Giving Feels Great: Nigel Watson’s inspiring story

Date: 22 Jan 2024

In 1982 Nigel Watson bought a one-way ticket to London, armed with a passion to play music but with no idea what he wanted to do. He spent a year doing odd jobs, and then a friend suggested he either pick oranges on a Kibbutz or apply for Camp America. Camp America won out and he has never looked back.

Nigel’s story is extraordinary, what started as a job teaching a rock music programme at a private summer camp in America turned into a life-long career and an opportunity that led to a substantial business venture of his own.

Today he is a successful business owner, living in Florida with his family, commuting to New York State in summer camp season and living his own dream life.

And each year (excepting the Covid years) he has generously given back to Dilworth – all up to the tune of $1.3 million - by donating free scholarships to his summer camps for Dilworth students in French Woods, New York State.

Reflecting on his years at Dilworth from 1977 to 1982, Nigel acknowledges the school for providing him with "a decent all-round education" and for being instrumental in keeping him focused and motivated during a time when he struggled with ADHD – there wasn’t much support in the late ’70s. Going further he recalls that at the time, Dilworth “Kept me on the straight and narrow and instilled my drive to do well as I worked harder to do better”.

Nigel didn’t pursue a university education but says he ‘set out to prove myself despite it”. He has surely done that.

Nigel's involvement with Camps in America extended far beyond his initial year, gradually taking on various roles within the camp, from counsellor to Programme Director, eventually becoming a Partner. He worked for various camps in Minnesota and Pennsylvania before establishing his own – the French Woods Sports and Arts Centre, a private Summer Camp located in New York where he commutes from Florida for the summer months.

In the United States private co-ed Summer Camps are big business with around 14,000 programmes and 26 million students a year attending over June, July, and August. Nigel emphasizes that these camps offer diverse activities beyond the traditional outdoor experiences. Students can elect to do pretty much anything they want “circus, flying trapeze, media – creating their own radio station, multiple sports, horse riding”.

When we interviewed Nigel, it was far from summer camp weather with the rain hammering on the roof – another Auckland spring day! He was in Auckland to meet with Headmaster Dan Reddiex and Head of Senior Campus, Tom Murdoch, about the 2024 intake of summer camp students. He also took time to meet with our new Director of Advancement, Emma Zigan, as she was keen to thank him for his inspiring philanthropy to Dilworth over the years and his unwavering support of Dilworth students. “It is a wonderful legacy that Nigel has and continues to create at Dilworth”, she says.

Finally, after the hiatus caused by Covid, last year he was able to take three Kiwi students and this year he is delighted that places are available in 2024 for four Year 10 Dilworth students. The students will head off to the French Woods Camp in New York State for a month in late June – all camp expenses are covered, but each student is expected to fundraise for their flight costs. Nigel says the camps are often life changing as well as a lot of fun.

“They learn how to be independent and learn about other cultures as there are kids there from all over the world. They also learn a wealth of new skills and get to choose what they want to do”. Nigel says Dilworth students are a delight to host on the camp – and are great ambassadors for the school and New Zealand.

“The other kids love the Kiwi boys; they love the accent. The Dilworth students have such a great attitude and are so appreciative”.

Returning annually to New Zealand to visit his mother, Nigel also enjoys reconnecting with fellow Dilworth Old Boys - his life-long mates. This year, his visit coincided with an Old Boys’ Association (DOBA) meet-up and the Dilworth Carols Concert, providing him with a wonderful opportunity to attend alongside his beloved mother.

Nigel considers himself fortunate to support his old school and current Dilworth students. He encourages fellow old boys and alumni, emphasising the gratification of giving back to Dilworth whenever possible.

"In whatever capacity you can contribute to Dilworth—do it—because it feels great."