From (Kell)sie to Shining Sea


By Lindsey Sigler, Camp Fern

2018 Spring Cohort Member

If you ever get the chance to have a conversation with Kellsie Sedlak, DO IT!  She is the Group Manager at Cape Cod Sea Camps (CCSC) in Brewster, MA and she is very passionate about the camping industry, although she originally planned to pursue a career in marine biology.  She spent 3 summers working at CCSC as a counselor and then went on to spend time at a zoo camp in Missouri where she was in charge of the reptile room (how cool?!) and then she worked at YMCA Camp Edwards in Wisconsin before returning to CCSC when the Group Manager job became available.
Kellsie has many hobbies that she partakes in like playing and coaching basketball and bike riding.  In fact, I got to chat with her while she was at Disney World for the ½ marathon weekend.  It did not take us long to realize that we had a lot in common, from the master’s program we are enrolled in to the position we play in basketball; who knows, you may have something in common with her too!  I enjoyed our conversation so much that I forgot to write down a lot of what I was learning about her, BUT I did get the answers to my 10 favorite questions.  If you are a fan of “Inside the Actors Studio” you will know exactly what’s coming (If you’ve never watched it you totally should!).
1.  What is your favorite word?  Dingus
2.  What is your least favorite word?  Can’t
3.  What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?  Emotions, she is very vulnerable to things.
4.  What turns you off?  Can’t
5.  What is your favorite curse word?  I’ll let you get to know her to find this one out – it’s a good one :-)
6.  What sound or noise do you love?  The ocean at high tide
7.  What sound or noise do you hate?  The screeching of knives against a plate
8.  What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  Marine Biologist
9.  What profession would you not like to do?  Coroner or Petco rat cage cleaner
10.  If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  I’m actually impressed

Tristate Speakers Not To Miss

Next week is Tristate! WHAT!? Tristate is this huge camp conference in Atlantic City, weird I know, but awesome.

For Stomping Ground, the camp I help Laura run, we are bring a few seasonal staff.  They started asking what it would be like. Last night, I quickly looked through the session outline to help them decide what sessions they might want to see. We don't mandate that our staff go to specific sessions, but do try to share our experience so they know what they are opting into. So, I thought I would share my list for my staff with all of you.

Who are these people?

Below is a quick synopsis of 9 speakers and their presentation times that I would love to be able to see. It is mostly designed to send to my staff as they start thinking about the conference, but I thought it might be useful for other folks as well.

This list is far from exhaustive. There are dozens of great speakers at Tristate every year, and I always come away with a new must-see presenter. Last year it was Cole Perry, more on him below. Quick disclosure: I have worked with almost everyone on this list starting Stomping Ground, facilitating Directors' Camp, running Go Camp Pro, or building The Summer Camp Society. I love these people and that makes me biased. 

Some Advice I heard

The best advice I heard about Tristate (and any conference) is find great sessions, talk to as many people as possible, and leave my ego at the door. I think Stomping Ground is a great camp, but the best thing we can do is learn from other camps, spend more time listening than talking, and try to be helpful when we can. 

I don't have much experience in other industries so this might be hyperbole, but...The summer camp industry is unique and camp people are the best. Tristate is an example of that in action and one of the best sharing opportunities of my year. I can't wait to see you there!

With Love!


The List...


Sarah Kurtz Mckinnon

Kurtz is the single best creator of staff bonding, connecting, and growth activities I have ever seen. Her magic is that her activities and examples work with 5 year olds to 80 year olds because they are never condescending. She brings years of camp directing experience (6 as the exec at Ann Arbor YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian) and an MBA from the University of Michigan paired with a millennial mindset that connects with staff today. She is forward looking, mindful, and compassionate. 

 What you will see? Current, activities, experience, compassion

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Scott Arizala & Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented

Wed., March 21st, 2-3 p.m., Room 304, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Avoiding the Parent Trap: Working with Difficult Parents

Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 301, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Transitioning from Coworker to Supervisor: Success as a Young Camp Leader

Thurs., March 22nd, 10:15-11:15 a.m. Room 301, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Using Microstorytelling to Market Camp


Steve MAguire


Steve is the best in the business at simple takeaways, bringing incredible energy, and firing you up. He cares deeply about the success of your program, the power of camp, and the impact individuals can have in a summer at camp. He is a school teacher, a former CIT director, and bad ass song leader. He is especially great at helping new staff really get camp. One of the best parts about seeing Steve speak is he is like a cup of coffee in the middle of the conference. You can’t help be leave fired up afterward.

What you will see? Teacher, energy, passion, specific takeaways.

Tues., March 20th 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 302, Stephen Maguire, Little Things are Big Things: 10 Specific Ways to Improve your Entire Camp

Wed., March 21st 3:15-4:15 p.m, Room 302, Stephen Maguire, 5 Ways to Improve Your Staff's Patience at Camp

Thurs., March 22nd 10:15-11:15 a.m., Room 312, Stephen Maguire, Weathering Camp: 15 Ways for How to Prepare Your Camp for the Best and the Worst Weather


Sylvia van Meerten

Syl is a straightforward, no BS, let’s make it work kind of person. Her sessions are always full of specific takeaways and a to-the-point candidness that I think is often missing from the camp world. She is licensed therapist, autism expert, and the other half of the Camp Tall Tree founding team with Scott Arizala. She has worked at half a dozen camps and was the Executive Director of Dragonfly Forest for years.

What you will see? Clear takeaways, no BS, mental health, autism expert

Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 320, Sylvia van Meerten, Neurodiversity, Inclusion, and the Hidden Curriculum at Camp

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, Scott Arizala & Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented


Dr. Chris Thurber

Chris ties everything back to academia. He is surprisingly hilarious in a professorial kind of way that I can’t pull off. A graduate of Harvard and school psychologist at a prestigious boarding school, he really gets the high-powered families that choose many of our camps. He has spent the last 30- something summers at YMCA Camp Belknap in New Hampshire and is especially great with a staff looking for more research to back up actions. 

What you will see? Expertise, academics, mental health

Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 304, Dr. Chris Thurber, Cross-Cultural Agility in Action

Wed., March 21st 12:30-1:30 p.m. Room 415, Dr. Chris Thurber, Woodworking with Hand Tools

Wed., March 21st, 3:15-4:15 p.m., Room 304, Dr. Chris Thurber, XXX-Posed: Youth Development in the 21st Century

Thurs., March 22nd 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 312, Dr. Chris Thurber, Shockingly Professional Talk: Smooth Responses to Sensitive Topics


Beth Allison and Stephanie "Ruby" Compton


Beth and Ruby host the podcast Camp Code with Gab Raill. They are strong advocates for women in camping and typically focus on specific staff training sessions or additions that you can do with your staff. Beth is a long time director of Cairn Camps in Canada and Ruby at Green River Preserve in North Carolina.

What you will see? Takeaways, community building, focus on relationships

Tues., March 20th, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 404, Beth Allison and Stephanie "Ruby" Compton, Three Innovative Training Modules to Plug into Your Staff Training Right Now

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 417, Stephanie "Ruby" Compton, Management 101 for Staff Who Are Supervising Others For the First Time


Travis Allison

Travis is a nerd. That’s why we get along. He is constantly searching for new hacks and tricks to make running camp easier and typically pushes folks toward more storytelling in marketing and finding new ways to provide value to families. Travis was the long time camp director at Cairn Camps, a Presbyterian camp in Ontario. He grew up on a farm, is a professional photographer, and probably camp's leading podcaster with is CampHacker podcast.

What you will see? Marketing, technology, experience, Canadian

Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m., Room 309, Travis Allison, How To Get Dirt-Cheap, High Quality Responses From Email Marketing


Cole Perry

Cole dramatically less “camp famous” than the other speakers on this list, and has a very different niche. Cole worked at YMCA Camp Ernst for a long time and has been studying race at camp for the last few years. He is earnest and thoughtful is his presentations and always leaves me thinking differently and questioning our policies. Definitely worth seeing.

What you will see? Typically group discussion, race at camp, no easy answers, academic 

Thurs., March 22nd 10:15-11:15 a.m., Room 401, Cole Perry, Antiracism at Camp: Speaking Up and Acting Out


Dr. Deborah Gilboa

Dr. G is a physician, mom, and is on a mission to help grownups realize how powerful kids are. She, like Dr. Thurber, will connect humor to scientific studies and her experience working with different families. Her three boys go to camp, and she is a camp doc during the summer. She has spoken on all kinds of national and local TV and is certainly the most famous speaker outside of the camp world. 

What you will see? Humor, science, confidence, charm

Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 301, Deborah Gilboa, Managing Anxiety at Camp

Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 312, Deborah Gilboa, Staff Self-Care - How to Teach It AND How to Practice It


Scott Arizala

Scott is a born storyteller. He keeps you hanging on every word and can connect with anyone. He has an incredible knack for relating to the audience. It’s really like your best friend is up there. Scott was the long time director of Dragonfly Forest, a camp for kids with special health needs, the founder of Camp Tall Tree, a camp for kids with autism, as well as a lifelong camper, staff, and now camper parent at YMCA Camp Al-Gon-Quian. He brings that connection to different types of people to every training he does. 

What you will see? Relatability, special needs, storytelling.

Tues., March 20th, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Room 302, Scott Arizala, Silence, Whispering, Writing, and More: Lessons from Our Quieter Staff

Wed., March 21st, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Room 303, Scott Arizala, Sarah Kurtz McKinnon, and Sylvia van Meerten, NEW ideas, NEW development, and NEW outcomes: Staff Training Reinvented

Wed., March 21st, 2:00-3:00 p.m., Room 303 ,Scott Arizala, Training for the Middle: What Do We Really Want from Summer Camp Staff?


Understanding the Business

Some other people I like to sit in on because they run very successful camps and are often involved in the larger discussion of summer camp at the national level. These guys get business and no matter how we slice it, summer camp is a business. 

Tues., March 20th, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 301, Andy Pritikin, Free Play at Day Camp- Important and Possible!

Wed., March 21st, 9:45-10:45 a.m., Room 303, Jay Jacobs, Building a Winning Camp Leadership Team

Wed., March 21st, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Room 401, Andy Pritikin,  Day Camp Communication 2018, a Roundtable Discussion → Note: I don’t run a day camp, but am going to try to make this one anyway. I love stealing Andy’s ideas, especially around parent communication. 

Wed., March 21st 2:00-3:00 p.m., Room 417, Scott Brody, ACA's Public Policy/Government Affairs Update!

Thurs., March 22nd, 9:00-10:00 a.m. Room 304, Steve Baskin, Using Disruptive Moments to Transform Campers Narratives


Seasonal Leadership Seminar

Set your leadership team up for success this summer
4 Weeks $75 until April 1st


Meet Meredith Stensaas from Mass Audubon's Wildwood Camp!

By Patty Rudd

Day Camp Director, YMCA Camp Copneconic

Spring 2018 Cohort Member

Getting to know you...

stensaas headshot.jpg

This week I was thrilled to be paired with Meredith Stensaas, Assistant Camp Director at Mass Audubon’s Wildwood Camp in New Hampshire. Meredith has been involved in Camping since 2010 taking on all aspects of camp life from Outdoor Education to Summer Camp. While the majority of her Camp career has been at Wildwood, she has also served as an Outdoor Education Instructor at Camps throughout the Northeast. Meredith instantly struck me as the quintessential camp person- kind, intelligent, and warm.

It's a small world after all!

When Meredith first reached out to me to set up our conversation she mentioned that she had been to Fenton, MI before and actually knew where my camp was. I am well aware that the Greater Flint area is not a tourist hotspot so I was very intrigued to find out that her husband is also a fellow Michigander who grew up in the Flint area.

Kung Foo Fighting...

Not only is Meredith a super wonderful camp person, but she also sings in a choir and knows karate- WHAT?!? Also, as a long suffering Detroit Lions fan, I was thrilled to find out that Meredith is from Philadelphia and is an Eagles fan! What a pleasure it was speaking with her this week.


How to Take Up Residence in a New State

By Hannah Russell, Director Camp Little Oak

Spring 2018 TSCS Cohort Member

As camp professionals, changing jobs generally means a new state.  This can be intimidating, especially for those who grew up with their roots in one spot.  Even beyond the emotional impact of not being in your usual habitat, the sheer number of things that one would never anticipate needing to do when you move states is overwhelming.  So, here are some things that you need to do when you get to your new home.

To help you think about these aspects, I have split them into 5 categories: car, legal, financial, medical and social.  Of course, these are not all of the things that you need to do (if you have children, this gets vastly more complicated), but here is some quick guidance.

As a last caveat, there are many things on this list about what it takes to start a new job with a new team.  But this will focus on the personal side of putting down your new roots.


1.     Car registration:

Some states have laws about how many days you can be resident in the state without transferring your registration.  Be sure to check on that.

2.     Driver’s license:

Some states also have laws about the limit on this as well

3.     Car plates:

In states, license plates are issued separately from registration.  Don’t assume that one will get you the other in every state.  Most states have a checklist on their DMV website to tell you about their rules

4.     Insurance change:

 This one might actually save you some money.  Insurance companies use zip code to estimate the probability of your car being broken into or being involved in a hit-and-run while you’re not in the car.  If you are moving to an area with less incidents, you might get a little check in the mail to make up the difference.  Also, the laws that insurance companies follow are different depending on where the car is insured, so they have to change some things on their end.  But, it’s usually not too much of a headache.  Many large insurance companies can change the state where the car is registered over the phone!

5.     Car maintenance and repair:

Before you are in that awkward situation, establish a relationship with a mechanic.  Ask around for where your neighbors take their cars for maintenance and repair.


1.     Voter’s registration:

You get to be represented in a new state!  Be sure to update the voter’s registration.  This can often be done online.  Find the website for your new state’s Secretary of State, and there should be instructions.

2.     Males: selective service update

If you are a male between 18 and 26, you are legally required to update your draft registration.  After the age of 26, you are not in the prime draft age range, and you are not required to update in peace time. 

3.     Address:

Be sure to submit a forwarding address request to the post office!  Beyond that, as things are forwarded to you, be sure to update whoever is sending you things!


1.     Changing Banks:

Much of the time in today’s world, changing banks is not actually required.  But, you should change your address at the bank.

2.     Update delivery addresses on any automated deliveries

If you have any automated deliveries, such as Amazon Prime, be sure to update the delivery address.

3.     Update address with any lien-holders

If you have any active loans (such as on your car), make sure that you update your lienholders about your location change. 


1.     Finding new providers

Ask around, check with your insurance company, and establish care with a new provider before you need it.

2.     Choosing a new pharmacy

In this same boat, make sure that you decide your new pharmacy, whether you prefer big-box stores or mom-and-pop shops. 

3.     Forward any existing, repeating prescriptions to a new pharmacy

If you take any prescriptions that have refills, make sure they are forwarded to your new pharmacy.


1.     Put down your roots

This is a little vague, but having roots is as important as changing your address.  Think what is important to you right now.  Do you really enjoy your book club?  Need your scheduled volunteer opportunity?  Really get fulfilled by your volleyball league?  If so, look around and find those things in your new home.  Become a part of your new society.

2.     Library

I always consider that I’m not moved in until I have my new library card.  It’s amazing how tethered you feel once you know your library. Even if you don’t routinely read or borrow, there are a lot of community activities attached to the library.

3.     Place of worship

If you’re religious, make sure you scope out a new place of worship.  Finding a new church, synagogue, mosque or temple is an important step in find your new place in a community.

Extras for those with pets:

If you have pets, make sure you find a new vet, groomer and kennel.

Of course, there are more things that you’ll need to do, and you’ll probably find more along the way.  But as you forge into a new state, find your new identity and love your new home.  You’ll do just great!

Five Reasons Staff Work at Camp & A Kookie Idea To Recruit Great Staff

Millennials Are The Worst :)

They (we?) are selfish, noncommittal, and disrespectful. This all may be true or it might be totally ludicrous, and the latest in a string of older generations complaining about younger generations. At the end of the day, summer camp is built on millennials, and we have to figure out how to connect with, recruit, and lead this generation as our staff this summer. 

Depending how we define Millennials we might already be onto the next generation of staff. Could they be even worse? I kid of course. I was born in ‘88 and am a proud member of the millennial generation. But here’s the thing. Regardless of what we think, we need 18-25 year olds to make camp work, so instead of ringing our hands, let’s figure out how we can partner with them to make the best camp and help them. 

Now more than ever before, our potential staff have a choice in what they do this summer. They can volunteer in cool places, travel, get internships that might advance their careers, make a lot more money than we pay them, choose a different camp, come and work for us, and more. Unlike generations before, and even older millennials, the staff we are hiring this summer can get on Google and find an almost limitless number of options for how to spend their summer. If we want to recruit the best staff, we need to understand what they are looking for and build our staff recruitment AND the actual staffing experience to match their hopes. 


Why Work at Camp?

Below are the most common responses I hear from people about why they choose camp, in no particular order. For most of the staff we work with, they connect with each aspect in different ways. 

Different Potential Outcomes Staff Applicants Might Be Looking For

I could imagine building a quick quiz that would rank these for each applicant and spit out a simple diagram. Similar to the True Colors Personality Test. Some diagrams also below.

Legacy - Connected to camp. Former Campers, parents were staff, that kind of thing. 

Impact - Belief in the mission. Want to be positive role models for kids, connect to nature, reimagine a different way of working with kids etc.

Community - Making new friends, connecting to old, being a camp counselor is all about the community.

Career - How can camp help your career? New skills, 21st century skills, a network, a different experience. We are thinking long and hard at Stomping Ground about how we can be truly useful here. I think in the past we have only been mildly useful.

Fun - For a lot of people it is a lot more fun to play by the lake than sit at a desk. But staff are often giving up things like concerts, family vacations, or summer parties.

Money - It is a job. We don’t pay a lot at Stomping Ground ($275 a week for counselors 2018), but money is a part of the equation. Working at camp pays more than volunteering in cool places.

Each potential staff member will be looking for these with different focuses depending on a million individual circumstances. By better understanding what they might be looking for we can individualize our recruiting messaging and their experience at camp. 

This might look like...

Great at some, not great yet, at others.

At Stomping Ground, like most camps, we do a great job with fun, community, and impact. Where we lose people is around career advancement and the ability to make money. We, again like most camps, have a pretty limited budget. This summer we will pay our typical counselors $275 a week, up from $250 last year and $225 the year before. Next summer we will pay $300, not nearly enough to compete with the other jobs our staff could work, but inching up toward minimum wage. 

If we aren’t going to be able to compete based on short term financial returns, I think we need to be disproportionately good at long term career advancement so that we can make a good argument that giving up a couple summers of better pay results in a much higher long term upside. In many ways this argument is so that the staff, that already want to work for us, can convince their professors, parents, and advisors. This won’t be possible for everyone and that’s ok. If we can do this for the right people, we can create an unfair advantage because we actually genuinely care about each of our staff members.

We are in the beginning stages of this, and are taking a two pronged approach. 

One - Helping our staff better understand themselves, what they want, and how to get there.

This is means taking time out of staff orientation to focus on them. To run workshops about professional development, career skills, and resume building. For specific staff we try to help them gain the skills they want if those skills also can help camp. 

Things like paying for a great staff member to become an EMT because they want to be a doctor some day or sending staff to a leadership retreat. Many camps do this and we are just getting started with it at Stomping Ground. Kurtz wants me to let you know that if you have seasonal leadership folks looking for new skills The Summer Camp Society just launched an online interactive course designed just for that...


--> TSCS Seasonal Leadership Seminar <--



Two - Leveraging our network -- to connect current and former staff with the right mentors.

This is the Kookie Idea.

At camp we have a huge number of people that care about what we do, camper parents, alumni, donors. They already love camp, most want to help but don’t know how. Many are very successful in their fields. Our newest endeavor at Stomping Ground is what we are calling the Stomping Ground Support Network, you could call it the alumni network, but we don’t have many alumni yet. Basically, we built a quick online form for people to fill out saying the would talk with staff members interested in learning more about their industry. The next step is learning from our staff this summer what they are looking for and connecting the right mentor with the right staff member. We will also probably send an email with all our staffs’, who are looking for jobs, resumes to this group in September. 

Stomping Ground Support Network

I love getting to build a staff community, recruit the best people, and lead a group of passionate summer staff each year. It is one of my favorite parts of running camp. As camp directors we get to choose how we do that, and I hope I can keep choosing to try and find new and different ways to bring value to our community both because it helps in recruiting and because it helps the people we care the most about. I would love to hear in the comments some different ways you are bringing value to your staff. THANK YOU! Have a great summer.

It's Good to Be Together!

Stomping Ground Origin STory

Introducing the Spring 2018 TSCS Cohort: Meet Katie Milne


By Richard Bombach, Camp Balcones Springs

This week, I had the absolute pleasure of getting to “know” Katie Milne.  Both of our schedules were a little bonkers this week, so we had to communicate via email and each had a small list of areas that we covered to get a feel of what the other was about.  What’s great about working in the camping world, is that you never see one word answers.  Everybody has a story to tell and a story that should be heard. Katie is no exception.

Katie is the camp dream.  A camper that started at 9 years-old and immediately fell in love with what camp brought to her world.  From 1996 – 2008, Katie spent her summers at Camp Al-Gon-Quian, which is 4 hours north of Ann Arbor, Michigan – her hometown.  Camp Al-Gon-Quian is an overnight residential camp associated with the Ann Arbor YMCA.   Katie worked her way up the ranks, from being a camper, a counselor, administrator, and eventually an assistant director in 2008, in which she thought would be her last encounter as a staff member for her beloved summer camp. 

After graduating from the University of Colorado – Boulder with a degree in journalism and a minor in women’s studies, Katie moved away from the mountains, skiing, and snow to Chicago to pursue a job with her journalism degree, although admittedly, her passion for that particular occupation was gone.  (Sidenote:  I’m blogging about somebody in the journalism field that could probably rip this piece to shreds– no judging, Katie.) In 2010, she had an opportunity to get back into camping (in a way) through one of her Chi Omega sorority sisters; a new startup company in Boulder was building registration and business management systems for camps.  This startup was called CampMinder, and it would be her way out of the windy city and back to the mountains.  Some of you may have heard of it.  It’s kind of a big deal.  Katie worked in client development for CampMinder for over 7 years, in which she was instrumental in building a client base from 180 camps to 800 camps by the time she left! 

Holy.  Freaking.  Cow.  Way to go, Katie!

While her role at CampMinder was impactful, it no longer fit within her life goals.  Katie said that her heart was always going to be in Michigan and the Midwest, and knew it was time to go back.  She moved in with her best friends, which happen to be her parents and said it was “the most beautiful blessing ever.”  In February of this year, Katie was able to apply for her dream job: To be the Camp Director at the camp she fell in love with as a child, Camp Al-Gon-Quian. 

Katie has been at Camp Al-Gon-Quian for 6 weeks now, just coming off of one her busiest weekends which kicked off their annual campaign to raise money to send underprivileged youth to summer camp.  Although she’s been out of the camp game for 10 years, she is excited to find ways to impact the lives of children and staff for the next several years.  In her words, “it’s a dream come true.”

Outside of summer camp, Katie has always loved sports and the outdoors.  She was a 3-sport varsity athlete in high school and also studied ballet for 10 years.  These days, she loves to be outdoors, whether it’s biking, skiing, hiking, kayaking, or paddleboarding.  She still saves some time for dance, although there was a shift from ballet to hip-hop around 10 years ago.

Katie is excited about The Summer Camp Society so she can gain more insight into what camp directors are facing throughout the year and learning new ways that she can better serve her campers and staff for years to come.

It was an absolute pleasure to learn about Katie and her passion for her camp.  Thank you for taking the time to fill me in on what will be an incredible adventure, at a place you can finally call home.

A Kookie Idea On How to Become a Camp Director...

This is how my brain works… 

The best way to become a camp director, or really get any job, is to know the person making the hiring decision. The next best is to have an incredible recommendation from someone the person making the hiring decision trusts. This all only works if you are awesome/qualified at what you want to do. If the person hiring knows you and thinks you suck… That’s no good. More on this thesis here. How to become a camp director.

So now we have a new problem, how do we build relationships with people who might be hiring or people that the people hiring trust? Become a badass videographer. Hear me out. 

Video is King

Video is king is the hottest buzz in marketing. Some articles below.

This is Why Video is The Most Engaging Type of Content
3 Social Media Trends for 2018: Video is king

So if you are a badass (read probably only have to be mediocre) video creator you can help anyone that wants to sell anything without spending much money. Really you just need to use your time. 

If you can help people that need to sell things we have a new ven diagram. People that want to sell things and people hiring deciders (I am the decider) trust. Who is in that circle? Other camp directors, camp consultants, other youth development professionals… If you know a specific decider you could make a more specific list. 

He is what I would do after making a few, even mediocre, videos. Find the closest relatively popular camp consultant. I listed a few below, but there are plenty more. 

Sarah Kurtz Mckinnon - MI
Steve Maguire - MA
Dr. Chris Thurber - MA
Travis Allison - ON, CA
Beth Allison - ON, CA
Scott Arizala - MI

Send an Email

Send them an email, be honest, saying something like…

Subject: You Inspire Me. I’m Future Camp Director.

I am a college student and I love camp. What you do inspires me and I would to find a way to thank you. I am also a videographer, here is one of my videos. I would love to come to your next event or even just meet up at a park/camp/school and make a video for you. For free of course.

Anyway! Thank you again, please let me know if that is something I could do for you. OH! And just so you don’t think I am a creep or something. I worked at Camp Stomping Ground last summer. You can email or call the director there to make sure I am a reasonable person. 
Jack Schott - 


All those people above are great, generous, kind people that would probably take you up on this offer. One, because it would help them, but even more because they would want to help you.

Now Make The Video

Then make a great video for them. After, do it again for three or four more people. AND! If you do it for someone like Steve, he is super tight with Scott, Chris, and Kurtz so my guess is he would help you connect with the next person. 

Now, you have three-five videos make for some of the most influential consultants in camp. When you apply for your next job ask them to send a quick email to the person doing the hiring explaining their work with you. 

I have never seen anyone do anything like this in the camp industry and it wouldn’t work for every camp job, but my bet is this would land you a job over the next twelve months. If you are good. If you are qualified and have some track record as a seasonal staff leader. 

**** Kurtz and I are dreaming up a month long seasonal leaders training aimed at helping middle managers, unit leaders, assistant directors, division heads, and more be the most effective this summer. If you would be interested in learning more as that comes together check this out and fill out the super quick form.  *****

--> Seasonal Leadership Program <--

Schott Jack.jpg


Try Things Camp: 5 Ideas All About Staff

A Note from Jack

I run a sleepaway camp called Stomping Ground. We try stuff. One time we had no bed times. That didn’t work. (I should write about that later)

My favorite part of The Summer Camp Society is the sharing of ideas. I love getting to hear about the ideas that folks have tried, what has worked, and hasn’t. Every camp is different, but we all have so much in common. Why reinvent the wheel? 

Camping Coast to Coast

Before The Summer Camp Society, Laura, the other director and founder at Stomping Ground, and I traveled the country for two and half years visiting about 200 camps and 47 states looking for and sharing great ideas. That was awesome, but now that we run camp it’s hard to keep up that lifestyle… 

You can see more about that journey at Camping Coast to Coast.

Ideas for 2018 Doc

Each week when we meet for The Summer Camp Society I keep a document open, Ideas for 2018, and I add new ideas from other folks or new ideas that are sparked from conversation. Most participants do something similar. I love it. Not all these ideas are going to work and a some of them I won’t get a chance to implement this year, but if just a couple of them turn into hits than I will feel great about it. 

As we developed the program we started something called “Somebody’s Something”. The idea is similar to a Mastermind Group or Consultative Problem Solving. One person is on the hotseat. They explain a problem, project, or idea they have, and we all try to help. It’s an awesome exercise both for the person getting specific advice and for all the rest of us thinking about similar problems we might have. I can’t wait to get back into Somebody’s Something groups. I have never been on the hotseat and the takeaways have still been out of this world.

Over the next few weeks I am going to try to write up a bunch of the ideas we are hoping to try. This one is all about staff ideas. Next fall I’ll try to give you the feedback on how they went. We are calling it Try Things Camp. As a camp community we have so much to learn from each other. I hope some of these ideas resonate with you and maybe inspire you to find a community to share ideas with. 



1) Pre-season Zoom Groups

Kurtz inspired this one. We hire a lot of new staff and, like most of you, spend a ton of time during staff orientation on teambuilding and skills development to help our team be as prepared as possible for the summer. We also have extensive interviews and pre summer conversations between Laura and I and all the staff. Last year we had a seasonal leadership team member call each new staff and welcome them to camp, and it was pretty good. This year we are doubling down on welcoming staff early and often. 

We are paying one of our seasonal leadership staff members, Klee, to develop a preseason welcoming plan. Klee is dividing all the staff up into groups of about 8 that will have meetings on Zoom each month starting in April. Your Zoom group, lead by a seasonal leadership staff member, will stay the same throughout the preseason and into staff orientation. We already have groups about that size that meet each night during staff orientation so these Zoom groups will continue through that. Maybe we will do meet ups each week in the summer.

The hope is that, by starting to build small communities before getting to camp, new folks can get more comfortable more quickly with our larger community and have a chance to ask questions, make jokes, and be more of themselves when they arrive. Klee is developing a curriculum for the preseason meetings, but mostly it will be simple conversations and get to know you activities.

2) Internal Grants

Kurtz shared this idea from her time at Ann Arbor YMCA. The idea is super simple. What if we put aside a specific amount of our programming budget for the staff to use? Let’s say we had $1000. Any staff could put together a quick proposal and get access to some of that money to improve camp. It could be starting an outdoor cooking program, putting twinkle lights up in the shower house, or a million other ideas we haven’t thought of yet. 

In the past, we have just encouraged folks to let us know when they need things or have an idea, but what I love about this program is it gives less vocal staff a specific way to make lasting impact at camp. 

3) Counselor Roles Breakdown

I wrote about this in the summer camp pros group on FB. The bones of this idea I dreamed up with Carlie, from the Takodah YMCA. We were talking about training staff to work in adventure playgrounds and other camper driven play spaces, during a one on one. This got me thinking, how we can better support our staff through their different roles as camp counselors? Almost no one task of being a camp counselor is super difficult, but the hard part, the real art, is knowing how to mix between a leader, a follower, and the many other facets of our work at camp. We wrote up this quick synopsis of 7 Roles of a Camp Counselor as an intro. My guess is we will use these terms this summer and simplify this as the summer goes on. 

The hope is that by codifying the different roles we can better support staff if they are struggling to help kids through tough times, lead activities, remember to help kids find their toothbrushes. Instead of looking at each one of those as separate issues thinking “What role of counseling aren’t you quite getting if you can’t remember the toothbrush? And how can we help you in that space?” That would be being a caretaker and it probably means we can get better at a number of other aspects of caretaking as well.

Staff Orientation Session

On top of this, it gives us some simple brainstorming or skits to create during staff orientation. I can imagine breaking our staff up into the 7 groups and asking them to think through scenarios at camp where each role is applicable. Then, what can go wrong if we neglect different roles or use different roles in the wrong situations. Maybe each group dreams up scenarios and writes them on index cards. Then groups pulls a card with the scenario, and they suggest what roles might be the most effective in that scenario. Maybe! Level two is pulling a scenario card and a role card, then acting out what/how that role would look in the scenario. It could be really silly and lead to some great debrief discussions. 

You can see our roles here


4) You’re Hired!

I thought of this one week as Luke, from Beacon Bible Camp, was explaining his process for bringing volunteers to camp. I know at least YMCA Camp Seymour and Camp Augusta have their own versions of this, but we never did. In a further attempt to help welcome new staff into our community, we built a very simple page on our website to help them see a little more about what they are opting into. It includes a video encouraging them “Don’t take this if…”, a video from staff orientation, and some articles to read about our take on working with kids at camp. Now, we send to it all staff after we offer them a job and before they accept.

Our “You Hired Page”

5) Make My Day Book

This one I learned from Jason Smith at YMCA Camp Kitaki. Often, at camp, people have rough days and other folks want to help or I just want to say thank you in a meaningful way, but we don’t totally know how. At Kitaki, they have their staff all fill out a quick one page questionnaire during staff orientation asking how someone could make their day. Then they put a copy of all those pages in a binder where all the staff can access them. Now, when you want to thank someone or give them a quick pick me up, you can check the book and know exactly what they have asked for. Why guess if they would prefer chocolate or a handwritten note? It is kind of like bringing the Love Languages to life at summer camp.

Thank you!

Thanks for spending a few minutes deep inside my brain with me! I am excited to keep digging into different ideas and sharing. If you have cool staff ideas that you want to share I would love to read them in the comments or if you want to get together and dream up ideas with us, check out The Summer Camp Society program!

Winter Semester 2018 Application Deadline:

Friday, February 9 @ 11:59 p.m. EST

Schott Jack.jpg

Jack Schott
Co-Founder/Director Camp Stomping Ground
Facilitator The Summer Camp Society


Camping Coast to Coast Staff Tour 2018

I have a ridiculous idea.

In 2015, Laura and I ran a trip for teens from camps across the country. We got in a van and visited 7 camps over 17 days in the Pacific Northwest. Along the way we visited national parks, learned a ton, and made lasting friendships. It was amazing.

Being able to see different camps in action and debrief with like minded camp folks from across the country was transformative. Each camp was uniquely different while at the same time being remarkably similar. It pushed all of us to think differently about what was possible, what made camp camp, and gave us enormorse insight into what our impact might be. We stayed up late talking about the power of camp and imagining ridiculous ideas for what we might create some day.


Ever since that trip, Laura and I have wanted to be able to offer something similar. Something that could give that wider perspective and possibility in a short period of time to passionate potential camp directors. With the growth of Stomping Ground from one week in 2015, to three in 2016, and four in 2017 we just couldn’t find the time to facilitate another trip.

Here’s my ridiculous idea…

What if we could put together a program where a group of 5-10 amazing staff (18+) traveled together visiting and working at a handful of camps. Learning from the different way things are done, working with experts and making a little money as you went. What if this cohort of passionate camp staff went on an adventure like this...

Training and Volunteering at Camp TBD (Jun 4-16)

Advanced Autism & Diversity Training w/ Sylvia van Meerten(Jun 17-20)

Training and Working at Camp Stomping Ground(Jun 21- Aug 4)

Traveling and Visiting a Couple Camps (Aug 5 - 11)

Training and Volunteering at Camp Highlight(Aug 10-19)

Volunteering at Camp Tall Tree (Back with Sylvia Aug 20-25)

*** This schedule is preliminary and will change


Plus make some money

Here’s the fun part! Because you would work a bunch of weeks at Stomping Ground, Stomping Ground could cover the cost of the program and pay you a stipend, probably about $1,000. Not a ton of money, but getting paid to travel, learn, and play with kids is pretty awesome.

This is exactly how I would have loved to spend a summer while I was in college. Instead of wondering what other camps were like, go out and see them. You will get to work with camps pushing the limits with what is possible with kids in a variety of settings, build authentic relationships with a bunch of camp directors and camp staff, and have a better understanding of what a career in camp might look like.

This program isn’t for everyone. It will be hard and requires a willingness to work hard, think creatively, and try new things. We are looking for passionate camp folks looking to make an impact, learn a ton, and push themselves and the cohort to new levels. If that sounds like you, sign up to learn more about the application process.


Jack Schott
Camp Director/Founder
Camp Stomping Ground

I Believe In Love - Levi Miller

I believe in love.

I know that seems like the cheesiest damn thing to say. But, I believe in love more than anything. I believe that the power it has over us, can either destroy us, or free us. Love is such an abstract thing, that most people have a hard time defining it without using the word itself. I believe that love has, at many points in my life saved me, but also what I perceived as the absence of love has torn me to pieces.

There are many different types of love floating around in the Universe. I can be “In Love” with a romantic partner. I can love my best friends. I can love a dog I meet on the street. I can love the pasta I had for dinner last night. I can also love myself. However, it is important to note, that each of these different types of love can be forgotten if you don’t work to remind yourself of their existence.

The Variety Pack of Love

As I have learned to appreciate this variety pack of love that the universe has provided, I have discovered the most important, and likely the best kind, is the love I have found for myself. While I’ve spent the last few years processing the various demons of my past, I learned that if you have love and compassion for yourself, being alone with your thoughts becomes infinitely easier. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy spending time with myself before I loved myself. I can’t imagine how I could’ve expected others to want to spend time with me while I was pretending my way through the world, each day pasting on one of many rehearsed smiles.

People are often inspired by my story and ask how I knew it was time to begin this journey truth is that I had finally pushed enough people away, that I had nobody else around to expect love from. I had only myself, a Netflix subscription, and the four walls of my college dorm room. I spent countless nights awake trying to avoid my thoughts by watching as many female centric dramas as I could get my hands on. I would sleep all day, only getting up to eat and use the bathroom. Then, I would do it all over again day after day. It was a miserable existence. But, I learned, that no matter how loud I had those headphones turned up, there was always a little voice somewhere in me that was louder.

The voice said, “love”. That was it.

It said “love”; over, and over, and over again.

The voice had always been there. I had just run out of things to cover it up.There are only so many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy to watch. One night, I was lying in bed having an existential crisis because Netflix kept asking if I was still there and I, for one, take that very personally. As I laid there in my crusty sweatpants and dirty sheets, I let my mind wander to the last time I felt real, genuine self-love.

That was at camp.

I eventually wandered away from Netflix to find the home page of the summer camp I had attended for one summer as a 13-year-old. This was the beginning of what has been the greatest life changing adventure, I think, in history. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating. But, I applied to work for 10 weeks. Five years later, I realize I had no damn clue what I was doing at the time. I guess sometimes it’s a blessing to be young and dumb.

I remember the first couple of nights during staff training I cried a lot. One kind soul saw my puffy eyes as I tried to get back to my cabin without anybody seeing me. She forced me into conversation in a dark gazebo, in the middle of the woods, at midnight. I thought she would try to murder me.

Then, we talked, and we talked, and the sun started to come up as I finally had the courage to say what I’d been holding in. “ I hate myself” I blurted out before I could catch the words and pull them back into my throat.

“You clearly love yourself enough to come here and talk about yourself.” That was the response. Not, a hug, or sympathetic tears. Just that. But, she was so right.

I later learned that the better phrasing of that ugly statement is something like, “I hate… about how I’m acting right now.” Or “I hate… about how I handled that.”. But, I suppose I can’t go back and change the things I said about myself then. I only control the love I give myself right now.

I believe that once the soul knows the taste of loving itself, it’ll never go back. I learned that at camp.


Levi Miller
Day Camp Coordinator
Camp Jewell YMCA

Summer Camp Leads To Self-Discovery by Hannah Weiner

I believe summer camp leads to self-discovery.

When I was ten years old, I started going to an overnight camp in the Detroit suburbs. The camp, while dear to my heart, offered nothing special: Jewish programming, crafts, sports, a manmade lake. But I returned year after year, even embarking on their specialty outdoor tripping camps. I’d return home a smelly, swearing, smiling version of myself, and it would last me most of the school year.

The summer I was ten, I learned I could beat the boys at floor hockey. The summer I was twelve, I learned how to hike.Each summer fostered a love (or strong distaste) for something new: a love of stir fry, a deep hatred for the Blob, a love of kayaking. I knew my summer self strongly. I knew what I liked, I knew what I disliked, which meant I knew what I valued.


Camp exposed me to things I otherwise wouldn’t have experienced (i.e. stir fry, kayaking, etc.). And those things are awesome—they lead to great stories and picturesque memories. Yet in between those moments of trying new things and learning to love something (or someone), I learned how to try new things, how to love something, and how to love people fiercely.

And, if you are lucky enough, camp will teach you how to love yourself.

Like most people who went to camp, I met many of my greatest friends from my years at camp. These people understand me on a core level. We don’t need to exchange pleasantries because we just appreciate each other’s presence. For a thirteen year-old who felt so insecure and so different from everyone else in school, it meant the world to me that I could retreat to a place where people found the good in me.

At camp, without makeup or screens or bedrooms to disappear in, I lived vulnerably with others. At camp, our counselors taught us to embrace the weirdness and uniqueness within ourselves; sure, it was weird that I laughed much harder at fart jokes than anyone else my age, but I was accepted and loved. At camp, we could do ridiculous Russian accents, we could do a slip ’n’ slide slide on a rainy day and laugh at our muddy faces, and we could swap secrets at night, silently understanding our cabin’s holiness was to be respected. We loved each other not despite our faults, secrets, and strange quirks, but because of them.


Now, as a representative of camp, parents ask me at camp fairs, “So, what is your camp about?” And I respond, passionately using words like “friendship” and “leadership skills” and “self-confidence.” I can repeat those words all I want—wrap it in a bow and call it “personal development,” but camp specializes in the intangibles, the indescribables, and the invisible. Camp taught me to love, to be loved, and to get weird with others. That’s not easy to market, nor is it easy to explain the value to young parents

The camp experience is different for every kid: other campers hated kayaking and the outdoors or loved being the star of the camp play. Those are amazing things to recognize as a child, and maybe they would have discovered that without camp. But there is power in knowing yourself. There is power in learning how to find your niche. And, most importantly, there is power in learning yourself alongside a bunch of other kids who are learning themselves, somewhere in the woods.


Hannah Weiner
Assistant Director for Camper Development
Fleur de Lis Camp

Jami Biodrowski by Eli Rolli

Easterseals of Nebraska is incredibly fortunate to have Jami Biodrowski as their Director of Camp, Respite and Recreation. Jami directs all of the operations of the overnight summer camp program put on by the Easterseals of Nebraska. This camp specializes in providing an overnight camp experience for people with disabilities. Campers range from 5 years of age to 85.


Jami grew up going to 4-H Camp and her first professional camping experience was with a 4-H Camp. In college Jami studied Geology with plans to become a Volcanologist, but like many of us she found herself drawn back to the camping profession. Her favorite part of summer camp is watching the staff grow throughout the summer. She joined the Summer Camp Society to network and learn from other camp pros.

Outside of camp, Jami loves being a parent and enjoys going on road trips. She is also an animal lover. Her family has 3 farm cats (meow) and one dog (woof woof).

What To Expect: The Summer Camp Society

By Sarah Kurtz McKinnon

Before it Starts

First off, you need to apply online here. We just want to learn a bit more about you and learn about why you want to join The Society. The application should take you around 15-20 minutes to complete.

Once your application is received, either Jack or I will email you to set up a phone interview. We want to get to know you a little better but also answer your questions about the program. Plus, this is really fun for us (you’ll notice fun for us is a recurring theme here. It’s fun for you, too!).

If we determine that you’re a great fit for the program, we will send you an acceptance packet.  It will have all of the information you need, including conference information and a syllabus.

To reserve your spot, you’ll need to fill out an online enrollment form and submit your tuition payment.  You can submit your preferences for meeting time on the enrollment form. (We also also have a scholarship form if the tuition is a barrier for you).

That’s it! You’re ready to go!



You will have a weekly assigned meetingtime with your cohort group of 6-8 other participants. For the fall, we had cohorts that met on Tuesday at noon EST, Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. EST, and Thursday at noon EST. (Jack and I are in all of the cohorts!)

Each week there is an assigned topic which will be shown on your syllabus. Some of our topics include values setting, youth development theories, facilities and marketing.

Before your cohort meets, you will need to do a little prework.  Prework usually consists of about 15-20 minutes of readings or short videos to watch around the week’s topic. Jack and I will typically give you some discussion questions to think about while doing the prework.

Then, it’s time for the cohort meeting! We use Zoom as the platform, so you are logging into a meeting room where you can see and hear all of the other folks in your cohort. We also use a chat window and share lots of links (and lots of side comments) there.  The meetings are always fun, sometimes serious, and always different.  Plus, sometimes my mom and/or my uncle and/or my dogs makes guest appearances, which the crowd really likes (long story).

After the meeting, you will have a project to do around that week’s topic. The projects are designed to either improve you as a camp professional or contribute to your camp. You get out of them what you put into them.  We have loved seeing the results of our participants’ project work!


The Conference

About 8 weeks into your program, all of the cohort members will convene for the conference.  This is (IMHO) the pinnacle event of TSCS. It is really crazy arriving to the conference because we already know all of the people and the people know the people in their cohort groups. It takes minimal time to get warmed up to people, and the learning, laughter and community that happens there is incredible. No spoilers! I’ll just leave this final description from 2017 fall cohort member Anna Hopkins, who is the director of Friends Camp:

“The Summer Camp Society was easily the best camp conference I have been to. The opportunity to connect in a true summer camp setting allowed us to build community, learn from one another, and dive more deeply into the "big" camp questions than at a traditional conference. It is unique to take away from a conference both concrete strategies to implement immediately and also hope and creativity about camp in general. Kurtz and Jack are awesome facilitators because of their attention to detail, good humor, and authentic and recent camping experience.”

And, after the conference, we still have a few weeks of online meetings! So the fun is not done.

Other Cool Stuff

We also have a private message board for all of our members. This is what we use to communicate (no emails!).  Some boards will just be for members of your cohort or class. Other boards are for all members of The Summer Camp Society, regardless of of when they joined.

Finally, each member will get to do a one-on-one with either myself or Jack (your choice!).  This is a one-hour phone or video call where we can work on any topic of your choice—whether that is something to improve your camp or further your professional career.  We’ve done mock interviews with folks, worked on staff hiring problems, talked through re-branding, and worked to find solutions for problematic boards of directors.

When It’s Over

It’s not over. When you join The Summer Camp Society, you are always a member of The Summer Camp Society. You will be invited back to TSCS conferences, will join us for meetups at big events like ACA Tri State, and will maintain access to our private message board.  When we need facilitators and folks to help us grow this program, you will be the first people on our list.

But perhaps most importantly, we believe that we are helping people grow not just lifelong professional connections but lifelong friendships.  At the end of the day, that’s why I am doing this work—when we have a camp community of friends who believe in us and support us, that’s when we can make the best possible programs for our kids.  And that’s an amazing thing!


Sarah Kurtz-Mckinnon
Camp Consultant, Trainer, and Director
Facilitator The Summer Camp Society


Why Bother With Opening Campfires?

I am in a contemplative mood as we approach the holidays….

I don’t love our opening day at Stomping Ground and the opening campfire is a big part of that day. We have a relatively standard opening day with welcoming counselors, name tags, name games, great pizza, tours, agreements, orientation, and a campfire. The campfire is the culmination of the day. During that time most other days at camp, we play an epic game where kids battle dragons, catch dinosaurs, or something similar. But on opening day, kids mostly sit and watch or stand and sing. This article is mostly a trip inside my brain as I try to wrestle with the why and how of campfires at Stomping Ground. I hope it is informative or at least entertaining. Also, at the end I am going to try to explain/sell/convince you that The Summer Camp Society is worth looking into. It is!


At every sleepaway camp I have worked at, and most I have been to, we start each session with some form of opening campfire or ceremony. One of the most commonly spouted pieces of advice for day camp is to create that resident camp feel. A lot of times that starts with a big ceremony with camp songs and classic skits. Why? What is the magic of campfires?

When I say campfire I mean some combination of songs, stories, and skits as a big group. Often no actual fire is present. When I am talking about campfires this is what I am talking about. These gatherings, these songs, this experience.

Why We Need Summer Camp from Camp Tecumseh

Awesome video from Camp Tecumseh YMCA by the way. If you don’t follow them check them out. Their content marketing is some of the best in the business.

We Can’t Win on Fun

But why campfires? Why are we bothering? If like Joel says in the video above camp isn’t just about fun. That “We can’t win on fun.” What else is happening at a campfire? Maybe an even better question. What else could we do that would be better than a campfire? Also! Couldn’t we be more fun than a campfire?

I was the program director at Camp Stella Maris for the last two of the eight years I worked there. I ran an opening campfire every week, but got rid of closing campfires every other week. Kate, the program director at Stella Maris after me and the program director at Stomping Ground now, took it one step further. She got rid of opening campfires all together. Kate is a badass, but was she right? Was it better? She did this because she noticed the time when kids were the most bored and homesick at Stella Maris was during opening campfires. She added a simple evening program to the first night of camp and bailed on campfires almost all together.

At Stomping Ground, Kate runs opening campfires and closing campfires every week. Our camp has a lot more new kids than Stella Maris did. The opening campfire is mostly high energy and silly. All the villages, campers and staff, do a skit or cheer. We do a few songs and a few skits. Then we end with a little more heartfelt closing ceremony. It is a fairly standard opening campfire. The closing campfire is all low energy. It happens after a night game on the last night. Laura and I say some words and kids are given a chance to reflect on the week. We sing a song and kids head back to their villages, also fairly standard for sleepaway camps.

The closing of the campfire looks something like this Facebook Live video we did for our fundraising campaign last year. Skit ahead about 2 minutes.

What I love about opening campfire?

  • I know everyone hears the same message from Laura and I about the community we are creating.

  • New kids get to see everyone

  • Often the skits and songs are fun and silly which creates a shared experience for all kids to talk about. Similar to gathering around the water cooler and talking football.

  • These inside jokes can facilitate quick friendship making.

  • It has a low barrier to entry. We don’t ask much from kids. It is easy first night for mostkids.

  • When we sing the songs are easy so most kids sing along which is easy and gives them a sense that they can participate going forward.

  • It is easy to plan.

  • Staff love campfires.

  • Everyone has a chance to be on stage.

  • People have been gathering around fires for ever so there might just be something to that.

I struggle with about opening campfires…

  • There aren’t any options. It is the only evening program that there isn’t a clear alternative.

  • The space we sit is fairly uncomfortable which makes extended or damp sitting pretty rough.

  • Lots of kids don’t like to be on stage.

  • Lots of kids don’t really like the skits or songs.

  • Lots of kids don’t actually listen while Laura and I explain things.

  • Opening campfire is dramatically less fun and structurally different from the rest of the program we run.

Kids seem to like about campfire...

  • When there are really funny skits, ok mostly when Brian, one of our staff, does skits.

  • Mostly younger, mostly girls, tend to quite like the repeat after me songs.

  • Almost everyone seems to like when we sing the camp song. (Classic acoustic guitar folky type song)

  • Kids like to get in on repeating nonsensical jokes. Ok mostly when George, another staff, does them.

Some ideas…

Without getting too into the details about our constraints at Stomping Ground that is a glimpse into how I like to think about different areas at camp.

  • Get rid of opening campfire entirely and run a night camp the first night.

  • Have a short night game, maybe by village, and then a short campfire.

  • Make sure the campfire skits are funnier.

  • Get benches for the campfire pit

Why The Summer Camp Society

Each week I get a chance to meet with The Summer Camp Society cohorts and dig into tons of different areas of camp, just like this. We dream big, ask why, and try to find specific takeaways for each of us. I try to keep a short list running of ideas for Stomping Ground next summer, but there are a dozen more I have already implemented that have come from conversations in our groups.

If you are looking for a community of driven, intentional, like minded young-ish camp professionals examining the why behind camp, looking for quick wins and low hanging fruit, and other folks to bounce ideas off of, I hope you will check out The Summer Camp Society. It might be the best value you can get for professional development in camping. $599 for a conference, 10 weeks of weekly discussions, ongoing chat about real topics, and most importantly an authentic community of camp pros you can call for the rest of your career.  


PLUS! You get to hangout with Kurtz every week. I mean me too, but Kurtz every week. MBA, was youngest Y exec in the country at 23, filled camp, incredible facilitator, easily one of the best staff training consultants. Ok ok ok. You are done listening to me about The Summer Camp Society.

Check it out.

Stomping Ground Campfires 2018

Right now what I am leaning toward from campfires at Stomping Ground in 2018…

  • Let’s keep em!

  • Figure out how to drive the price of crazy creeks down so everyone could have one.

  • Get Brian and George on stage more.

  • Shorten the campfire.

  • Create a system where I can know for sure that kids are hearing what Laura and I have to say before campfire. We made this last year but need to do better.

  • Up the fun in each village before or after. Maybe snacks. Maybe village specific games. Like night games but for just the village.

  • Maybe just a bigger actual fire. That can change the whole experience?


Jack Schott
Co-Founder/Director Camp Stomping Ground
Facilitator The Summer Camp Society


The Best Investment Your Camp Can Make Is In You

The Summer Camp Society’s first cohort is amazing.

We have 24 passionate, compassionate, and driven camp professionals striving to better themselves and their camps. It is inspiring to meet with them each week. We have talked about budgets, program design, diversity and inclusion, design thinking, and so much more. Every meeting is full of laughter, a-ha moments, and community building. Facilitating The Summer Camp Society has reinforced for me that the best investment camps can make is in their leadership.

Being a great camp leader is hecking hard.

It means managing the culture, program, finances, staff, parent interactions, and so much more. Each week as we get together, I realize that The Summer Camp Society is solving one problem above all others: We are building an authentic community of driven camp professionals. That the community we are building is so much more valuable than any one piece of advice or simple take away. Don’t get me wrong Kurtz has really incredible advice and almost always a specific takeaway from each meeting, but what Kurtz is the best in the world at is facilitating the community.


As I reflected on this, I realized the best resource I have as a camp professional is the greater community. This past summer at Stomping Ground, we had 13 kids throwing up on the second day of camp. 13 out of 110. We are not designed for that. We were not prepared for that. In 2013 Laura and I had worked at a camp on the west coast that had had the norovirus. Ninety of about 150 campers and about half of the staff got sick and were vomiting within the first 72 hours of camp. We shut camp down for two weeks. It was horrifying. This is what we thought was happening at Stomping Ground this summer. As the third or fourth camper got sick, I called Marty Ferguson, whom I knew had experience with the norovirus at a camp he previously directed. He gave us some advice and helped us think through our options. Mostly he helped us stay calm. Luckily, we got ahead of this sickness or it ran its course. We ended up not having the norovirus or food poisoning. The department of health investigated and let us know it was just some other less severe 24-hour flu type sickness.



At Stomping Ground, we have been desperate to be more inclusive of gender-expansive campers and had very little experience with it, so when we met Kayla and Jess at Brave Trails, we quickly asked if we could come volunteer. Since then, we regularly call and email when we have questions about inclusion, but more than that--when we just need to talk about what little problems we are all overcoming as new, small not-for-profits. The hours we have spent talking about fundraising, culture creation, recruiting, and more have saved us days of work and made Stomping Ground dramatically better.

The point is camp is a relationships business. This is true with the kids who are at camp, the parents, and with the leadership. I often forget that instead of banging my head against the wall trying to solve a Stomping Ground problem by myself that the best thing to do is just call one of the hundreds of camp directors I know that may have had a similar problem, idea, or struggle.

I am spoiled.

I lucked into building a huge network from my trip around the country visiting 200 camps. Not everyone has that opportunity, and especially new camp pros who don’t have much of a network yet. That’s what we are trying to solve for with The Summer Camp Society. We are building a community where camp professionals can break the ice and build authentic connections with camp leaders across the country. These connections are unique because they span geographic regions, interest groups, agencies, whatever. We get a chance to learn from new camps, old camps, big camps, small camp, not-for-profits and for profits. It is truly amazing.

The best part is that it is fun. Similar to camp, it seems like something this fun shouldn’t also be good for you. Building a personal network is great for your career, but more than that, it is great for your camp. Every little idea we get is because we meet someone who has tried an ambassador program, built a new dining hall, or just has a better way to design a brochure. This helps you grow, but it also helps your camp. If the best camps have the best leaders, the best way to be a better camp is to grow the camp leadership.

Kurtz and I are excited about the potential of our camp community, and found that we can accelerate the process of building an authentic, powerful, and supportive camp community for emerging camp professionals. We loved doing it this fall with our first group of 24 fellows, and we can’t wait to do it again.



So, this spring we want to run second cohort of The Summer Camp Society. You can read all about it here. The main points: We meet weekly for discussion groups and have weekly projects. You build a network and join us for the spring conference. The conference is only be available to past and current members of The Summer Camp Society and the goal of the conference and The Society is to push the conversation forward through community, connection, and collaboration.

If you believe joining a community that shares ideas and helps each other is the best way to grow as a professional and as a camp, then The Summer Camp Society might be for you. Take a look, apply, or send us an email and let’s talk more. The Summer Camp Society is and will always be a work in progress. Expect things to change morph and grow and know that the biggest takeaways will be in the relationships, unexpected moments, and laughter we share as a group.



Let us know if you would like to chat with some current members

“Being a part of The Summer Camp Society has given me more than I could ever ask for. Every week I feel inspired to do more for not only my camp, but for myself professionally. Meeting and speaking with other directors has allowed me to broaden my views, deepen my thoughts, and further ignite my passion for this industry.”  

-Maggie Mitchell

(585) 451-5141

The Summer Camp Society empowers emerging leaders to give all kids the best possible camp experience. It is a collaboration of Sarah Kurtz Mckinnon and Jack Schott to help young camp pros be the best versions of themselves.

A Profile of Katrina Dearden by Rachel Estey

Like many college students Katrina spent her summers working a summer job, preparing for the upcoming academic year, and perusing the job boards for the career she was gearing up for. In this particular case Katrina was spending her summers working as a counselor at the summer camp she had attended as a child while preparing for an engineering career. Through the winding, twisting road of young adulthood and career goals, Katrina shifted her focus from engineering to summer camp and has never looked back!

While she was pursuing an engineering degree in school there was still the love of summers at camp. Despite being yelled at by engineering professors for not spending her summers doing engineering stuff, Katrina couldn’t resist going back to camp. The summer after graduation, she was applying to all kinds of engineering jobs and she convinced herself that she would go back for “one final summer” while she waited to hear back from applications and continued to apply for engineering jobs through the summer. She had set a self-imposed deadline that she was going to have a job before camp ended for the summer, and continued to pursue that goal. It was only during the last week and a half of the summer camp season that the director of her camp encouraged her to check out the ACA camp jobs board and upon realizing that working at camp could be a year-round option her “mind was blown!”

She pursued camp jobs with the same intensity as her pursuit of engineering jobs and met her own self-imposed deadline by mere moments. In her own words “Kids were on the bus pulling away and the phone rang and I was offered a job at an outdoor center, I met my self-imposed deadline by minutes, loved the job, and haven’t searched for an engineering job since.” I had the chance to ask Katrina some questions about her life in the camp career she never expected to have!

Rachel: I’ve been thinking a lot about passion and following dreams and the idea that maybe there is something we’re all “meant to do”. What do you think it is that you are meant to do?

Katrina: Definitely something outdoors. I’m at my mentally healthiest when I am outside. I would like to think that it would have something to do with teaching, but not necessarily children. I would want to help people explore nature and see nature in a new way.

What would you be doing right now if you didn’t work in the camp industry? 

If it was in engineering I would probably be a surveyor, being outdoors all the time. There is lots of number crunching. I don’t love numbers, but I like logic.

What is your favorite activity at camp?

 I really like joining the teenage campers in whatever activity they are doing whether it’s canoeing or an arts & crafts activity or anything. When I want to get out of the office one of my office one of my favorite things to do is grab a bag of bananagrams and join up with a random unit that is in unstructured time.

What would you tell college-aged you if you could go back in time?

Change your major! It is possible to be at camp forever!

What are your life plans going forward from here?

I had a strategic plan, but it didn’t work out and that worked out in my favor so I no longer have one. I think I would like to go back to outdoor education eventually, work at a year-round facility. Going from camp to a cubicle every Fall is rough, I’m not meant to spend too much time in an office. Offices AT camp are different because you can get outside, walk around, and enjoy the camp.

The next bunch of questions are definitely weird, but I want to know who you are not just what you do! So, first question…Favorite quote?

My favorite quotes change all the time, but currently it is from Harry Potter and it is “of course this is happening inside your head Harry, but why on earth would that mean it isn’t real?”

It is believed that Plato once said “an unexamined life is not worth living”. In your opinion is that true or false?

If you’re overthinking life you aren’t living it. If you’re examining it too much you’re no longer enjoying it. I think I’m going to say false, because overthinking makes things less enjoyable.

If you were stuck in an airport what magazine would you pick up to read?

I’m not much of a magazine reader, I would consider a National Geographic, but I’d probably pick up a logic puzzle or Sudoku book.

Last question! What is something that you think is true that almost no one would agree with you on?

Fairies are real! They might not exist in the way that people imagine them, write about them, or depict them, but they are out there. Magic is what keeps nature alive.

The winding road from future engineer to summer camp professional lead Katrina to a career she is passionate about, in a field that supports her passion for being outdoors. I am thrilled to have been able to talk to her about her career path, airport reading habits, and love of nature. I’m looking forward to seeing where her life, sans strategic plan, brings her in the future!

Photo: Katrina starts off Color Wars this summer by releasing color powder off of one of her camp's zip lines!


Meet Katie Bean! By Levi Miller

Katie Bean was subjected to answering a ton of ridiculous questions in rapid succession by Levi Miller. She was a great sport! Here are the results:

Levi: I’m so excited to finally be talking! I can’t wait to share with the world, how fun you are!

Katie: Thank you! Just please don’t ask me about how long it’s been since I washed my hair. Ask me anything! I’m ready!

L: If you could add any color to the Crayola collection what color would you add?

K: Maple Tree Green, because I love the outdoors and trees

L: Do you want to be a tree?

K: No, that’s ridiculous.

L: If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?

K: I would pay off my student loans. I would also make a generous donation to my camp. My family is very important to me and I would pay for my siblings to go to college. A trip to Sweden would be my frivolous purchase. I’d mostly do boring things like investing.

L: Who inspires you, in the camping industry?

K: Jack and Laura at Stomping Ground are so inspiring. The courage they had to travel across America and then having the drive to take everything they learned to start their own camp is incredible. They have had success with a unique path and that is fantastic to see.

L: How many windows are there in New York City?

A: One Bajillion

L: Is that a real number?

K: Probably not.

L: If you were gifted an elephant and you had to keep it, what would you do with it?

K: I would parade it around and show everybody how cool I am.

L: Really?

K: No, no, definitely not. I would use it for a camp equestrian program. Like, for the highest level of riders.

L: What do you do with a camper that doesn’t want to participate in an activity?

K: I explain challenge by choice as well as I want them to know about learning zones and comfort zones. Once kids know about those things they are generally more likely to entertain the idea of doing something they are nervous about.

L: If you could play a game of Monopoly with any three people, living or dead, who would you choose?

K: Me, myself, and I.

L: Really?

K: No, of course not! I would have to say Rockefeller, Oprah, and Obama. They are all just people I have  a lot of questions for.

L: What are you known for in your work places?

K: I am known for being direct. People can count on me to tell them the truth while being kind and compassionate.

L: What is your 90’s jam?

K: Easy! Return of the Mack!

L: I’ll have to look it up, I’m not well versed.

K: It’s the so good!

L: What’s your best advice for people going into an interview?

K: Don’t over or undersell yourself. Just be you. Be the best version of yourself. If you tell the truth about everything, you don’t have to remember anything. Just be honest and real.

L: Thank you so much for going on this ridiculous ride with me! You are super brave for answering all of my questions!

K: Thank you so much! Have a great day!

If you want to learn more about Katie Bean, check out this Buzzfeed Quiz! See how much you already know and maybe you’ll find something you have in common!