Before the 1960s, few—if any—relationships existed between the vastly white Haverford College and its black South Ardmore neighbors, who lived just beyond the walls of the school’s sylvan acres.
Serendipity Day Camp changed all that.
“For Haverford, the camp was one of the first concrete commitments made to diversity, a step beyond simple rhetoric to effective action,” wrote the late Al Williams, a longtime College administrator, in the essay “Minorities at Haverford.”
The need for change was first broached in the early 1960s, when local activist Severn Moses contacted Haverford’s administration to discuss the poor state of relations. Moses was the brother of Marilou Allen, an Ardmore native who went on to a long career at Haverford directing the Women’s Center and 8th Dimension, the college’s office of community service.
In 1963, then-student Max Bockol ’64 invited several neighborhood children to play soccer on campus and talked up a camp. The next summer, Serendipity was born, and Bockol was hired as its director.
“He was a genius with kids,” says Roger Lane, a professor emeritus of history and an early camp director. He could take a sulky kid and “talk him out of his sulk.” (Bockol, a Philadelphia attorney, died in 2013.)
Charlotte Cadbury, wife of legendary dean William E. Cadbury, gave the camp its name, and, in a short span, it grew from a few dozen 5-to-12-year-olds to 120-plus kids. Haverford students worked as counselors, and the camp used a sliding scale to set fees. In those first years, the top fee was $5 a week.
By the early ’70s, though, the camp’s luck faltered, and Serendipity closed. In 1984, however, Allen resurrected the camp through 8th Dimension. This time, it was less about race relations and more about the needs of working mothers, she says.
Jamilla Butler Stafford, 39, of Princeton, N.J., attended Serendipity in the ’80s and later became a counselor, like her mother before her. “We used Ryan Gym on rainy days,” recalls Stafford, now a school psychologist. “The counselors were also special. We met people from different parts of the country with different experiences.”
Erin Herward Thurston ’98, a counselor in 1996 and 1997 for the littlest campers, fondly recalls arts and crafts, daily swimming, and weekly field trips. “Serendipity gave me wonderful, hands-on experiences working with young children,” says Thurston, 39, of Vienna, Va., who became a kindergarten teacher.
This summer, a record 300-plus campers from across the Main Line had the good fortune to partake in Serendipity’s camaraderie and activities—just like that first group.
“Serendipity is good for Haverford College,” says Allen, “and Haverford College is good for Serendipity.”
Photo of Serendipity Day Camp counselor Manish Bhatt ’94 with campers in the summer of 1992 by Eric Mencher