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  • Karen Luttenberger Smith

Board Member Spotlight: Karen Mahar

Most members of Camp Mohawk’s Board of Directors join in part because of their memories of and connections to Camp.  Karen Mahar, Mohawk Board Secretary, has a different and most endearing story.  She did not attend Mohawk, nor did she work there, although her mother and two aunts were campers. They rarely spoke of Camp to Karen and she had not even visited Mohawk before she joined the Board in 2008/2009. This begs the question: why did Karen join a board of directors of a YMCA girls’ camp of which she had no personal experience?  The answer:  Mohawk’s own Parker Prout. Karen and Parker worked together years ago and became friends. One day, Parker told her that he thought it would be great if Karen joined the Board of Directors. Simply put, based on Parker’s words about Camp, she did!

Karen, born in Bronxville, NY, grew up in Westport, Connecticut and graduated from Staples High School. As we talked about this part of her life, Karen relayed a story about helping Fran Marchand with a database. While in Mohawk’s winter office in Torrington,  Karen came upon the names of CC and Ikey Spear. As it turns out, Karen had played field hockey for Staples and she knew both Mohawkers. Small world!

After graduating from Springfield College with a B.A. in Physical Education, Karen lived in the Boulder, Colorado, area for some twenty years. She was married and divorced. Lucky for Mohawk, she returned to Connecticut and when her mom needed some help, Karen moved back into her childhood home for a time. As it turned out, after her mother’s death in 2020, Karen remained and lives there still. Her description of getting to know her mother as a friend in adulthood is touching. Not all of us get to know our parents later in life in such a situation: we are still the child yet living as adults reaps many rewards and Karen is quite aware of these.

Lucky for Mohawk again, Karen has worn many hats and each one has contributed to needs and the focus on our Board of Directors. When Parker Prout originally mentioned joining the Board, Karen worked in human resources for a start-up company. This led to marketing. Karen’s focus has been one of service and she found herself working with homeless individuals using her grant-writing and nonprofit experience. Yes, there are homeless in Westport, CT, and the pandemic hit hard in many areas, as we know.

Karen first worked at Interfaith Housing, which has since developed into Homes of Hope. This organization provides and finds housing for the long-term homeless population. According to Karen, the State of Connecticut has made inroads into this problem and Homes of Hope is thriving in its mission. The population served by Homes of Hope are, among others, those suffering from addiction, disabilities, and mental illness. Karen retired two years ago and promptly got a puppy, Morgan, the Labrador!

Despite coming to the Board without being a Mohawk alumni, Karen’s concern and belief in Camp Mohawk is easy to hear. Her description of walking around Camp with other Board members as they tell camp stories from years ago was heartwarming. She truly understands the love of and connection to Camp. When I asked Karen what she likes best about Mohawk overall she responded, “Mohawk teaches girls to stand on their own two feet. It gives them self-confidence. It teaches them to be strong. I just love that about Camp.”

As we compared notes about growing up when we did and the change in the attitudes towards women and by women, Karen mentioned that she has always been a strong advocate for women. Her words: “I am counting on the next generation to save us from ourselves. Camp feels like a safe place. Girls can be who they are. Girls can explore who they want to be and not worry about being judged.” We concurred that the Board’s focus is on the empowerment of girls and helping them to become self-assured and confident women.

The thought that Karen Mahar has put in years of effort and dedication into Camp Mohawk repeatedly arose in my mind the entire time I was speaking with her. It is not a stretch to understand the dedication and motivation leading to Board membership. To each of these members, former, current, and future Mohawkers (campers and staff) owe a tremendous thank you. That gratitude increases, at least for me, when I consider those on the Board who did not personally connect with camp as children and/or young adults. Karen proves the simple power of Camp Mohawk extends even beyond traditional definitions of “official” Mohawker.  As we ended our conversation, Karen was very clear as she said, “the spirit lasts a lifetime.” Yeah, she’s a Mohawker.


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