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.