Thursday, May 06, 2021

Person of the Week

Carolyn Learned: A Chance Worth Taking


Camp Hazen’s Carolyn Learned is helping helm the Take a Chance on Chester raffle, which concludes on Sunday, Dec. 13. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

Camp Hazen’s Carolyn Learned is helping helm the Take a Chance on Chester raffle, which concludes on Sunday, Dec. 13. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

Carolyn Learned would like you to take a chance—not just any chance, but a chance on Chester. And this chance and not really so chancy; it’s designed to be a winner all the way around.

The raffle helps the merchants in Chester, Camp Hazen YMCA, and BRAYCE, the Chester-based organization that has brought talented young people from Brazil’s notorious favelas to Camp Hazen as campers, counselors, and as participants in the leadership training program. Carolyn is head of development for Camp Hazen.

Camp Hazen and BRAYCE together contributed the funds to buy $3,000 worth of gift certificates, all from Chester shops and restaurants, as prizes for the raffle. Each gift certificate is worth $100.

Camp Hazen and BRAYCE will sell each raffle ticket for $20 and use the profits to help their organizations’ financial challenges. Camp Hazen, for instance, has lost some $1.1 million because of pandemic restrictions that have prevented many programs, including summer overnight camp this year. Over the summer, Camp Hazen was only able to run its day camp.

The raffle will have three winners. The first place winner will receive 24, $100 gift certificates; the second place winner will receive 5, $100 gift certificates; and the third-place winner will win a $100 gift certificate to a Chester business.

The whole raffle is electronic. Sales for the chances will be done online; the drawing for the winners will take place online on Sunday, Dec. 13 at 3 p.m. Information for the event can be found through links at the organizations web sites.

Carolyn went to local merchants explaining the raffle and buying the gift certificates.

“Merchants were very excited about it,” she says. “It is our way of giving back to the community.”

Camp Hazen has always been part of Carolyn’s life. The connection goes back to her grandfather who was the executive director of the camp, as presently, is her mother Denise; her father Michael is head of maintenance; her brother Alex is senior program director. And the next generation is in the wings: Carolyn has two nieces, and can’t wait until they are old enough to start as campers.

Last summer was the first time since she was seven years old that Carolyn has not spent the summer at Camp Hazen, first as a camper and then as part of the staff.

Still, Camp Hazen was with her. She went to Australia with her partner Matt Billington, an Australian though now an American resident, whom she had met at Hazen. Matt came originally as part of the international staff that has always been a feature of Camp Hazen’s work force. Carolyn has also visited South America to see friends who had worked at the camp.

This fall, Carolyn helped with the Camp Care with Virtual Learning program that Camp Hazen ran earlier to accommodate remote learning before schools went back to full-time in-person classes. Parents could drop the students off at Camp Hazen with their computers for remote learning in the morning and pick them up in the evening, enabling the adults to go to work. The program is starting again, at least until the end of November, since all schools in Regional District 4 will be remote until then.

While she helped youngsters with their remote learning assignments, Carolyn saw some of the very same teachers whose classes she had been in when she was a student at Chester Elementary School.

“It was so nice for me, seeing teachers that I had had,” she says.

Also starting again remotely, is Camp Hazen’s leadership training program. It will be conducted online and one of the participants will be a young lady in Brazil sponsored by BRAYCE, who had been chosen for the leadership training before overnight camp was called off this summer.

Working with the Internet, both setting up the Take a Chance on Chester and helping with remote programs was not a challenge for Carolyn.

“I have no problems. I was born with the Internet,” she says.

Carolyn, who attended Chester schools until she went to college, graduated from DePaul University in Chicago with a degree in communications. She had decided, when looking for colleges, that she wanted to be in a city. She had already visited colleges in several cities when she got to Chicago.

“Something about the city attracted me,” she says, and she knew what it was. “I loved the lake,” she adds, referring to Chicago’s 26-miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan.

Her love of water started much earlier. As a camper at Camp Hazen, waterfront activities were always her favorite.

Because Carolyn’s mother was the director of the camp, Carolyn had to remember where she was before deciding what to call her. When she was a counselor, like all the other staff, she called her Denise. All the rest of the time, Denise remained mom.

Carolyn is not only organizing the Take A Chance on Chester raffle. She is going to buy tickets. And she knows which gift certificate she would like to win.

“I want the ice cream store,” she says.

To purchase tickets for the Take a Chance on Chester raffle, visit the website of BRAYCE,, or Camp Hazen YMCA,

Rita Christopher is the Senior Correspondent for Zip06. Email Rita at

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