Born and raised in New York City, Jen first attended camp for one summer in Woodlands when she was eight. She returned at 13 as a camper at Pioneer Village. She then joined the staff as a counselor’s assistant in Winds, and then moved back to Pioneer Village where she was a counselor and ultimately a unit director. Her younger brother, Jamie, was also a camper and staff member. During her college years, Jen worked at camp during the summer where she met her husband, Peter. Both of their children attend the camp as well. Owen, who is 14, has been going for four years and this summer will be in Pioneer Village. Their younger son, James, is in Reservation.Owen had wanted to go to sleep-away since he was six years-old and when he turned 10 Jen agreed to send him. “Our entire family has gone to Incarnation,” Owen told his mom and he was absolutely right.
Every single one of his aunts and uncles are alumni of the camp and his grandfather, Peter Marks, Sr. was a director of the boys’ camp in the 1950’s. “For our family, Incarnation Camp is genuinely generational.” Jen and Peter are gratified and delighted that their children are enjoying the same enriching experiences they both had when they were the same ages.“Being at camp allows you to have time and space to connect with people, which is something people don’t do much anymore,” Jen said. “You can be present in the moment with the people you’re with.” The camp brings together people one wouldn’t get to know under usual circumstances.“Rarely have I been to such a diverse place. Campers are together 24/7 with kids from all different backgrounds and it is totally
One of the most meaningful aspects of her camp experience was that everyone is free to be their natural selves. The camp brings together people one wouldn’t get to know under ordinary circumstances. “Campers live together 24/7 with kids from all different backgrounds and it is totally inclusive,” Jen said. “It is a very authentic experience and you get to know people in a profound way that often contradicts what you may have thought initially when you got off the bus.”
Jen has directed two feature length documentary films. “I love to tell stories that won’t be told by anyone else and to give voice to people who won’t be heard otherwise. I sincerely believe that my camp experience influenced my career choices.” Her first film, A Leap of Faith, was about an integrated school in Belfast where both Catholic and Protestant students attended. Liam Neeson was the narrator and it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1996.
Her new film is Mothers of Bedford which is about five women who are incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester, New York. Bedford Hills is the only maximum security prison for women in New York State at which a nonprofit group runs an innovative parenting program. Jen was intrigued by the question of whether it is possible for a woman to fill the role of a mother while being imprisoned particularly since many of the women are serving long sentences.
“These circumstances are certainly not the norm and the women were given the opportunity to tell their story. I found that they were able to redefine themselves as something other than a prisoner.” The women were eager to participate in the film because they aren’t often given the opportunity to talk about their lives.
Jen met with their extended families to examine how the situation has impacted everyone involved. “These women are able to nurture and love their children and, even under these unnatural conditions, it is possible to be an engaged parent.”The film will premiere at HotDocs International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto and in New York City at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center on June 23rd and Mays les Cinema in Harlem June 30th.
Not only is Jen a proud alumna of Incarnation Camp, she lives 20 minutes from the camp grounds. “Since I live close by, I visit the camp periodically and try to support them in any way I can. Camp has given me an abundance of stories and experiences that helped shape my life. I would like to see today’s campers have the same benefit during their formative years which will help shape their lives in a constructive and meaningful way.”