The Transformative Power of Camp

August 14, 2018


Camp remains a fond childhood memory for many people, but for Kent Dean, it’s a way of life."

Camp remains a fond childhood memory for many people, but for Kent Dean, it’s a way of life. After spending more than 40 years visiting YMCA Camp Pinewood in Twin Lake, Michigan, Dean now serves as its Board President, giving back to the same community that helped shape him into the person he is today.

“All I ever talk about is camp,” he says. After growing up in downstate Illinois, Dean first started going to family camp as a child—a multi-generational tradition in his family. He also attended overnight summer camp, where he met youth from across the globe and years later, joined the camp staff like several of his family members. “It really opened my ‘small-town’ mind up to a lot of possibilities and a broader experience of the world,” he says. A new environment also presented an opportunity to reinvent himself at an age where social pressure can trounce self-expression. Nowadays, among other advice, he encourages his sons, Warren and Lincoln, to try on a different persona at camp. “You can be the person you’ve been wanting to be here.”

Dean and his wife, Amy, got married in Camp Pinewood’s lakeside chapel, which was refurbished thanks to a generous donation from his grandparent’s estate. While awaiting the arrival of the rest of the wedding party, he and his cousin even went fishing off the pier, tuxedos and all.

A longtime donor and board member, Dean continues to give back to the YMCA as much as possible because of the myriad opportunities it gives people to find themselves and grow. He recalls a moment during a rowing lesson when one of his young students, who lived in Chicago’s former Cabrini Green housing project, asked if they were on Lake Michigan. Recalling that this 9-year old lived less than a mile from the lake, “It was like a lightning bolt in my head. I said, alright, this kid is getting out in the woods before this session is over.”

In addition to his involvement with the Y, Dean is a passionate defender of families entangled in the legal system. After 7 years as a public defender, he has been in private practice since 2007. He primarily represents parents, foster parents, and children in matters related to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. In addition, he is a founding member of the Illinois Parents Attorney Network and has been awarded “Leading Lawyer” by the Legal Network and “Family Defender of the Year” by the Family Defense Center for his dedication to training attorneys representing parents facing child welfare investigations or separation. Today, Dean lives with his family live in Oak Park, just west of the Chicago city limits. They continue to enjoy the great outdoors and make tripsit to YMCA Camp Pinewood two to three times each year.

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