The Summer of New Beginnings

The Summer of New Beginnings

We are stepping out of the weeds and getting wayyy into the clouds with this one, brace yourself. Before you read, I want to share two things that will help frame the mindset this article is coming from:

1. Camp is the place where I learned it’s okay to be sad. That there isn’t always a silver lining but if there is one…it’s okay to cling to it.  

2. Camp is a place where you can try new things.

I recently attended a workshop led by Michael Brandwein and ACA Illinois on preparing for staff training. The content was incredible. However, there was one particular thing he said that has lived in my head rent free for the past couple months. The workshop was virtual (as most events are these days), and in an effort to get people more comfortable with being active and engaged through use of the chat, he said something—heavily paraphrased but— similar to this:

It’s okay if you are a person that prefers to just listen instead of participating. However, I want you to think back to the time where you decided that this is who you are. Then I want you to remember that camp is quite possibly the best place to try new things and maybe even reinvent who you believe yourself to be.

I’m hoping you keep the feeling this sentiment gives you nestled in a nook somewhere within your heart as you continue reading. 

Over Memorial Day weekend I moved to a brand-new city to work with a brand-new (to me) camp. I find myself tasked with doing the very same thing we as camp professionals ask young people to do summer after summer — Find your people. I’ll tell ya what, this sh💩t is harrdddd! However, as a stroll through my new neighborhood, I see a plethora of businesses that once were and a few just barely holding on.  I also see a good amount of “re-opening” and “coming back soon” signs which gives me the same feeling as someone following through on a “see you later.” It gives hope and joy. It gives silver lining. I think there is a silver lining with a similar aura that exists this summer for all of us: There has never been a summer that has allowed us as much opportunity to re-open or reinvent our organizations as the one we have currently on at our front gate. 

“Okay Nelson, we’re happy you’re getting settled in nicely but what is your point?” 

The great resignation has had people leaving their professions to explore new passions in droves like never before. The camp industry is no exception. So many of the people I grew up looking up to in the camp industry have stepped away for a myriad of reasons relating to the pandemic. Not to mention finding staff, while always a challenge, seems particularly more so this summer. The duality of this, that I feel has flown under the radar, is that so many people have also joined our wonderful camp community in recent years. Folks, who may have never considered taking a plunge into camping, had the opportunity not arisen to leave their previous endeavors.  

In all my years in camping, (this year makes a decade..sheesh!) I’ve found it is easiest to make large cultural changes when there is a large turnover in the people present. I am by no means implying that it will be easy. Buttttt, if there was ever an optimal time to make some pretty big swings towards making more camps better for more kids— I’d say right about now is it. Whether it's finally canceling that tradition we’ve learned is harmful in a DEI training this spring, adding all-gender cabins and bathrooms, or simply just giving campers and staff more autonomy over how they choose to spend their time in our space: I challenge you to just do the damn thing.

Or better yet…I dare you; I triple dog dare you.

In all seriousness though, I think we as camp professionals rely a little too heavily on tried and true and do things because. Well..that's just the way we’ve always done it. We are way too incredible to be stuck in the same sandbox created in the 19th century. You might stumble along the way, but that’s okay because that’s how we learn and grow.  

As I step down from my soapbox, I want to mention one last thing that I feel has begun to fall by the wayside as we continue to exist in tandem with the pandemic, among other incredibly heartbreaking events. It is still an extraordinary accomplishment to just survive this summer. No momentous changes, no grand movements, just creating a space for your people to gather and commune together. As the question “Are we coming out of the pandemic?” seems to appear more and more frequently with each passing day. It can be easy to forget some of us may not have the resources to make a triumphant return to form this summer and that is okay. Yet, I can't help but be in awe of the fact that so many in our resilient little community, when faced with this much adversity, still have the strength to persevere. They still have the gusto to continue the work that only someone with a copious amount of passion, a little bit of insanity, and likely a whole lot of coffee can do - change the world.  

*This is the part where, if we were together, we’d all come in for a big, loving, socially distanced😅, group hug. Summer 2022 - We got this!         

Nelson StricklandNelson Strickland


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