London Rosiere is a spitfire— a southern beauty queen, fashionista, dancer, and “Head Kid” at Camp SoulGrow, a year-round workshop for kids to connect with their community.She reminds me of a honeybee, flying from one flower to the next collecting nectar to bring back to the hive.
In the space of one week, she’s manned a booth with seashells for kids to paint at a Montauk craft fair, met with students at Stony Brook University who are helping Camp SoulGrow as part of their honor business class and ran the Hamptons Marathon—all while planning the camp’s next big event: a haunted house at the Montauk Point Lighthouse.
When we first spoke on the phone, she was on a plane, flying back from Colombia in South America. After a busy summer of coordinating constant workshops, Ms Rosiere thought she needed a break. So on Tumbleweed Tuesday, she hightailed it to a camper’s vacation home in Costa Rica.
“I was dying to be bored,” she told me recently at Camp SoulGrow’s studio space in downtown Montauk.
She had never really mourned the death of her mother, at the age of 52, two years prior.
“I never really cried,” she said, admitting that she had finally collapsed sobbing on a hammock. “I was longing for a connection with mom.”
Her mother lost both parents to cancer while very young and lived in New Orleans with her two children.
“When Hurricane Katrina hit, things really went downhill,” Ms. Rosiere said. “I had no idea about the storm. I flew to New York City for two days and got stuck. I figured I’d wait it out and it would pass like all the others. Then the levy broke. I lived two blocks from the levy. I know what it’s like to be displaced. I was alone at 19.”
She ended up “living in someone’s living room,” and got a job selling expensive Jimmy Choo boots to Madison Avenue clients. “I never made more money in my life,” she said. But being a part of the fashion industry did not satisfy her soul and she began volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House, “to be there for the less fortunate.”
She made trips back to New Orleans to help motivate her mother to do things like volunteer at orphanages. “Mom drank so it was tricky,” she said. She decided to make a trip alone to an orphanage in Africa, which she funded by selling a Chanel bag and stayed two months.
“I stepped into a new life,” she said, “This is what my life’s purpose is. The superficial life is not for me.”
Still, Ms. Rosiere needed a job and kept getting sucked back into fashion, at one point at a shop in Los Angeles and another in East Hampton. She continually pushed herself spiritually, mentally and physically. For her 23rd birthday, on September 14, 2008, she ran her first marathon in Maui.
“It was a gift for me,” she said. “I crossed the finish line, but I didn’t feel as fulfilled as I thought I would.”
She said she felt like the $3,000 spent on the trip could have gone toward something more meaningful, but she didn’t know what to do with her life.
“When my mom died in April 2014, at age 52, my brother and I were there singing Diana Ross songs when she took her last breath. She would put on red lipstick before she’d brush her teeth,” she said, showing me pictures of her mother, her spitting image.
Ms. Rosiere said she needed to regroup.
“I knew Montauk to be peaceful,” she said.
She found a place to live, shipped her mom’s car up and contemplated the future.
“I jokingly called that time Camp London,” she said, “People would say, ‘I want to go to Camp London.’”
She got another retail job and bonded with the owner’s 11-year-old daughter. “At the end of July, a miracle happened,” she said, “I want to start a platform to tell kids you can be anything you want to be.”
She held her first unofficial workshop at Montauk Juice Factory.
“The kids made juice,” she said. That day they hit all the bases of being helpful, healthy, active, creative and connecting with local businesses.
“After that first day, I felt high. I want to do it again,” she said. “I called up the Crow’s Nest. Jeremy Blutstein was the chef. We did 11 workshops in August 2014.”
In addition to learning about the life of a chef, the kids took yoga, learned to groom horses at Deep Hollow Ranch and went to WhaleBone, a retail shop that makes T-shirts at Duryea’s Dock.
“Mr. Duryea saw the kids running around and asked if I had insurance,” she said. The camp does now.
In the beginning, she paid out of pocket, made fliers, marketed on Instagram and by word-of-mouth.
At the end of the summer, she threw a party for the kids at Montauk Beach House, which made them feel like VIPs. “This is the best camp we’ve ever been to,” she said they told her. “We can be ourselves.”
Against all advice, Ms. Rosiere stayed in Montauk. “You’re crazy, you’re young, never going to meet a man here,” she said people told her. She incorporated Camp SoulGrow as a nonprofit, started a bank account, ran the camp after school, on weekends and holidays and searched for a home base.
“Third House was the dream,” she said. “It had been empty for years.”
Despite hearing a lot of negatives about the place, two rooms in the old house were deemed safe to be occupied and now serve as areas where the kids can explore new things like dance, art, photography and music.
“No pressure, no tests, no grades, come to whichever workshop you want,” Ms. Rosiere said. “Kids are so much more open to receiving when you take the pressure off.”
Local people teach workshops, like Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who talked about tick awareness.
“Each workshop is 90 minutes, 15 kids maximum, age seven and up. At 13, they can be helpers and get community service credits,” she said. The workshops are free.
Campers go hiking, surfing, horseback riding, and learn about nature. When the kids try something new that they were once afraid of, their confidence skyrockets.
Since there is no heating at Third House, Bridgehampton National Bank donated the studio space in the village last April.
“The day after Easter my brother Matthew died in a car accident at 32,” she said. “In two years, I lost two people.”
While mourning, she could not stay put in Costa Rica and flew to her mother’s family in Sogamoso, outside Bogota, where she found out she inherited land. In addition, a house was donated to Camp SoulGrow, taking the future franchise global.
“A lot of mother’s sorrow came from her mother who lived in the house. Now, we bring it back full circle, to kids who have nothing,” Ms. Rosiere said of the house. “The dream is that we are in all communities.”
Camp SoulGrow’s Haunted House at Montauk Point Lighthouse will take place on October 29 and 30 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is $5.