When John Jannone talks about Camp Ballibay, a Pennsylvania-based arts camp that he has directed for over 20 years alongside co-director Kristin Alexander, there is no doubt that his leadership of the camp is a labor of love. As I listen to him joyfully and confidently describe the camp’s mission and programs and as a parent, I can immediately see why Camp Ballibay has had such a transformative impact on campers and staff alike. John and Kristin are not just camp directors – both are full-time university professors during the year and professional artists themselves – Kristin a dancer and choreographer in Charleston, SC, and John a composer, animator, and film producer in New York City.
Their camp, Ballibay, is a fine and performing arts camp for children that prides itself on creating a safe space for young artists to be their authentic selves. Campers express themselves through visual art, theater, dance, rock, film, and other media, and have the option of traditional camp activities like swimming, horseback riding, nature hikes, gardening, and more.
John shared that Camp Ballibay is also a space for kids who are not “artsy” in the traditional sense – any child who is a “different thinker” or “outside-the-box” can explore expression and creativity. Ballibay also embraces diversity – for decades Ballibay has been a hub of neuro-diversity and gender diversity (LGBTQIA+), and is increasingly becoming ethnically and culturally diverse.
A former Camp Ballibay camper himself, John shares, “I’ve been doubly fortunate to have Ballibay. Growing up as a quirky, solitary, rural kid, it was an essential part of my childhood to have a summer experience that inspired me to explore many different creative activities and introduced me to kids and adults with a wide range of interests, passions, and worldviews. Many years later, as a parent of two neuro-atypical kids, I was again fortunate that Ballibay was there for them as a non-judgmental and welcoming place for their personal, social, and creative explorations.”
For many families, summer camp is an annual necessity. As parents, we seek safe and fun spaces to keep our kids and teens engaged during those long summer days while we try to maintain some consistency in our own schedules as providers and caretakers.
After my family’s first virtual school semester last spring, I specifically sought out summer and afterschool camps for my son, where he had space to not only socialize and stay engaged, but to also express himself creatively for his own mental health. I have since learned that this exposure to art programs for my son has also translated to his school and academic life.
As it turns out, there is some great research out there to support what we are experiencing as a family. In Edutopia’s “Creativity and Academics: The Power of an Arts Education,” Neil Swapp, a music educator from New Mexico, writes that it is through the arts that children can develop a growth mindset, grow their self-confidence, improve cognition, increase communication skills, and deepen cultural and self-understanding, all of which impact their academic journey.
Sarah Galante, Camp Ballibay’s Associate Director and also a former camper, shares the long-term impact of her own experience: “Ballibay gave me a newfound sense of confidence and self-worth. Confidence in my artwork and within my own identity. I carried that confidence with me into high school, college, and now my adult life. It is a trait I see arising in first-year campers every summer – in their own unique ways. It is the privilege of a lifetime to help cultivate that confidence and creativity in young people, just as the Ballibay staff did for me fifteen years ago.”
Parents and campers from all across the country and the world are now in on the magic that is Camp Ballibay. The inclusive and loving atmosphere, diverse and passionate staff, high-quality arts programming, idyllic geographical setting, and first-class camp cuisine are all reasons why parents choose Camp Ballibay and return from one generation to the next.
Interested in seeing if Camp Ballibay is a fit for your family? Camp Ballibay offers 2-7 week camp options for children ages 8-17, a variety of tuition and payment options, and offers scholarships to families who qualify. Camp Registration is now open for families not wanting to miss out on this wonderful camp experience and wishing to take advantage of the early bird discount.
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