The Grabows, Owners & Directors
It has been a dream owning and operating Chen-A-Wanda and when we jumped in back in 2008, we have only looked forward! We live in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey with our daughters, Madison, Dylan and Zoe. It’s multi-generational living for the Grabow’s as Camp Grandma Monica lives with us too. Grandma loves cooking her famous chocolate cake for our campers and reading to the little ones before they go to bed. It is truly a family affair and we love it!
We knew this was what we wanted to do with our lives and the vision was clear to us. We wanted to provide a loving, warm, safe, family environment that encourages and inspires our campers to gain independence and a self-confidence, create lifelong friendships, try new things and learn more about themselves than they thought possible.
I, Jon knew that camping was in my blood as I spent every summer as a Wayne County camper since I was 7 years old. After my days of camp were over, I entered the professional world and gained invaluable experience running a company on Wall Street. Though I loved my time in the corporate world, I always dreamed of coming back to the place where life is great, camp. My experience of sleep away summer camp was so profound and helped shape who I am. I knew owning and directing a camp would be something I had to do. So we had our sights set on Camp Chen-A-Wanda and Elissa and I both knew this was home.
I, Elissa spent summers at sleep-away camp in California as I grew up in Los Angeles. I fell in love with camp at a very early age and when the opportunity came up for us to own and operate Camp Chen-A-Wanda, there was never a doubt. I have worked alongside the world’s most premier athletes as my career in sports management brought me so much professional satisfaction but running Camp Chen-A-Wanda provides me with the deepest sense of personal joy I have ever felt professionally. Getting to watch our campers, summer after summer, grow in such profound ways that positively affect who they are and how they connect with others around them is a privilege we are so grateful for.
We believe so much in this process and know the experience gives our children a place to play, a place to unplug and a place to live without the stress that dominates us all in today’s world. It is such a privilege getting to experience summer camp and watching the ginormous benefits it provides to our children. We will continue to be innovative with our activities, programs, and trips and give our absolute best to make this experience amazing for you and your children.
Jon & Elissa
Gary Shields, Director
A familiar face at camp, more like a living legend. Gary started his journey at CAW back in 1988 as a Camp Counselor, then a Group Leader, followed by Assistant Head Counselor, Assistant Director and now as a Camp Director.
Gary and his wife Liza, along with their children Robbie & Beth, live in Ireland. Throughout the year he works as an Assistant Vice Principal and his experience working with children and parents is both welcoming and reassuring. He has gained the respect and friendship of thousands of campers, staff, and parents over his years at camp and his professional skills and wealth of knowledge only add to the strength of the Chen-a-Wanda family.
If you went to Camp Chen-A-Wanda from the late 80’s till now, you know who Gary Shields is. There isn’t an alum that comes through Chenny who doesn’t love, adore and respect Gary Shields. His commitment to Camp Chen-A-Wanda over the last 25 plus years was honored as the Rec Hall, was renamed Shields Hall to honor his dedication and loyalty.
Brian & Laura Leahy, Associate Directors
Brian and Laura Leahy have been valued members of the Chen-A-Wanda family since 2002. They fell in love with camp and fell in love with each other along the way, marrying in Laura’s home province of Nova Scotia, Canada. They welcomed their daughter Avery into the world in October of 2015 and she is already a part of the Chen-A-Wanda family! They reside in New Jersey as our full-time Associate Directors, helping prepare for camp every year while working with staffing, campers, families, and activities planning.
Brian was a college baseball player who started at Chenny as a Baseball Specialist and made stops as our Baseball Director and Athletic Director before becoming a Head Counselor in 2007.
He received his teaching credential in 2005 and spent eight years teaching elementary school and coaching high school baseball in both Southern California and Nova Scotia. He brings a wealth of experience, enthusiasm, and innovative ideas to our team of directors, and can always be counted on for a laugh, advice, or a pick-me-up to both campers and staff.
Laura worked her way through camp as a Soccer Specialist, General Counselor, and Assistant Head Counselor before becoming a Head Counselor in 2010. She graduated in 2007 with her secondary teaching degree in science and social studies, and taught in Nova Scotia for six years prior to taking on a full-time role with camp. Laura’s infectious smile, calm demeanor, and nurturing approach combined with an eye for details and a keen ability to brainstorm camp ideas is an ideal combination for our director team.