar programs. However, it is important to note that there are only a limited number of programs nationally that offer a 1:1 ratio and the level of support for our particular camper population. Upon comparison, you may find that our fees are highly competitive to similar services and programs.

Ultimately, the decision to enroll your child in our program should be based on the value of a proven program, high success rates, and a supportive community. As a non-profit organization, the tuition we collect is solely used to ensure that we can continue to provide outstanding services to campers and their families.

Starfish has always considered agency and community organization support vital to the funding process for camp. Our staff will work directly with you, and your agency workers at these organizations, to help you secure tuition funds on a case-by-case basis. Simply complete the Agency Support Form, located on the application page or in your CampMinder account, and return to our Year-Round Office.

Starfish will provide you with invoices, copies of documentation, and anything else you need to ensure that the agency has a complete file for your financial request. In many cases, Starfish and the agency are able to communicate directly about this without involving you. However, the responsibility for following up with the agency and ensuring that your child’s tuition is paid in a timely manner ultimately lies with you.

Oftentimes the dates of tuition due for the camp session and the agency’s fiscal year do not match, and that’s okay. In other cases, agencies will not be able to make a full payment until your camper has finished their session. Starfish is happy to be flexible in these situations and wait for payment, so long as your camper’s agency worker can forward, on agency letterhead, a promissory note, signed by a supervisor with fiscal responsibility at the agency. This will allow us to advance payment dates further into the summer.

Please note that all campers must have a specific and agreed-upon payment plan in their file prior to the first day of camp. There are no exceptions – either full payment must be made, or an Agreement with an agency signature must be on file. Otherwise, Starfish will expect you to make the remainder of the payment and then be reimbursed directly by your agency or, if the agency will only send a check to Starfish, we will reimburse you directly upon receiving the payment in the fall.

Starfish fundraises tirelessly in order to be able to provide financial aid to reduce the cost of camp when the full tuition is out of reach. It is our goal to work compassionately and openly with each family to determine ability to pay and to provide assistance with securing camp funding. Financial Aid is determined based on family size, income, and other pertinent factors. Special considerations will be taken into account to the best of our ability. Supporting documentation is required in order for a request of Financial Aid to be processed.

You can find the Financial Aid application on the application page and on your CampMinder account. Also, please note that Financial Aid from Starfish can be combined with other sources of funding (such as agencies, grants, etc.) and in those situations, Starfish Aid is the last step of the process.

It is our expectation that families who are able to pay the full tuition amount, without financial aid, will do so. Please do not apply for financial aid unless the full cost of camp is a true hardship.

You may not receive a financial aid determination prior to learning your camper has been accepted to camp, but you will know about Starfish financial aid before you confirm registration. We accept campers into Starfish based on their need for the special programming we offer, not based on financial merits. For that reason, our enrollment department will first accept your camper into the program, then discuss aid packages and financial arrangements. In this way, we provide financially needs-blind admissions. Once you have all the information available to you, including a financial aid package to consider, you will be asked to confirm your child’s registration.

Just like with any camp, it’s important that you, your camper, and the camp all feel that the potential to be a good match. A camp for teenage boys will not accept a 10 year old girl. A camp designed to provide accessible camp for children with physical special needs may not accept a child who does not need their services. While we serve a very diverse group of youth, Starfish, too, has guidelines for our camper population. That being said, we work individually with each applicant, so if you have any questions about whether Starfish is a good fit for your camper, please definitely get in touch with us!

In general, successful camper applicants are:

  • Self-feeding at an age-appropriate level (staff help with portion control, table manners, etc.)
  • Capable of toileting and cleaning themselves after doing so (staff will verbally prompt but not hand-over-hand help)
  • Free of restrictive medical conditions like feeding tubes, colostomy bags, IV medications (our health center nurses are great, but care is basic, with no doctor on site)
  • Age-appropriate with daily living skills (with verbal prompting). Examples include independently putting on a bathing suit, remaining clothed in company of others, following the steps of taking a shower with only verbal prompts from staff
  • Willing to attend – or commit to trying – camp (we will not “force” campers to attend, but we will encourage them)
  • Flexible to exploring group living (living in a cabin with others, verbally communicating during activities and bunk meetings, participating in give-and-take conversations with prompting; help with bunk/village “cleanup” chores)
  • Physically able to traverse camp, including hills, stairs, bunk beds, traveling between activities

Typically, youth are not appropriate for attendance at Starfish are those who:

  • Are currently in the juvenile justice system (Starfish is not a “boot camp” or “behavior modification program”)
  • Exhibit a frequent pattern of violent acts or routinely aggressive behavior
    set fires or those who have been firesetters and have not completed a remediation program
  • Are within 4-6 weeks prior to attendance, residing in CBAT, hospitalization, inpatient therapeutic programming, residential school, or any level of care which utilizes daily clinical/therapeutic supervision
  • Require routine, hands-on toileting assistance (bedwetting is fine)
  • Routinely and actively self-injure (opportunistic cutting, bleeding) as a means of emotional coping
  • Have active disordered eating which includes severely restricted intake (this is not “picky eaters,” of which we have plenty), binging/purging, or requiring locked storage of food
  • Intentionally harm animals
  • Self-stimulate or self-soothe in public (inappropriate self touching)
  • Youth with opportunistic sexualized behaviors (predatory interactions with others)

Our camp was built in the 1940s, and we acquired it in 2008. Since then we have made many upgrades to the accessibility, but it is a long-term work-in-progress. So, while we welcome applications of all abilities, if a camper has mobility restrictions, we highly recommend that you please call and speak with us prior to submitting an application.

At Starfish, each individual is valued and celebrated. We do not tolerate disrespect of any individual, their choices, or their personal paths. As with many organizations and the wider world around us, Starfish is evolving over time and strives always, in all that we do, to be open and accepting of all. To that end, we share the following tenets of our Gender Statement:

Starfish understands that in today’s ever-changing world, some participants in our program may not feel described fully by the binary depiction of gender as male or female.

Every individual deserves to be treated with dignity, acceptance and welcoming into our camp community.

We acknowledge that sex and gender identity exist along a spectrum, and our residential program and facility are fairly binary. With new development, we strive to make adjustments that minimize this reality, and where that is not possible, we will be open about any limitations.

Activities by gender identity: we do not split up into gender/gender identifying groups for activities. Almost everything at camp, with the exception of housing and washrooms, encompasses all.

Bathrooms: there are a few single-person bathrooms on site that can be designated gender-neutral. Each housing location has a bathroom and shower area designated for those residents.

Housing: On Main Camp, campers sleep, change clothes, and live in cabins of 4-6 other youth and 4-6 staff. Cabins are, in general, designated between female-identifying and male-identifying campers.

Our “Fish” Village hosts male-identifying and non-binary campers and staff of all genders. Our “Star” Village hosts female-identifying and non-binary campers and staff. Housing for Specialty Camp programs varies depending on the youth participants in attendance at any given time.

Pronouns: Campers are welcome to share their preferred pronouns with staff and initially with other campers. Our staff will respect and use those pronouns. However, because so many of our campers are working on basic social skills including give-and-take conversations, any camper who attends Starfish and prefers alternate pronouns must be able to accept that other campers may or may not use those pronouns. In some cases, correcting another camper for using the wrong pronouns may discourage them from attempting to grow their social skills, in other cases, they may not have the executive functioning skills to make the change or be able to acknowledge your child’s journey at the same developmental level as your child. Respect and understanding must guide everyone in these interactions.

Every child is unique and every child & family’s path is different. We work individually with each family. If you have other questions or would like to talk further about your camper and their safe, successful integration into the Starfish camp community, we welcome you to reach out to us anytime.

Proactively, consistently, calmly, respectfully and with compassion for the deeper reasons behind the actions we are seeing.

Behavior is not something to be feared or even necessarily discouraged, especially when it is the outward expression of difficult work that children are doing to master social skills, coping skills and calming techniques. Starfish has an extensive Behavior Management Plan in which all staff are trained, so behavior is handled consistently amongst all adults on site. Staff use decoding techniques to help campers determine the reasons behind the behavior and use a process called a “WOW” (What happened, Own Up, What’s Next) to process, take responsibility, receive praise for good choices made during a not-great situation, and make amends and a future plan. This can be a casual chat with a counselor or a more in-depth process in which a child takes some time away from general activities and by working through the steps above side-by-side with staff, gradually becomes ready to rejoin the group.

Starfish spends much time, energy and focus on teaching successful behavior management techniques, to create a program engrained with natural therapeutic benefits, which you can read more about here. Campers are never belittled, “punished,” yelled at, hit, forced to do physical activity, or any of a long list of things that are patently unacceptable (and also, frankly, useless) in working safely and productively with children. Staff work on relationship building and proactively addressing situations that may trigger behaviors, and implementing longer-term adjustment plans to the environment or the camp day as more triggers are identified. Being proactive and reducing as many stimuli as possible help us create an environment which minimizes behavior, but also shortens its duration when it occurs.

You are welcome to call our camp office and check in on your child as frequently as you would like. Our directors live on-site and see your camper daily, and we can update you on how things are going. If we’re not sure about an answer to your question, we will find out from the bunk counselors or village administrators.

We know it is hard to think about not speaking with your child for an extended period of time, but we have found that phone calls home tend to disrupt the camp experience and create homesickness and anxiety that wouldn’t exist otherwise. We ask you to trust us – as you are doing by sending your child to camp – that we will contact you if we believe a phone call home would help your camper. The increased independence this builds for your child, and the respite opportunity it gives you (that’s right, you can turn off your cell phone for a little while!) is really worth it.

Although there is no Visitor’s Day during your camper’s session (we want you to be able to go off the grid and relax, after all!), the final day of camp serves as our camp-wide Visiting Day, which includes a family picnic and camper talent show, transition-home meeting and plenty of time for your camper to show you around and introduce you to counselors and friends!

You and your camper may send unlimited amounts of mail to each other, and parents/guardians may use “one way email” to send messages that will be printed out and given to campers along with the daily post mail.

Camp Starfish has a nurse who lives on site all summer in “Healthy House” – our camp infirmary. Trained to deal with boo-boos and minor injuries, the Camp Starfish nurse also supervises a team of Health Care Assistants and works with the Camp Director to ensure campers and staff stay happy and healthy. Additionally, each cabin has counseling staff certified in first aid. Camp Starfish also retains a local pediatrician each summer to provide advice and for the unlikely event that your camper gets anything more serious than a skinned knee.

Nursing staff store all medications under lock and key. Only the Healthy House staff and medication administration-certified staff distribute medications. Parents/caregivers are asked to pre-pack medications in camp-provided blister packs prior to arriving at camp. The Healthy House staff meets with each family on Opening Day to discuss health care specifics for your camper.

The Camp Starfish “Set Up For Success” process is one way that we partner with campers and families to ensure a successful and positive summer camp experience. This can be anything from answering questions via email or phone to connecting new families with “seasoned veteran” Starfish parents. Optional for our first-time and returning families are our pre-camp meetings, scheduled on weekends in June, when camp is open and our staff are on site. Caregivers, grandparents, babysitters and friends are all welcome to attend these rain-or-shine orientations, which include an adult-only question and answer session!

1:1 Programs
Specialty & Respite Programs

About Our Facility

Our property is split between two villages we call Star and Fish (Starfish!) and several smaller unique housing spaces. In the villages, our rustic wooden cabins provide the traditional camp experience.

Starfish boasts over 1/2 mile of shoreline on beautiful Lake Monomonac and has direct access from several private beaches.

Photo of Camp Starfish signs on a tree
Three campers rowing on kayaks at Camp Starfish
Photo of Danielle Lubbers

Danielle Lubbers

Danielle joined Camp Starfish in the spring of 2023 as Camp Director. Originally working with the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay, Danielle has ten years of experience providing programming to children, outdoor skills training for adults, and directing overnight summer camp experiences.

In her spare time, Danielle enjoys spending time with her two-year old Dalmatian, Mia. Danielle’s favorite activity at camp is raft building, as she enjoys seeing campers and staff work together to complete a team goal. Her favorite Camp Starfish Tool is “We are here to learn, grow, and have fun!”

Staff photo of David

David Mahnken

David Mahnken is Camp Starfish’s Mental Health Consultant. He provides staff training each summer on topics such as self-care, trauma-informed care practices, and health & wellness. David also provides support and consultation to the organization throughout the year. David holds a BA from St. Olaf College and an MSW from Simmons University. David is a LICSW who works in emergency services in addition to his own private practice in Massachusetts.

Prior to becoming a social worker, David’s first experience at camp was as a counselor in the early 2000s before becoming an administrator and member of the year-round team. His favorite camp activity is swim-I (swim instruction), and his favorite Camp Starfish Tool is: “We make camp a safe place.”

Staff photo of Joe

Joe Clark

As the Assistant Director at Camp Starfish, Joe is a seasoned professional who is well-versed in all aspects of camp life. With five years of summer work at Starfish, he brings extensive experience and expertise to the camp year-round. Joe is from the UK, and holds a degree from Keele University. Joe works as a support worker in the UK, providing care to individuals with disabilities, since 2019. Joe also engages in volunteer work, including spending three months in Abrobiano, Ghana.

Joe is known at camp for his charming English accent, which campers often try to replicate! His favorite camp activity is playing soccer (football) on the field, and his favorite Camp Starfish Tool is: “I take responsibility for my actions.”

Staff photo of Rachel

Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts is the Director of Staff Experience at Camp Starfish, responsible for all things staffing and groups. With a degree in Anthropology, and a Certificate in Global Citizenship from Franklin Pierce University, Rachel brings a unique perspective to her role. She oversees hiring, onboarding, retention, and staff appreciation for the 100+ seasonal staff at Camp Starfish each summer. Rachel has been a part of the Starfish team since 2016, working in various seasonal roles. She joined the Year-Round Team full-time in 2022.

As a lifelong New Hampshire resident, Rachel enjoys hiking in the woods with her dog, Clover. Her favorite camp activity is Free Play, and her favorite Camp Starfish Tool is: “We respect each other’s differences.”

Staff photo of Kristie

Kristie Martin

Kristie Martin is Camp Starfish’s Program Director, responsible for ensuring that each camper receives a structured, supportive, and fun program during both summer and year-round weekends. With her degree in Applied Psychology & Human Development from the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, Kristie has a deep understanding of child development and uses this knowledge to create a nurturing environment for all campers.

Kristie grew up in the Monadnock region and takes pride in being a local. Kristie’s favorite camp activity is the Camper Talent Show, which she believes is the perfect opportunity for campers to showcase their skills and feel comfortable sharing with the community. Her favorite Camp Starfish Tool is, “I try my best, I do not have to be the best.”

Staff photo of Sarah

Sarah York

Sarah York is the Director of Operations at Camp Starfish, joining the team in the Spring of 2022. She brings with her a wealth of professional experience working in both mental health and human resources. Sarah’s role at Camp Starfish is crucial in ensuring that camp runs smoothly, and she is available to assist families every step of the way through the registration process. If you call the Starfish office, Sarah will likely be who you speak with first!

With her dedication to helping others and her commitment to creating a positive camp experience for every child, it’s no wonder that her favorite Camp Starfish Tool is: “We are members of a team.”

Staff photo of Jamie

Jamie Mahnken

Jamie Mahnken is Camp Starfish’s Executive Director, and has been an integral part of the Camp Starfish community since 2010, serving in a variety of roles. With a degree in Business Administration and Organizational Leadership from Southern New Hampshire University, Jamie is committed to creating a safe and positive environment for every camper, staff member, and volunteer.

As a North Carolina native, Jamie enjoys spending time outdoors with her family. Her favorite camp activity is kayaking to Blueberry Island, which is a meaningful and memorable experience for many campers, as well. Jamie’s favorite Camp Starfish Tool is: “I am flexible and open to change.”